Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cole Slaw Confusion in Carolina

R.O.’s Barbeque
1318 Gaston Ave.
Gastonia, NC

Is it possible for a side dish to steal all the limelight at a North Carolina barbeque joint?

How about a condiment, for Pete’s sake?

Welcome to R.O.’s Barbeque, world famous for…

…cole slaw???

Yep. The highlight of this Western Carolina barbeque pit isn’t chopped or sliced pork. It’s what comes on top – the “slaw”, as the natives call it in their slow Carolina drawl.

How exactly is it possible for lowly cole slaw – usually an afterthought side dish to Southern meals of BBQ and fried chicken – to be “world famous”?

I was determined to find out.

As I walked in, I told the young guy at the counter I wanted a cheeseburger with slaw and a chopped BBQ sandwich – and a side of slaw.

He looked a bit puzzled.

“You know the sandwich already comes with slaw on it?”

“Yeah, I know. But I want a side of slaw too.”

Geez. Why is it unusual to order a side of slaw? Particularly “world famous slaw”?

Five minutes later, after grabbing my tray of food and taking a seat in the spacious dining room I think I figured out why.

One bite of the bright pink concoction in my little plastic slaw cup and my head was buzzing and my lips were tingling.

Folks, if you haven’t figured it out yet, this ain’t your gandmama’s cole slaw. The cabbage (the primary ingredient in grandmama’s slaw) is a mere afterthought.

Spicy. Vinegary. Creamy. Heavy.

Like Thousand Island dressing. Or a slightly chunky, cabbagey New Orleans remoulade.

Now I know why the guy at the counter questioned my order.

This slaw is no side dish. It’s a sauce. A dip. A condiment.

It says so right on R.O.’s T-shirts. “Sauce, Slaw & Dip. Unleash the flavor!”

Eating it straight is like slurping Thousand Island dressing straight from the Kraft jar. Kind of a bit much.

But on my cheeseburger? And my minced BBQ sandwich?

Heaven on a bun.

The thick slather of slaw on my burger elevated a fairly forgettable overcooked beef patty into something unforgettable. McDonalds can keep their “special sauce.” I’m never eating a Big Mac again.

On the BBQ sandwich, the slaw was even more spectacular.

Cole slaw on top of BBQ along with a squirt of vinegary sauce is common practice for sandwiches served in Carolina and Virginia.

But on R.O.’s sandwich, the slaw IS the barbeque sauce. The generous heaping of slaw melds into the pork bits, creating a confluence of tangy, moist, spicy deliciousness.

Smoke addicts and barbeque purists will surely frown on the dominance of the slaw flavor compared to the overmatched subtle smoke of the pork.

But you know what I have to say to those BBQ snobs?

Deal with it. Live a little. Try something different for a change.

Different is exactly what R.O. serves.

And as I travel the highways and exits of America’s homogenized culinary wasteland, I crave different. I NEED different.

That’s why I liked R.O.’s slaw slathered BBQ so much. Nothing else like it in the world!

Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.

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