BELMONT – Upon entering Buddy’s Original BBQ and Catering around 2 p.m. on a Wednesday, it looks like a place out of central casting for a small-town restaurant.
It’s a 1,200-square-foot structure with the facade of a house. Inside, there is a man sitting on a bench across from the cashier, gabbing away about matters personal and impersonal as he waits for his take-out meal. Owner Buddy Cunningham walks out from his open office with a big smile on his face and within minutes the place actually begins to feel like home.
“If you walk in here a stranger, you won’t be one for long,” said Cunningham.
Cunningham worked as a firefighter for 30 years, cooking two meals a day in the firehouse. It’s where he honed his culinary skills and learned to cook for a crowd.
“I would make meals for 15 to 20 guys on each shift,” he said.
After retiring, he decided to open his own restaurant and in 1998, Buddy’s was born. The structure had been a record store and a machine shop, but never a restaurant, so the entire space was gutted and fitted for an eatery.
Buddy’s enjoyed almost immediate success with the people of Belmont and the surrounding area.
The menu at Buddy’s is large and varied, belying the actual name of the restaurant. Along with pulled pork, which is smoked for more than 13 hours in a rotisserie cooker, there are tons of non-barbecue menu items.
The fried-fish sandwich is hand-breaded and lightly fried, with a lovely crispy crust enveloping a firm, flaky white fish. Try it with the hand-breaded fried pickles, which have a delicate crunch and perfect texture.
The hotdog is deep-fried and can be smothered with homemade chili, homemade coleslaw and other toppings. In addition, the menu offers hand-pattied hamburgers, BLTs, a fried bologna sandwich and a grilled cheese, along with salads, seafood plates and chicken wings. Other items made from scratch are pimento cheese; hushpuppies; hot, sweet and vinegar barbecue sauces; and chicken salad so delicious that customers often order it by the pound.
All the desserts, including the rich and tasty Mississippi Mud Brownie, are also made in-house by Cunningham’s wife and daughter.
The breakfast menu lists egg sandwiches with bacon, bologna, ham and even barbecue. There are also omelets. Try one with livermush and pancakes.
The restaurant opens at 7 a.m. during the week but the phone often starts ringing just after 6.
“I’ll take their order, but let them know that I’m still getting everything ready,” Cunningham said.
Buddy’s is almost exclusively a takeout joint. There is only one table in the entire place. But Buddy will happily offer his desk in the back office to anyone who would like to stay and eat. “Also, people from my church will just bring a card table and set it up so they can eat here,” Cunningham added.
Buddy’s does a bustling catering business for weddings, family reunions and corporate events. And no happening is too small or big.
“I’m happy to make food for any amount of people,” Cunningham said. “I can make a small number of items or 7,000 pounds of barbecue. No problem either way.”
Cunningham has been using social media such as Facebook groups to further his business, with excellent results.
“It’s all about repeat customers for me,” he said. “I want people to come back. So if anyone has a problem, they can come tell me and I’ll try to fix it.”
However, it’s likely the only problem most customers have at Buddy’s is deciding what to order from the generous menu filled with homemade fare.