Restaurant Review: Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint
There is something happening in the stars about this place. My team mate and friend Peter mentioned that there was a new BBQ place in East Meadow, NY replacing an old Italian restaurant called Arthur Avenue that he and I had visited. I was intrigued, but Pete didn't know the name of the BBQ place. A little detective work was necessary.
Now, my buddy Gary over at PigTrip and I regularly correspond about the various BBQ joints in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, so I asked him if he knew about a new place in East Meadow. He did. "It's called Ruby's Famous BBQ AND it's opening Thursday," says Gary. "Thursday?" thinks I. Hmm, I just happen to need to run an errand on Long Island Thursday and can make a detour through East Meadow to check this place out. Is there a cosmic connection here telling me to go? I think there is.
So with my younger brother in tow, he and I decide to check out Ruby's Famous BBQ on its opening night. We arrived around 7:00pm. The street sign was not lit and the place seems to be closed, but it wasn't. The place was more than half empty and we were immediately greeted by the hostess who escorted us to our table, but not before being offered our choice of a booth, table, or bar area seating. (We chose a table.)
The restaurant is set up with a large bar area and divided dining area. There are large TV screens everywhere, and one is always in view. My brother asked if Ruby's used to be a sports bar with all the available TVs and mentioned that he could see himself coming there for various sporting events. The rest of the decor is fairly non-descript with light woods and touches of cowboy chic. It's not memorable, but comfortable none the less.
After perusing the menu we decide that we will stick with BBQ only because I tell my brother that this visit will be reported on my blog. Ruby's offers up barbecue, burgers, "old school comfort food" like Chicken Pot Pie and Catfish, "fillers" and what it calls "wooden salad bowls." I guess that last one is for them crazy vegetarians. All of the non-Q food sounded good, but it wasn't what we were there for that night.
I've already posted the pictures of what we ordered. I apologize for the poor quality, as they were taken with my cell phone, not color corrected, posted on the fly as I tried to take them on the sly. I'm still not comfortable taking pictures of restaurant food while seated in the place. I don't know how other folks do it so well.
First up was the "Up In Smoke Wings" with Blue Cheese Dip $8.95. We were served 6 large whole wings that were smoked and lightly glazed. The color in the photograph does not do them justice, as they were golden, smokey and flavorful. The skin was rubbery, as smoked chicken tends to be, but not tough and it didn't stop us from enjoying the wings. My first thought as I put them in my mouth was that I was in the backyard eating wings off the grill. The glaze was nice and a bit sweet, a little hot and very unlike the three tomato based BBQ sauces that Ruby's provides. If you're looking for "Buffalo Wings" keep going, because you won't find them here.
If I could improve this dish, I'd grill the wings slightly before serving to crisp the skin. I'd also lose the blue cheese dressing. It's served with Buffalo wings to cool down the heat and there's no major heat to be found here, so the dressing is superfluous. If they continue to serve the dressing, add celery or carrot sticks to the plate. But that all boils down to personal preference.
Our main courses were "Ruby's Famous Pig Out Platter" ($24.95) which included Baby Back ribs, St. Louis ribs, 1/4 white meat BBQ Chicken, Carolina pulled pork and sliced Texas brisket and the "Big Boy Beef Rib" ($21.95). Ruby's doesn't really tell you what the beef rib is on the menu, only supplying the following, "This Bad Boy is Big and Beefy."
Both platters came with a choice of two sides and corn bread. The corn bread was very good, more cake like than bread, and studded with jalapeno flakes that primarily added color and not heat.
My brother chose the "Candied Carrots" and "Hand Cut French Fries" as his sides, and I chose "Sweet Potato Fries" and "Baked Beans" as mine. The French fries were tasty, albeit a bit cold and soggy. My brother tells me that that carrots were good, but I didn't try them. In contrast to the French fries, the sweet potato fries were hot, crispy and salty; just the way I like them.
The baked beans were a disappointment; overly sweet and overly smoked. They arrived in a separate ramekin, as did the carrots, but seemed to have been sitting for a long while as a slightly dried crust had developed on the top. Now, I don't know if these beans would qualify as a vegetarian dish, or if this is the cook's intention, but they were devoid of any obvious pieces of meat.
