Sunday, July 13, 2008


Ranch Hand Fries - topped with melted cheeses and pulled chicken.

Fresh off a great time at the Chef & Wine Experience, I met Cecilia at Rub BBQ at the back end of Federal Hill on Light Street. I had been wanting to check out Rub for quite some time and with the heavy thunderstorms and high humidity plowing through the city, what better time to check it out?

Billing itself as "Authentic Texas Barbecue," Rub is a lot smaller than I expected. Think converted neighborhood bar rather than neighborhood restaurant and you'll start to get the idea of the size. As you drive down Light Street, past all of the commercial areas of Federal Hill and into a more residential area, you start to wonder if you've somehow missed it. That is, until you see the glow from the very large neon sign mounted to the side of the building like a beacon in the wilderness.

The interior reminds me of a Texas honkytonk: dark with a bar that's illuminated almost solely by a variety of neon beer signs. There's only about three people working the front of the house on this Sunday evening and there's maybe a total of fifteen guests, including Cecilia and myself.

As I peruse the menu, I'm thinking strategy. The fried green tomatoes look interesting but I'd like to know how their fries taste, but I don't want to order fries with my meal since there's a plethora of tasty-sounding sides that need proper exploration. Field greens and chicken wings seem as though they would be a waste of tummy space, so I decide to order the Ranch Hand Fries topped with melted cheese and pulled chicken or beef. After consulting with our server, who says the chicken is the most popular, we go with that.

It takes a good, long while for that appetizer to arrive. Meanwhile, I'm sampling the sweet tea and it's about average. Nothing to write home about but nothing to send back either. Still waiting for the appetizer. We chat. Still waiting. The rain is just starting. Still waiting.

My third child is about to graduate from college and I'm still waiting.

Finally, the appetizer arrives and it's anti-climactic. A few bites later and I'm wondering what took so darn long? Did they run to SuperFresh to buy some more potatoes? The fries are on the soft side and undercooked. They're also frozen foodservice fries lazily placed on a plate and slathered with shredded chicken and a white and yellow cheddar mix before being tossed under the broiler. Once the cheese is melted, some diced tomatoes are thrown on top (along with one tiny slice of onion) and a lame ranch dressing placed on the side.

By now, I'm starving and my eating of the dish is fueled by hunger rather than desire. It's ugly and the dish is terrible. Just lazy and thoughtless. There's a very weird pineapple taste in the dish and I can't figure out why. It's sweet and disgusting. I taste a couple of bites with the ranch dressing and it's certainly not an improvement. In fact, the dressing makes it worse.

Two Meat Platter - black angus brisket, Texas flat ribs, mac-n-cheese, home-style green beans.

Next it's time to order our main courses. Like I said, I like to sample a variety of flavors, which is why I was flabbergasted when Cecilia decided to order the same main course as I did. I chose the two meat mixed plate, and with five types of meats on the menu to choose from, you'd think that she would order two different ones that we could share.

But maybe I'm just being petty.

For my meats, I chose the Black Angus Brisket and the Texas Flat Ribs with macaroni and cheese and home-style green beans as the sides. Cecilia chose cole slaw and Texas Corn Pudding as her sides. And again we waited.

This time, my third child got married.

For a place that's relatively empty and slow on a Sunday night, the orders were taking inordinately long. And it's not as though these are meats they're cooking a la minute. The brisket is billed as the house specialty, slow-smoked for 12-14 hours. It's gotta be done by now.

Finally, the platters arrive and there's a slight problem: two Corn Puddings but no slaw. That's rectified quickly enough but the slaw is terrible too. Lots of mayo but no bite. Where's the vinegar? Where's the balance? The corn pudding is quite good though. Creamy, tasty with a definite corn flavor and a slight bite from the serrano peppers. It's second only to my macaroni and cheese, which is kinda plain in a Kraft kinda way - Kraft that's been broiled in the oven, which I actually like.

The platters are served with two slices of Texas Toast, some pickled onions and spicy sliced pickles. The pickles are tasty but I have to wonder about the toast. They look like the commercial Texas Toast you buy at the grocery store. In fact, I'd swear it was the very same bread you buy in the grocery store. Is this really how authentic bbq is eaten in Texas?

Then there are the green beans. Order them and it's an extra dollar. With that kind of pricing and hype, I'm expecting them to be killer.

They're okay. At least their fresh. But they've been cooked past their snap point so they're slightly on the soggy side. Cooked with onion, bacon, butter and chicken stock they're kinda tasty - at least there's a lot of bacon to chew on, but I'm not pounding them down like I would expect.

Which brings us to the meat. I have to be honest. I want to like the meat. I desperately want to write great things about it. But I can't. At best, it was disappointing. At worst, it was horrible.

Twelve to fourteen hours for the brisket. Perhaps ten would be better. The brisket was dry. Maybe it was cooked too long. Maybe it was rethermalized improperly. Whatever the case, it was dry, lifeless and tasted like cardboard. It needed the bbq sauce on the table.

Unfortunately, the ribs weren't much better. Again, on the dry side with a rub that really didn't compliment the meat. In fact, the rub was just a letdown. It offered very little to the experience. Maybe there wasn't enough applied at cooking. The ribs too needed the table sauces.

Cecilia wanted to go for dessert. I just couldn't stomach anymore. She ordered the peach cobbler (or something like that). I tasted it. It wasn't bad, but I had had enough.

In the end, I'm disappointed with Rub. I expected so much from this place. I had heard positive things. I wanted to love the place. Unfortunately, the food fell flat and I went home in the rain.

1843 Light Street
Baltimore, MD 21230

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