When I moved here in the middle 1980’s, it was strongly suggested that I do two thing: see the Dogwoods in Queens Lake, and go to Pierce’s for barbeque. Both represent a unique Williamsburg experience.
Going to Pierce’s was a bit of a journey back then. Less direct routes than today, although the Virginia Department of Transportation has made some inconvenient adjustments to our road system when it comes to accessing smoked meat. Before SR 199 was re-imagined in the late 1990’s, you could exit Interstate 64 and drive across SR 199, making for an easy glide path down Rochambeau Road to the smoke house. Things change – now there is a one mile detour… an inconvenience. The good news is the extra travel time has not slowed things down for the Pierce family business.
My first visit to Pierce’s was a surprise. It was a small, rectangular building with a smoke house either connected to it or closely nearby. It smelled great as I exited the car – the air full of fragrant smoke. There was no inside service, but picnic tables were available. I was looking forward to this. I walked to the window and read the menu. I scanned the menu a number of times because I am a little dyslexic.
There were no ribs!
Just pulled pork – by the pound, as a dinner, on a roll, with some sides and beverages. Very simple and direct. This was not barbeque to me. This was some smoked meat, pork in this case, with a very thin sauce that was on the vinegar side of the taste spectrum. Quel dommage! (Ninth grade French immediately came to mind.) Clearly an adjustment of expectations was in order, if this was going to work for me. I made it through the first sandwich. It was OK, but it was not BBQ sauce sweet, and it was not ribs.
Everyone seemed to love this stuff. Why? When you see the world of barbeque through the lens of ‘ribs with caramelized sauce’, which was my reference point, Eastern Carolina pulled pork can be a swing and a miss. Perhaps I needed to broaden my view of barbeque as ribs to a better appreciation of the universe of smoked meats. Fortunately for me, I did. Pierce’s grew on me. I matured, became curious. I even learned to smoke things myself.
Pierce’s has expanded the building to the one above with inside seating, and picnic tables available outside. The menu is huge and has many smoked meat options, including ribs, along with chicken fingers and hamburgers. It is quite an experience on a busy day, which there are many. Some might call it organized bedlam – crowded, but everyone knows the drill, it all works.
So now this is what I tell people on their first visit to Williamsburg: if it is April, see the Dogwoods in Queens Lake; and any time of the year make sure you stop by Pierce’s – both are unique Williamsburg experiences.