Settle in, this may take a while.
After some friends cancelled their rib party (you know who you are), Missy and I decided to beat the hot weather with a trip into the mountains: Hinton, Pipestem and a quick jaunt down to West Virginia’s air-conditioned city – Bluefield. Unfortunately, Key Ingredients was once again closed (they are now only open Monday through Friday), so we had to choose a plan B. Because we had been promised ribs earlier in the week, we decided to visit one of the 101 List’s rib places, namely Dirty Ernie’s Rib Pit in Fayetteville.
The Rib Pit is aptly named as it is little more than a shack on the outskirts of town. I’ve had some amazing ‘que at places that aren’t much more than four walls and a smoker, so the outside is hardly a deal-breaker. The inside is intentionally divey. The rafters are filled with t-shirts, banners and flags:
In the corner, and outside of this photo, is the flag of Portugal which could be an act of war. The walls are covered in a wallpaper that is best described as defaced one dollar bills:
Perhaps this is an homage to Arrested Development (there is always money in the rib pit), but I have my doubts. The website has pictures of the Money Wall, but no explanation. if anyone knows, please feel free to leave a comment.
We started with mugs of Long Point Lagers from the Bridge Works Brewery in Fayetteville. Domestic beers were $2.50 a mug but while we were driving Fayette County apparently seceded from the union because our beer was twice that. Just call them cheap beers; it’s more honest and doesn’t do damage to our nation’s already dicey grasp on geography. Anyway, we were hungry so we started with some broccoli bites:
Deep fried chunks of broccoli and cheese with a honey mustard dressing. They will taste pretty much the same at any place buying the same frozen broccoli bites. Little did we know, we had just experienced the highlight of our meal.
Missy ordered her usual, a pulled pork bbq sandwich with slaw and fries. It was a pretty generic barbeque sandwich, though one that was skimpy on the pulled pork. The fries were good but fishy, as if they used the same oil for the fries and fish.
You can see way too much of the bottom bun in that photo. I ordered the baby back ribs and chicken combo:
The greenbeans were canned and utilitarian, but who picks a rib joint based on the green beans. The mac and cheese tasted like Kraft with a little extra cheese and black pepper. It was fine, but nothing special.
The chicken breast (on the left of the photo) was way overcooked; it was dry and tasteless. That can sometimes be survived at a bbq joint because the sauce can help hydrate the meat and give flavor. At Dirty Ernie’s there is no sauce on the table (or paper towels, though we did have an empty roller) and they don’t serve extra sauce with the meal. About half way through , I just gave up trying to finish the dry, bland hunk of chicken breast. Maybe this was an aberation, but based on Yelp comments it appears to be par for the course. Just avoid.
The ribs at Dirty Ernie’s are apparently boiled because I didn’t get any smoke flavor or color. The result is that the ribs were moist and were falling off the bone, but the flavor was minimal and had none of the complexity of well-smoked ribs. You tasted the pork of the ribs and that’s it. The genius of a good barbeque place is from the smoking; done right there is no need for a sauce. Here, you need the sauce to even pretend you are eating barbeque. The boiling process also doesn’t seem to cook down the fat on the ribs, so there were hunks of fat to be avoided. Dirty’s Ernie’s sauce is a fairly bland sweet tomato flavor. It had no kick, no spice, no complexity. Meals in Amish country have more spice.
They also serve a braciole that may be good, but seems way out of place. (It called to mind the old Python Spam routine where the waitress lists all of the diner’s spam-y items and then adds lobster thermidor at the end. It just doesn’t fit.) I’ve heard the dirt cake (pudding, Oreo pieces and whipped cream) is good, but how can pudding and Oreos be bad?
This is one of those places that serves peanuts in the shell while you wait for your food. I like peanuts just fine, but I’ve know folks with super sensitve peanut allergies that who would have a reaction just by walking in. Consider yourself warned.
Is it unique?
A barbeque place in West Virginia, how many of those are there? Let me be blunt, no, this place is not unique and it does not belong anywhere near the 101 list. It is not even close to the quality of the Hickory House in Jane Lew or Smokey Ray’s in Phillippi or Dee Jay’s in Weirton (just to name a few). Frankly, it is no better than Blues here in Charleston, which at least offers some variety and flavor in their sauces. Nor is it the best resaturant in Fayetteville, as I would place it behind Diogi’s, Secret Sandwich, Pies and Pints, Cathedral Cafe and even the now closed Vandalian.
That’s not to say Dirty Ernie’s doesn’t have a place. If you are looking for a place to throw back some beer and grub after a day on the river or whatever New River Gorge activity does it for you, this place is fine. And I bet the food would taste great. Just do yourself a favor and stick to the ribs and fried items.