Our main courses arrived as we were almost done with our wings, and we were pleased to see how generous the portions were. You could easily share the "Pig Out" between two people, but alas Ruby's Famous charges a $5 plate sharing charge.
The Texas style brisket was nothing like the brisket I had in Texas, but none the less, this was one of the best restaurant briskets I've ever tasted. This was a real surprise, because if you look at the picture, it looks boiled and bland. In actuality it was tender, smokey, salty and a bit sweet. I never found sweet brisket in Texas or in any of the BBQ joints I've visited before, but this sure was good eating.
The pulled pork was indeed "Carolina style" with the hint of vinegar and pepper. I enjoyed it very much, but was looking for some additional sauce for the meat. I didn't want to ruin the Carolina connection by pouring a sweet Kansas City style sauce all over it. For all you bark lovers out there, there was no bark served on our plate; just the white interior meat of the shoulder.
The "Big Boy Beef Rib" turned out to be a cross section of three very meaty short ribs. The crust or bark was beautiful, the rub flavorful and accentuated the flavor of the meat beautifully. Unfortunately, the ribs were undercooked; much more rare then they appear in the photograph. Much more of the fat should have been rendered out of the ribs, leaving them a bit on the tough and chewy side of the equation. These guys needed at least another hour in the smoker.
The large white meat quarter of chicken was well cooked with a flavorful traditional barbecue sauce. Unlike the wings, this chicken skin was slightly crispy and much more enjoyable. The meat was flavorful and moist.
We ordered the ribs "Memphis Style," which means dry rubbed with Ruby's "House Mix," as Ruby's provides three different "Kansas City" style sauces on the tables which would allow us to sauce the ribs as we pleased. The first sauce is their "Sweet Talkin'" which is overly sweet and smooth. It could pass for dessert syrup. Their "Original" sauce ups the flavor and the heat, and reminds me a of mix between Sweet Baby Ray's original sauce and Kraft BBQ sauce. I hear all you purists scream, but it was OK. It could pass for any average in-house BBQ sauce anywhere.
Ruby's "Snake Bite" sauce was very good. They raised the heat, dumped the corn syrup for molasses and created a sauce that I'd buy in the bottle. Ruby's claims that this is their "hot" sauce, but by that definition it misses the mark considerably. I would give this to a baby. This is a good everyday BBQ sauce. This sauce would not be out of place in Austin.
But back to the ribs, the baby back ribs were a bit over cooked and the meat stuck to the bone, as if they were cooked in too hot a smoker for not enough time. The "St. Louis Ribs" were not trimmed properly but cooked well. If they took them just a little longer, they would have had some very good ribs here. The flavors were there on both ribs, but the technique and presentation suffered. Was it just opening night jitters?
Our server was very attentive and usually anticipated our needs just before we did. I didn't write down her name, but I did mention that fact on the comment card we left. She was something special and I hope that the management there realizes it.
I like the fact that they owners didn't create a "legend" about "Ruby," even though they did make her "famous." I hate reading all that hoopla about fictional characters.
But unfortunately the staff, from our waitress to the manager who greeted us later in the meal, know absolutely nothing about real barbecue or even how it was prepared in their restaurant. When asked about smokers and woods, both the waitress and the manager seemed stumped.
The waitress told us she'd find out, which she did; Southern Pride Smokers and hickory wood, but the manager said he was "more concerned with the front of the house." I then asked the manager if they had a pit master and I could tell by the look on his face that I could have been speaking Greek. He had no idea what a pit master was. I explained and he told us he would find out and disappeared for at least 30 minutes.
Just before we were leaving, the manager informed us that they used Southern Prides and that the pit master was a man by the name of John DeLoach who earned his chops by working at Virgil's and had been trained by Paul Kirk.
In conclusion, Ruby's Famous has some problems, but it was some of the best restaurant barbecue I've had in a long time. It's easily the best sit down Long Island Barbeque joint I've been to. I hope it sticks around for a long time. After all, they have the stars backing them up!
Ruby's Famous BBQ
2367 Hempstead Turnpike
East Meadow, NY 11554