“Are you the Chicken Girl?” the owner comes outside to ask as I park at the Barbecue Bucket in Granite Falls on a recent Sunday.
“The girl who ordered the chicken?”
I shake my head. They’re not open yet. I don’t know who this “Chicken Girl” is, but I want to be her friend.
The Bucket has been open for a while now off one of the town’s main drags, E. Stanley Street. It’s clean and still shiny. Brick-red walls on the outside complement the dark wood themes inside.
They don’t officially open for another few minutes, but they welcome my friend and me right in.
The menu is concentrated: No sprawling set of options here, just the classics. Meats and sides. The prices are fair for the pleasing portions.
You order at the counter and grab a seat.
For our table, a pulled pork sandwich with cornbread and cheesy potatoes, ribs with cornbread and slaw, and soda-fountain drinks. Two of us eat handsomely for under $30.
The crowd is varied, including hikers presumably coming off the Mountain Loop Highway, couples on early dates and ladies who lunch, sipping beers on the deck. The friendly, unassuming staff bustle. They remember what you ordered. They’re knowledgeable about the menu. Share, they urge.
We’re excited when our plates come, after a short wait. The plastic baskets, complete with black-and-white checkered paper liners, echo the classic, no-frills feel.
The cheesy potatoes are aptly named, so smoky and creamy that at first they taste more like fancy mac n’ cheese. Shreds of potatoes serve as the sidekick of substance for the cheese sauce, and they don’t seem to mind, happy in their role of submission.
The pulled pork sandwich — $7 — is immense, the bread buttered and hot. The meat is moist and the salt present but not overly aggressive. The cornbread — 75 cents as a side — is sticky and sturdy, in that good way, and it comes with a generous swipe of half-melted butter. Cold butter would be an insult on this plate. This is comfortable, low-pressure.
A trio of barbecue “Bucket sauces” is yours for the taking: Smokin’ Chipotle, Sweet ‘n Mild, and Rhubarb Habanero. The sauces shine for their vinegar backbone, not too sweet, with enough acidity to provide a respite from the richness and add a subtle fruity spiciness to the hunks of meats served on and off the bone. The paper towels on the outdoor tables, kept in place by threading them through the umbrella stands, are a thoughtful, utilitarian touch.
Our own mountain of sauce-covered napkins grows.
The ribs are good too: fatty, crunchy-skinned and a beautiful rosy pink. You can get a quarter rack, half or full — a half rack comes at $12.75 with a side — and they don’t skimp on the meat.
The slaw is subtle, with fresh ingredients and not over-sauced or over-dependent on tang.
A cold lemonade, and the sun shines and the shade on the back deck feels just right as you wipe the spilled sauce from your table.
This is the barbecue and picnic food you wish your brother-in-law made in the back yard. All the elements come together just right, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. You might need to change your shirt afterward anyway.
Takeout is popular here, even for weddings. I could see a big order making for a memorable picnic at nearby River Meadows Park or anywhere, really.
I still don’t know who “Chicken Girl” is, but I like her style. I’d be happy to be a guest at her party.
402 E. Stanley St., Granite Falls, 360-691-1215, www.facebook.com/bbqbucket.
Hours: Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 8 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 7 p.m.
Alcohol: Beer and wine.