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Thursday, January 31,2013

Rib House still satisfies in its new digs

By Clay Fong

The Rib House, formerly located in downtown Boulder, has relocated to University Hill, bringing with it loads of classic American barbecue meats perfumed with wood smoke. The bright new venue eschews the former formal dining room setting with a more casually down-home setup where you order at the counter.

Tracy, the genial owner who cites Kansas City style ’cue as a significant influence, walked companion Keith and I through the menu, interspersing nostalgic tales of dining at K.C.’s Arthur Bryant’s. This is one of the seminal American BBQ joints, and Tracy recently added burnt ends, a Bryant’s brisket specialty, to his menu. Other offerings include turkey legs, sandwiches and mixed meat tacos.

At Tracy’s suggestion, Keith ordered “meat on a stick” — a $4.29 quarter-pound portion of beef brisket. This a la carte option is available in increments ranging up to a full pound. One may also select pork, boneless chicken breast and smoked sausage in lieu of beef. Arriving at the table, the meat was presented in a shish kabob fashion consisting of large steak-like chunks on a wooden skewer. While the thick morsels lacked the tenderness of a chopped preparation, the flavor was fine, with a compelling hickory smoke savor.

My friend’s $1.99 side of cole slaw was precisely as it should be, consisting of thin, crisp cabbage strips and a low-key dressing nicely balancing creaminess and tang. Other available accompaniments include such staples as BBQ beans and potato salad. Heftier specialty items include a foot-long stack of onion rings, fries and dinner salads, with or without barbecue meat. Keith and I split one of these signature dishes, the $4.35 mac and cheese wedges. Deep-fried and bursting with creamy cheddar sauce, this finger food was best described as guilty pleasure fare, and a ranch dressing dip was the perfect matchup.

My main course was the $9.95 five-bone slab of Tracy’s Famous Illegal Ribs, which was a decently sized portion of baby back ribs for the money.

From a texture standpoint, this slab was a shining example of the virtues of authentic barbecue (not grilling): slow-cooking. Moist and tender meat fell easily off the bone, rendering utensils superfluous. The downside, and I’ll cop to this being a problem in my personal home barbecue efforts, is that the dry rub seasoning was distractingly salty.

Application of the house recipe sauces helped address this issue. The XXX Hot variety, described by Tracy as not being as fiery as it sounds, was an appropriately tangy foil coupled with a mellow heat. This sauce, and the other three subtly sweet varieties, are available at grocery stores as well as the restaurant. Each has a cleaner flavor than mass-produced versions and happily lack frightening additives. These condiments would also serve as a fine sop for one’s own home-based barbecue efforts.

If one combined the best attributes of the brisket and the ribs, respectively the balanced flavor and melting texture, you’d have absolutely top-notch barbecue. Meat lovers of all stripes should find something to satisfy their appetites here, and it’s worth noting that there are several gluten-free options available. Lastly, the more casual setting works to the Rib House’s benefit, providing a laid-back venue where one can enjoy a traditional American repast.

The Rib House is located at 1335 Broadway in Boulder. Call 303-442-RIBS.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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