“It’s illegal to shop here and not get barbeque,” one customer announced to the folks behind him in line at Buck Island BBQ—a new take-out place and country convenience store on Route 53. And that’s about right. So consider this a fair warning: If you stop by the shop to pick up a gallon of milk and motor oil and you don’t add some smoked pulled pork with the 20-ingredient house C.C. Rider sauce and maybe some Bayou baked beans and homemade “crispy” coleslaw to your order, Restaurantarama personally will execute a citizen’s arrest and force feed you dog kibble for the remainder of your days.
If the story of Bob and Helen Pitts, seventh-grade sweethearts who reunited after 40 years, doesn’t warm your heart, the food at their restaurant, Buck Island BBQ, surely will.
Because the place has only been serving food since February, however, for now we’ll forgive you if you’re not yet on a first name basis with Buck Island proprietor Bob Pitts. But he will know your name if you spend any time in this quiet little corner of Thomas Jefferson Parkway just up the road from Monticello and Brix Marketplace. Pitts greeted every customer by name on the afternoon we visited. And it’s not surprising that Pitts already has a loyal clientele. He and his wife, Helen Pitts, who has been a full-time social worker in Charlottesville for 22 years, have been catering barbeque spreads with down-home Louisiana-style eats, such as smoked baby back ribs, Cajun-seasoned chicken and beef brisket, for about five years, most recently under the name Bayou BBQ. They bought the old country store—a former post office and something of a landmark on Route 53—in November and remodeled it before headquartering their catering operation there and opening up for take-out.
With its primitive smoker out on the front steps and its tiny take-out counter, visible galley kitchen and shelves of country store staples—cans of beans, pounds of sugar, bags of pork rinds and six packs of beer—a visit to the Buck Island BBQ shop is like stepping back in time. For Pitts, though, it’s the future. “This is what I plan to grow old doing,” says the man who’s on his third career. The native New Yorker had a corporate gig before he moved to Charlottesville a little over five years ago and started selling real estate. But while operating a smoker at a neighborhood picnic, he discovered his true professional calling involved barbeque and baked beans.
And if that doesn’t sound like fate, get this one: Pitts moved to Charlottesville after reuniting with Helen, his seventh-grade sweetheart in New York, after almost 40 years. Go ahead and say it, “Awww.” Now go get yourself some barbeque before Restaurantarama picks you up for culinary indecency.