At Bib’s: Bringing barbecue back

by Brian Clarey

I wasn’t even hungry when I pulled into the parking lot of Bib’s Downtown, on the western side of the district. I wasn’t hungry, but since when do you need to be hungry to eat a plate of barbecue? Bib’s is the perfect Winston-Salem joint: an old Firestone tire dealership with that cool zig-zag ceiling retooled into a large kitchen and even bigger dining room with plenty of natural light and lots of parking. The cuisine gives a nod to tradition — the North Carolina version of barbecue as a noun and not a verb — and the shop itself is in line with the aesthetic of the city that gave us the Art-O-Matic, those recycled cigarette vending machines repurposed to sell art. If you’re one to consider the smoking and shredding of meat as art, then you would call this place a gallery. Pitmaster Mark Little is barbecue royalty in Forsyth County, and the smoker he works with, as big as a walk-in closet, is downright sexy. Were I actually hungry, I might have gone a little crazy with the menu: ribs, Texas-style beef brisket, chicken and turkey breast, sausage and pork loin all get cozy in the big, red smoker before taking their turns on plastic plates or clamshell to-go trays.

House-made sides include house-baked beans, twice-fries French fries, red or white slaw, hush puppies and macaroni and cheese. You can get a wrap or a baked potato, or you can fill the bed of your pickup with enough meat and sides for a four-generation family reunion.

But I wasn’t all that hungry, so I ordered a standard barbecuesandwich plate with white slaw, green beans and hush puppies.and then sat at a table next to the big window in the diningroom. The crowd towards the end of lunch rush spoke well of thecuisine: cops, business types and fat people filled many of thetables, in groups not mutually exclusive, their conversationsamplified by concrete acoustics. The crew looked a bit frazzled,another sign of a healthy lunchtime crowd, and they werechanging the ice tea urns over while I waited.My food came out fast, hot and pretty — pretty, that is, if you’reinto that kind of thing.I wasn’t really hungry, but I picked up a hush puppy and tooka bite. Wow. It was sweet and peppery, and cooked just rightso that the center was still a bit moist. I looked at the sandwichwith a new respect; if the pups were that good, I reasoned, themeat must be stellar.And of course it was.The sandwich was so good I had taken three bites before Iknew it. Inside the Kaiser roll sat a mound of smoked pork loin,tender and coarsely shredded, bereft of heavy sauce. I knew ithad only recently been taken out of that big, red smoker. I alsorecognized that the slaw had probably been cut that morning,and the green beans had likely been cooking all day. Here’s another thing: Not only was I not especially hungry,but I don’t particularly like barbecue, either. It’s not that I don’t like it — How can you argue with smoked meat? — but it’s notthe kind of thing I crave when I get a case of the gastronomicgots-to-haves. And still I took this sandwich down in a dozen orso bites, not even stopping to put the thing down in between.I also finished all three golf-ball-sized hush puppies, which Idon’t always do when I am hungry.In the end there was nothing left. So I’ll be back to Bib’s Downtown, home of the bestbarbecue sandwich I’ve had in a while, and next time I’ll bringreinforcements so we can delve into the wonders that the bigred smoker undoubtedly produces.