Sweet but no heat

dining

Riddle’s Ribs in Springfield

By Paula Johnson

Photo: Ribs and a chicken wing with (l-r) macaroni and cheese, collard greens, potato wedges, and cornbread at Riddle’s Ribs in Springfield photos: Paula Johnson

Riddle’s Ribs is a tiny, white, one-story building on a corner on South Wittenberg Avenue in Springfield. A couple of sandwich boards are on display out front, one announcing Memphis-style BBQ options (dry rub without sauce), and the other Sweet Potato Pie and Fish Boats. The signs on the building proclaim RIBS, WINGS, FISH, and a neon sign in the window boasts “World Famous BBQ Ribs and Fire Wings.” Quite a claim from the small town of Springfield, so I was game to give it a try. Excellent dining pal Jurgen Durstler and PIP (Palate In Progress) joined me for my raid on Riddle’s to see if there was any truth to what the sign said.

Hoards of awards

We parked across the street and crossed to the entrance (there is no parking lot). Opening the door, we entered a festival of sports-, old gas station-, and cowboy-themed memorabilia lining the walls. You could probably stand six people across in a single row—that’s about the extent of how much room there is inside. Country music thumps from the speakers, and everywhere you glance you are engaged with something that references the past. On one end of the counter (which doubles as a display case) is a towering conglomeration of BBQ competition trophies. The case contains plaques and award certificates, plus some old photos of the building in earlier times. “Wow—check this out!” each of us uttered at least once as we stood at the counter looking up at the menu. Riddle’s is also a convenience-type store, specializing in take-out beer and an alcohol selection you won’t find at Dorothy Lane. Thunderbird, MD 20/20, and Boone’s Farm had Jurgen and me reminiscing about earlier times—much earlier times. Needless to say, there is no seating here. Credit is also not accepted; it’s cash only. All food is ordered to take out, something I hadn’t realized until we arrived. Weather was not permitting, so we made a plan to shelter indoors elsewhere to sample our BBQ.

Mr. Riddle himself was behind the counter, sporting a bright red, cowboy-style button down shirt. His round smiling face was topped off by a blindingly white cowboy hat. Jurgen had arrived first with instructions to get a sampling of things to try. Chatting with Mr. Riddle, he learned that Riddle’s has operated there for 22 years and also has a mobile food truck in Yellow Springs. His style of BBQ is a hybrid of Texas sauce, combined with Memphis dry rub. As for the sauce, there is only one offered. By the time PIP and I arrived, Mr. Riddle was in the back putting together our feast. Between what Jurgen selected and what Mr. Riddle decided we should try, we were weighted down with towers of Styrofoam takeout boxes tied tightly in plastic bags for our journey. Our bill came to $45, not really a representative total for the amount of food we got. In general the prices are reasonable. BBQ dinners range from $11.15 for Pork Shoulder to $20 for a full rack of ribs. Sandwiches range from $5.25 to $12, and burgers are also available.

A picnic riddle

Heading back toward Dayton, our vehicles smelled of smoke and sauce. When we got to our dining spot, we made heaping platters of Riddle’s food and sat down to taste. Here’s what we sampled: Full Slab of Ribs, Pulled Chicken Dry, Smoked Pork Chops, Chicken Wings, Corn Bread, Macaroni and Cheese, Seasoned Potato Wedges, Collards, Baked Beans, Green Beans, and Sweet Potato Pie.

I mentioned Riddle’s only makes one sauce, which has garnered some accolades over the years. However, for my taste, it was on the sweet side. I prefer more tang and heat. The wings, for instance, were covered with far too much sauce, and I would have much preferred it on the side to dip. A lot of the meat choices, like the tasty smoked chicken, can be ordered dry instead of wet. I would advise ordering it that way. The ribs were served off the bone, something that, while convenient, wouldn’t be my first choice—I love to gnaw on the bones. As to the sides, we all loved the coated seasoned Potato Wedges and Collards with a vinegary tang and lots of red pepper to spice them up.

As to the pie, Mr. Riddle assured it was homemade, and while I can’t confirm that, it was good. The green beans and macaroni were not homemade but of the institutional ilk. I’m sorry that Riddle’s was out of brisket on our visit and that we didn’t try any fish. Several options are offered: perch, tilapia, whiting, and catfish, available either as dinners or sandwiches.

All in all, we agreed that if we found ourselves in Springfield when the weather begins to brighten up, we would likely consider paying Mr. Riddle a visit for some picnic provisions. A basket full of BBQ and a few beers would be the perfect way to mark the beginning of spring.

Riddle’s Ribs is located at 502 S. Wittenberg Ave. in Springfield. For more information, please call 937.325.0172 or find ‘Riddle’s Ribs’ on Facebook.

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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