There’s a place in Richmond, Virginia that claims to be the second best barbecue restaurant in the country. When asked where the best one is, the owner will tell you with a grin, “In the town where you grew up.” The childhood places where we spent time and the food we ate can instantly be pulled from our mental filing cabinets with simple sentences like that.

There was a diner in downtown Little Rock that’s famous in my memory. I can’t even remember the name of it, but I think it was something like Sam and Dave’s. Before we could drive, some friends and I would catch the bus at Heights Variety Store to go have lunch and maybe see a matinee at the Capitol Theater. Major business deals were settled over blue plate specials and barbecue sandwiches so it was best to get there before noon to snag a table among the suits.

By today’s health standards the place would probably be condemned. Paint, most likely lead based, was peeling from the walls, the vinyl seats on some of the metal chairs were torn, and the floor was slick with grease from the deep fryers. But the memory of the squeaky, rusty screen door, the smoky haze, clanging of cooking utensils and the first bite of the barbecue sandwich and fries have me agreeing with the Richmond restaurant owner. Not only the country’s, but the world’s best barbecue is in the town you grew up in.

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