Benny’s BBQ is the first place we’re checking out from Richmond Magazine’s “Smoky Dozen” barbecue joints in Richmond, Virginia. Located in the Bon Air area south of the James River, Benny’s is in my neighborhood. For four years I’ve lived here but have never stopped in.
Sitting in the middle of a strip mall, Benny’s BBQ does not look legit to me. Even though the GPS in the car took me right to it, I was surprised to have ended up here. It hasn’t even been close to my radar.
From the outside, the tinted windows really don’t allow the visitor to see a neat and trim interior. Yes, it looks sketchy outside. Once inside however, you’ll discover it is just as nice as a chain of sports pubs, only local.
The bar is the main focal point: Good craft brew on tap. Plenty of seating. Flat screen TVs hung conveniently at each corner. Clean. And of course there is a collection of porcelain pigs. I think I even saw a pair copulating in the upper left corner shelf. Benny’s loves pigs.
Benny’s has a menu for barbecue and non-barbecue folk alike. Burgers and other sandwiches graced the menu right along the BBQ offerings. The menu was pretty simple: meats, sides, deserts, and food that’s not BBQ.
We ordered a BBQ sampler platter for $21.95. The platter was served with chopped pork, four ribs, a quarter chicken, two sides, and two hush puppies. I ordered a side of chopped beef for an extra $6.
As in most cases the meats were ordered with no sauce. Sauces on the table were a basic tomato based sauce, a vinegar based sauce, and a peanut butter sauce served with the ribs.
Serving sizes were ample. As a matter of fact I split the meal with a friend and it was a challenge for two to finish all with the side items. Baked beans and collard greens flanked the protein.
The protein is the main attraction in barbecue restaurants although I find the best places don’t forget the sides. I think at one point the animals that were prepared for me were fine. The pork had great color. There was a nice smoke ring present in the meat. The chicken had a consistent smokiness too. In all however, the meat was too darn dry to enjoy without the sauce. It would be perfect for St. Louis style platting (see my snorkel and mask review).
All meats lacked seasoning and were bland too. There was no observed presence of even salt and pepper on any meat served. The beef was not brisket but rather a round roast and tough as nails. The ribs were so overcooked that edges were hard and chewy. The chicken leg quarter was salvageable but only due to the fat content in the cut.
Of the barbecue sauce, the “vinegar” sauce was the best. “Vinegar” is a little misleading because the primary ingredients included ketchup and mustard. So the sauce was saucy, not vinegary. But it was good and a godsend for the pork. The ketchup or tomato based sauce was ideal for the beef. The peanut butter sauce was thick and better suited to be used as a glaze (probably why the ribs had no seasoning).
I believe if you like sauce on your protein out of the kitchen Benny’s BBQ may work ok for you. Heck if you’ve eaten corn flakes for 20 years straight, this may be just dandy. If authentic slow smoked love is what you truly seek in your barbecue, I recommend you keep driving. Benny’s BBQ serves what locals must like and there’s not much life in Bon Air.
I do however love the bar and beer selection. A happy hour is in my future at Benny’s. And the copulating pigs in the corner made me feel at home. So…
I’ll give Benny’s 1.5 out of 4 Butts. Pigs and Beer add points but the dead BBQ kills the experience for me.