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May 2, 2006 10:03 AM

RO'S BBQ Gastonia NC Recommendation

  • m

RO's is a place that many folks will throw stones at and others will throw flowers. Their slaw/sauce (so finely chopped I find it difficult to call it slaw, as do they) is heaven on a bun. They even sell a slaw sandwich which is nothing but a toasted bun w/ slaw.

I almost always order two sliced BBQ w/ extra slaw. The BBQ is really roasted pork...not even close to BBQ but the end result is fantastic.

For sure an aquired taste but they are only three minutes off I-85 at the Hwy 321 exit. See below for more info.

Have no vested interest in RO's. Just been eating there since I wore three cornered pants...maybe forty plus years.

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  1. My wife and I would come up from Texas to visit my parents and I'd always make an RO's stop. My wife, who didn't eat slaw would always order hers without slaw. They goofed the take out order once and put slaw on the entire order so she had to eat one with slaw or go find her own supper. One bite and I was in trouble. "WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME THESE WERE SO GOOD?" Well, I did, but she wouldn't listen. We're going back to Texas for a visit next week and I have a feeling RO's will beckon us as we go through Gastonia. We'll probably pick up some slaw on the way back through.

    20 Replies
    1. re: blewgo

      I guess I am a stone thrower! I have lived in Gastonia for 22 years and think RO's is awful, but I have lived in Memphis, and I travel NC and SC extensively and consequently have access to wood cooked q. RO's is a gas burner.
      I also make my own on weekends, but that's another thread.
      I hate "minced" q, it always makes me think they are trying to hide something...I realize that RO's is a shrine to many, a beloved part of their past. I just do not like their take on bbq.
      However, I love their dip (slaw) and often keep it at home. I use it on burgers and dogs off my own grill. It is pretty darn good on a spoon too!

      1. re: Tee

        I've never considered their pork product to be BBQ. The place opened in the 40s in a small textile town in the South and was aimed to please simple tastes. Not many people in Gastonia had tasted Lexington style BBQ, if Lexington was a style back then, but they had eaten oven roasted pork. RO's came along and took a Sunday dish, put some slaw on it and pleased a lot of people because they could drive up any day of the week, sit in their cars and enjoy a pork sandwich. I, for one, am happy that they haven't messed with their original formula and it is an acquired taste.

        I tried a chopped sandwich once and only once. Sliced is the way to go.

        1. re: blewgo

          I think the folks at RO'S consider their pork product to be bbq, as their name is RO'S Bar-B-Cue! I even googled it just to be sure!
          In all honesty,, I will disclose the fact that I have never tried a sliced sandwich there. My minced (chopped) experience was bad enough to keep me away.
          I do however, agree with your cultural anthropology of RO's appeal.

          1. re: Tee

            I agree, it has BBQ in the name, but who knows what that meant in Gastonia in the 1940s. I mean, how many fish have you seen "CAMPed" out at Twin Tops Fish Camp? :p

            1. re: blewgo

              I am actually going there in about an hour, so I will look and reply back!
              Seriously, since you are a long time student of Gastonia cuisine, I am certain that you ate fish on the banks of the Catawba in a "fish camp", maybe with michael b, both of you in 3 cornered pants (whatever those are!).
              I mean, man can't live by roasted pork alone.

              1. re: Tee

                3 cornered pants probably refers to diapers.

                Hope you were not too disappointed in the RO's 'bbq'. I personally only ever get slaw burgers and or cheeseburgers, when I am too lazy to make my own slaw. I do not like dried out pork roast. It's the slaw... without that, I wonder if RO's would have ever even made it.

                If you want barbecue in the Gaston county region, travel to Shelby, NC out to Alston Bridges. It is just across from the hospital, so don't confuse it with Bridges BBQ out on US 74 by the mall. Alston Bridges is authentic Lexington style, as a matter of fact I think I was told that Mr. Bridges was trained by Mr. Stamey (the founder of the original Lexington BBQ) himself.

                The pit cooks start slow smoking over hickory in the wee hours of the morning, and slow smoke the shoulders up until time for service. You can drive by and allow your senses to overdose in the heavenly aroma of pork drippings smoking off the hickory coals... OMG! That's making me hungry!

                1. re: Chef_Rich

                  " 3 cornered pants probably refers to diapers" - thanks, I feel a little slow....
                  I know about Alston Bridges, I may live in Gastonia but I grew up in Rutherfordton, and Shelby is in the middle!
                  BTW, have you "thought on it long enough" to post your dip recipe? G

                2. re: Tee

                  I was in gastonia in 1980 and ate at a backwwods fish camp. Man it was great. I can not remember the name but it was out in the woods? Are these places still around?

