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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Uncle LeRoy makes saucy barbecue well worth the mess

Hellllloooooo LeRoy.

Thanks to you, it’s time to talk barbecue.

Even in December.

That’s because Uncle LeRoy’s BBQ opened just down the street – 205 S. Pines Road in the Valley, to be exact – and suddenly many excuses for ignoring barbecue evaporated.

Barbecue is one of our favorite, if infrequently indulged foods.

Maybe it starts with that age-health-meat thing.

Second, it’s messy, which makes it a gamble at lunch or a night out – and you’re certainly not going to tackle ribs in the car.

Third, it’s not really date food, no matter how awesome your companion (see No. 2).

Fourth, there aren’t a lot of truly great barbecue joints, which means it’s not as convenient as other fare. Sure there are ribs or pulled pork in a lot of restaurants, but it’s just not the same unless your hankerin’ for barbecue is near the critical stage.

And then there’s this: Many of us fancy ourselves quite competent around the grill.

But when Uncle LeRoy arrived, well, those excuses went out the window. Our diets aren’t perfect – scratch one. Bringing ribs home takes care of two and three. His location wiped out four. It just dawned on us that a good barbecue spot gives you fast service but isn’t fast food. Because it is slow-cooked, it can’t be done to order, so it’s ready when you are.

And finally, it’s December – we ain’t firing up the barbie!

That allows us to take care of another question that has been nagging us: where to send someone for good barbecue. That was one of the first questions we got when we started writing. The question was asked in such a way we knew that the couple wanted a cornbread-and-beans joint to go with their barbecue.

We had a couple answers off the top of our head: Longhorn Barbecue, a longtime area standby in the Valley and Airway Heights, Red Lion BBQ and Pub downtown, O’Doherty’s in the Valley and Chkn-N-Mo, a personal favorite (the best catfish around).

But there is so much more to barbecue than slathering sauce on some meat.

The answer we couldn’t give is to try the closest equivalent to Uncle LeRoy you can find. There was a drive-through place on a corner we kept passing a few years back and never stopped – for several of the above reasons. Now life circumstances have changed and the place is, well, hopefully somewhere out there and serving the niche for those who love to make a mess but don’t have time to sit and wait.

That’s why we’re going to embrace OUR neighborhood joint.

It isn’t fancy, with plastic utensils, picnic tables and minimal ambiance, which for most meals we frown on, but in this case it’s more of a reflection of what a rib joint is than the quality of the product. All that’s missing is the moist towelettes.

But if you like good, meaty ribs …

Leroy Payne is a congenial fella who likes competition barbecue. We’ll have to ask him on the next visit if he opened his place to show off or taste test. We ask because one day we stopped in and he threw in an extra rib from a test batch. The recipe and cooking routine, he said, came from a 50-time champion of something or other. We thought LeRoy’s ribs – and both of his sauces – were better than the champ he was trying to emulate.

To be honest, we passed Payne’s place a number of times.

He opened his place on South Pines, in a location that’s housed a number of outdoor businesses (most memorably concrete yard ornaments). He set up shop as the area was turning into a flea market. Though we love BBQ, we wondered if it was temporary, until the flea market closed for the season and there was an open sign lit up in the little building.

Then we stopped on a November night.

And immediately went back. Twice.

He turned that little building into a cozy if plain place to get down to the serious business of diving into a pile of ribs.

Barbecue is just specialized enough with numerous choices of meat to make it difficult to master. There are places that fancy themselves barbeque hot spots, home of a secret recipe, a rub, a sauce or a way to slow cook.

Most ribs have a geographic designation related to their flavor or spiciness, from Carolina to Texas to Hawaii.

Payne favors Kansas City.

Learning what that means is part of the charm of finding good barbecue. That’s why you should strike out on your own, whether it’s sitting at a restaurant, takeout, your neighbor’s or your own backyard.

But if you need a little finger-lickin’ sauce fix right now, Uncle LeRoy’s is the perfect stop.

Former longtime S-R writer Dave Trimmer and former restaurateur Dan Coyle forged a bond over dinner and drink. They share recent finds and longtime favorites in this column. Reach them at daveanddan@hotmail.com.

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