Red Bridges Barbeque Lodge – 2000 East Dixon Blvd. Shelby, N.C. 28152 – (704) 482-8567
I stumbled onto Red Bridges Barbeque a few weeks ago while driving through Shelby, N.C. It was a Tuesday and they were closed, but by the looks of the place, I knew I’d have to come back, which is exactly what I did on March 30th.
According to Red’s website, Red and Lyttle (love the spelling!) Bridges opened their first bbq “joint” in 1946 – like so many business that opened across the country following World War II. It was then called Dedmonds BBQ as it was located in the old Dedmonds Building on Highway 18 in Shelby. After a move uptown in 1949, when the name was changed to Red Bridges BBQ, they opened their current location in 1953. Red’s is currently run by the daughter of the original owners.
Located just outside of town on Highway 74, Bridges is a lone beacon of originality and local flavor in an otherwise dreary stretch of four-lane highway populated by a McDonalds, a Zaxby’s and a Bojangles, among other dull corporate fare. The smell of pork cooking over hickory, even from a quarter mile away as I approached, was a potent magnet and I was powerless to resist (why would I, given my other dining options?). The first thing I noticed about Red’s – aside from the cool art deco sign, complete with neon lights, like the classic Holiday Inn signs of the 60’s and 70’s – was the large outbuilding which houses the smokers for the restaurant. The smoke gently wafting from this building was fragrant and inviting and left me near drooling. I found myself wanting to linger in it – to let it inhabit the fibers of my clothing. Even in the covetous haze of my barbeque yearnings though, I realized that standing around the parking lot to let smoke cover my clothes could, to some, be viewed as odd behavior, and I should probably just make my way inside. Especially considering the fact that it was raining.
Upon entering the restaurant, I was greeted by stares from every patron in the place – and it was at near full capacity. It was one of those “you ain’t from around here, are ya, boy?” kind of moments, but it passed quickly and people went back to their meals and conversations. I realized then that, like so many of these small town BBQ mainstays, Red’s is a local hub, where everybody knows everybody else, and strangers are tolerated – welcomed even – but it is noted that they are strangers. The interior had the feel of a classic diner, complete with ample counter seating that faced the kitchen, and rows of booths along the perimeter of the large main dining room. I took at seat at the one open booth and was attended to quickly by a friendly waitress. I ordered “half & half” – a mixture of sweet and un-sweet tea, but what the waitress brought was high octane, full-on sweet tea. I love sweet tea as much as the next Southern guy – I was raised on it – but this stuff was beyond sweet. I had to order a water, but it got better from there.
I ordered a chopped pork plate (the pork was available chopped or sliced), along with cole slaw, green beans and hush puppies. When it came out I knew I’d get two meals out of it judging by the bulging girth of the overloaded Styrofoam plate – which made me instantly happy. The hushpuppies were probably the star of the show – perfectly crispy and fried to a golden brown, they were delicious. Aainst my better judgment, not to mention the laws of gastro-physics, I ate four of them. They were a model of hushpuppy perfection – If I could print a full color barbeque calendar (not a bad idea, actually), I would unhesitatingly give these hush puppies their very own month, complete with large, glossy scratch & sniff photo. The pork put in a solid, workman-like performance – not the best I have ever had, but very good, nonetheless. The sauce was tomato-based with vinegar underpinnings – sweet to taste, unlike the spicy sauces I have tasted in the area before. Different, but a nice change of pace. Along with the meal came a small Styrofoam cup with extra sauce – an excellent touch. As mentioned, I had enough left over for another meal later in the week, so I give the portion size two tomato and vinegar-glazed thumbs up.
As badly as I wanted to, I didn’t have room for the peach cobbler. Besides, I was in a near diabetic coma from that first swig of hyper-sweet tea. I vowed to return though, because I love cobbler. Seriously – love is not too strong a word.
I highly recommend a visit to Red Bridges Barbeque Lodge if, during your meanderings, you find yourself in the vicinity of Shelby, N.C.
Next review: The Pit – Raleigh, N.C.