                  1. re: Tsali39

                    I moved here in'87 and never saw a fish camp v. 1.0.
                    I think they all had become permanant, indoor operations by then.
                    Maybe michael b or blewgo can give you historical perspective on the evolution of the fish camp, from the Catawba River bank to South New Hope Road.

                    1. re: Tee

                      Gastonia seemed to be a "wow, that's a good idea, lets do it too" kind of town years ago. The Blacks opened RO's and in a couple of years there were 8 or 10 copy cat restaurants within 10 miles. The food at all of them was about the same. I think RO's became so famous because of it's location and "cruise ability". It was the go to place for high school kids on a Friday night and kept that distinction until Shoney's opened on the east side of town in the 60s. The reason that RO's has survived all these years is sentimentality. You can get exactly the same food tonight as you got on graduation night.

                      From what I remember hearing from my dad fish camps got their start from one of the textile mills having a fish fry for their employees. Looking at Google Earth I am guessing that it was held on Armstrong Ford Rd close to where Catfish Cove is located now. People liked the fried fish and somebody decided to go retail with the concept of serving fried fish. The "me too" thing happened and before you knew it there were 10 or 15 "fish camps" around Gastonia. Very few were located on water front property. We would go out to a fish camp most Friday nights. We probably passed 5 on the way, each having lines out into the parking lot, as we drove to the best one. To be honest they were all about the same.

                      Please note that the preceding is my theory. I didn't even read it on the internet.

                      1. re: blewgo

                        Sounds legit to me.
                        However, I don't think Gastonia has the patent on copying successful restaurants!
                        Were you a fan of Linebergers? Man, we cried when it burned down.
                        The first time we went it went something like this:
                        Hostess, seated high above our heads, using a wooden pegboard to keep track of diner's locations - "who do you want to sit with?"
                        Me - "My wife, if that's ok!"
                        Hostess - "must be your first time, Helen will take care of you"
                        So, we became Helen's from that night on until the fire. She was a real sweetheart and she must have been in her 70s.
                        I miss that place. Do you know what now sits on that hallowed ground?
                        A Mayflower "seafood" restaurant.
                        That's blasphemy!

                        1. re: Tee

                          For some reason my dad didn't care for Linebergers. It was one of the places we passed when we were on our way to the best place. No place was able to maintain "best" for long. The last "best" of his we ate at was South of Crowder's mountain on Freedom Mill Rd. The last fish camp I ate at was Captain's Cap on Linwood. They had whole flounder that night which was always my favorite.

                          Do you eat the catfish tails? They are great. Don't try other fish tails though.

                          1. re: blewgo

                            The whole flounder was my Linberger go-to meal.
                            I eat the tails also. I grew up eating brim and bass my dad caught and we always ate the tails. I will also eat well cooked shrimp tails. I am a crunchy!
                            blewgo, somehow we have run this RO's thread off the rails!

                            1. re: Tee

                              Actually, the thread has come full circle. Tommy's Drive In, mentioned below, serves both RO's style sandwiches and fish camp like fried fish. At least they did at one time. If they still do it might be the ultimate taste of Gastonia spot.

                              1. re: blewgo

                                I have driven by Tommy's countless times heading to our mountain cabin and have never stopped. We have discussed it, and now I will give it a try.

                                1. re: Tee

                                  Remember, I'm not recommending it, as I haven't eaten there during this century. If you like it I'll give it a try next time I'm out that way.

                                  1. re: Tee

                                    Tommy's is just a burger joint. They, like all the 'BBQ' joints, have curb hops that come to your car, or you can eat inside. No matter what you get, get the Cherry-Lemon Sundrop. The last time I was there they still made them the old fashioned way (hope they have not cheaped out and went to the pre-mixed) with a squirt of cherry syrup, lemon wedges and mar. cherrys in the bottom of the cup.

                                    Don't expect spectacular, its the SLAW :) ... This is the south, the definition of slaw ( noun. .. A cabbage condiment that southerners eat on EVERYTHING! )

                                    Also, if you do get the burger or BBQ and spicy food gets to you, bring antacid. My favorite order -> a large cheeseburger with BBQ slaw, a small cheeseburger the same way, a small fry and a large Cherry-lemon Sundrop.. finished off with 2 Tums an hour later.
                                    I used to attend Gaston College, just up the road from there, and that was my twice a week meal. Not going to say how long ago that was, but the college and the Dairy Queen both had 321 front access... (where's my cane?), but I have eaten there much more recently.

