Saturday, April 23, 2011

Best Dang BBQ in Virginia

If you have driven Highway 81 from Staunton to Lexington, you may have noticed a large yellow sign boasting, “The Best Dang Barbeque in VA.”   I’ve seen the sign many times and been intrigued, but have never gone.  Last Sunday my boyfriend and I decided to go to Hull’s Drive-In and wanted to pick up something for a picnic.  We had intended on a place in Staunton, but on finding it closed I asked Dennis how adventurous he was feeling.  When he was intrigued, I suggested we go on a Down Home Foodie quest. 

Smiley’s Fuel City and Barbeque is located in Raphine off I-81 exit #205.  Tucked in the back corner of the store is the window for BBQ.  They offer pulled pork plates and sandwiches, brisket plates and sandwiches, wraps, sides, and other usual convenient store fast-fare.  Dennis ordered the brisket sandwich and I got a sandwich with pulled pork that was North Carolina style (Smiley’s also gives a “Texas” option).  For sides, we got coleslaw and sweet potato fries.   Sandwiches, sides, and two drinks all came to around $15. 

We took are BBQ to the drive-in, but upon realizing they didn’t start letting people in till an hour later, we drove around and found a bank with a nice bit of grass.  I had expected the pulled pork to have sauce on it because most bbq sandwiches in the area are covered in sauce.  Although initially disappointed, this was a great way of trying it for the first time because you really get a sense of what the meat tastes like.  Although I do love bbq sauce, that can hide a lot of sins and it is with a lot of faith in your product when you let the meat speak for itself.   Smiley’s faith in its product is well earned.  Both the brisket and pulled-pork was moist and juicy with a great smoky flavor. 

The sides were also pretty fantastic.  The coleslaw is not for amateurs.   It is pretty much just cabbage, a hint of onion, and a tangy sweet dressing.  I usually end up trying my best to bring a lot into my coleslaw, but Smiley’s just let the coleslaw rely only on the cabbage while having a dressing that was neither too sweet, too vinegary, or had too much mayonnaise.  The simplicity and purity of the flavors stand out in a way that some might find too much, but I was a huge fan.  The sweet potato fries were crispy and had good sweet potato flavor with a savory quality. 
If I had been sitting in Smiley’s eating my meal, I might have said it was darn good.  But, sitting on the bank lawn with a wonderful man, the satellite radio playing classic rock, the effect of the golden hour of sunset on the green horizon, and the soft glow of the Dollar Store sign, the romance of the moment swayed my opinion.  I’d say it just might be up there with the best dang barbeques in Virginia. 
Smiley's Fuel City on Urbanspoon
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  1. Thanks for the heads up. Your review makes this look like an Alphageek sort of place to try. If they are brace enough to hold back on the sauce, then it must be pretty good.

  2. Agreed, we try to have a couple of these sandwiches every time we drive through!

  3. Glad you are also a Smiley's fan. I need to swing by next time I am driving by to try the Texas style.

  4. I stopped there tonight on my way to Pennsylvania. Great Texas-style pulled pork. Very tasty sweet potato fries. Nice done!

  5. We gave it a try, and it was great. Thanks again for the heads up.

  6. I am a local and we eat BBQ from Smileys at least once a month. I highly recommend you try the sauces (they are available off to the side of the serving area if you want to have extra sauce) but the bbq is very good without. I opt for the Carolina style, and my hubby likes the Texas style. Their brisket is almost always a top choice, but we usually get 2 of the 1lb specials with slaw and either their interesting take on potato salad (it's pickled) or their mac and cheese (homestyle and delish!). I can have fries's a great place to just grab it and go. They do a great job for some little greasy spoon out in the middle of Podunk VA...a place I'm proud to call HOME!

  7. If your on I-81 needing gas and a meal...Exit 205...Smiley's fuel center. Gas is cheapest on the road and the beef brisket is melt in your mouth.


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