                                    PS.. Enjoy lapping up the slaw, that got away, off the parchment that your sandwich was wrapped in.... Maybe that's what makes RO's, Tommy's and Black's such mainstays.

                                    MY SLAW RECIPE, if anyone is interested:
                                    6 Cups Cabbage (will describe the chopping process at end)
                                    1/4 cup Dill chips
                                    2 1/2 cups Ketchup (I use Heinz)
                                    1 1/2 cups Mayo (Dukes or other non-sweet mayo)
                                    1 Tsp Light brown sugar
                                    1 Tsp Salt
                                    2 Tsp Black Pepper
                                    2 Tsp Mustard Powder
                                    Just under 1/8 cup by volume pimentos or roasted red peppers
                                    1 Tsp Texas Pete (normal taste, I use 2 Tbsp to add a little extra kick)
                                    1 1/2 Tbsp Chili Powder ( not too heavy on cummin)
                                    1 1/2 Tbsp Paprika (NOT smoked paprika)

                                    Break down cabbage and dispose of the core. Rough chop and place in a blender (about 1/2 full at a time, cover with water and blend until cabbage is pulverized ((those who have tried the slaw will know the consistency, those who have not... you must have faith :) )). After each blender full, pour into a strainer. Remove as much water as possible, try not to bruise the cabbage too badly as you remove the water. Once your cabbage has reached 6 cups by volume, add the remaining ingredients to the blender and pulse until the pickles and red peppers are well minced. Add mixture to the cabbage and mix until well blended. Best when allowed to sit overnight in fridge and allow the flavors to marry.

                                    aficionados may find fault, but it is as close as I have found. And trust me, the Blacks are not telling their secrets. That is one closely held recipe, like Coca-Cola.

                                    1. re: Chef_Rich

                                      thanks very much Chef Rich. I will give this a try. Man, that must make lots of slaw!
                                      I know the owner of Black's personally. I just may show him this and see if he will comment!

                              2. re: blewgo

                                Captn's Cap is our favorite. and Blacks is def. better than ROs

              2. re: Tee

                Try the dogs at ROs next time( all the way, of course). They're pretty good!

            2. Only been to R.O.'s once (2 yrs ago), but they did curb service, which makes them a little more unique. Whenever I'm in Gastonia, my must-visit place in addition to barbecue is Twin Tops Fish Camp.

              1. I've been meaning to make the trip to Ro's and this thread inspired me to visit yesterday.

                I had a large cheeseburger all the way and enjoyed every sloppy, gooey bit of it.

                Next time I'll try the roast pork.

                1 Reply
                1. re: brentk

                  Please keep in mind the bbq sandwich is totally different from the bbq far as meat goes. Their bbq plater or tray is HORRIBLE. The sandwiches are perhaps an aquired taste (I aquired it while still wearing three cornered pants).

                  This place is all about the sauce/slaw. You'll love it or hate it.

                2. No need to get lost in a real bad part of Gastonia, if you miss a turn. Off I-85 go NORTH on US-321 about 2 miles to Tommy's Drive In. The slaw is almost identical. I think that it is owned by the same family, brothers or cousins or something like that. There are actually 3 choices, RO's, Tommy's and Black's BBQ. Black's is several miles south on 321, but I think it is a little bit better.

                  I am lucky, I was born with one beautiful pallet, and must have figured the recipe out... or at least got dead ringer close. I make a slaw that is identical to theirs. To get the consistency of the cabbage, I rough chop it, fill a blender half full -> top off with water and pulse until I get the cabbage chopped to the proper consistency. Pour into a strainer, squeeze out the access and let drain for a while. I may post my recipe, but I will have to think on that for a while.

                  Just another idea for this wonderful concoction that you will either love or hate. Try it as a dip with tortillas. I make my recipe about 1/2 gallon at a time, and between the tortillas, the burgers and sandwiches, and my friends.... it lasts about 2 or 3 days.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Chef_Rich

                    This is a story that the Food Network did on the slaw a few years ago. There used to be five or six places in Gastonia that served similar slaw and roast pork. There were three on Bessemer City Road alone.


                  2. Can't say I'm a fan. I certainly didn't love the slaw, but can't say I hated it either, it just wasn't for me. I grew up eating more of the Eastern and Lexington style Que.