Monday, December 21, 2009

With Respect To Barbecue, You Can’t Always Trust What The Sign Says

Despite the fact that it markets itself on the restaurant signs as having the “Worst Bar-B-Q in Texas,” there is absolutely no doubt that Rudy’s “Country Store” and Bar-B-Q has anything but that. Rudy’s tongue in cheek marketing is, of course, playful and very much insincere. Rudy’s knows the quality of its food, and it’s darn good.

While Rudy’s has a few locations in Oklahoma and New Mexico, most of its places are in Texas. And, while some people may think that a chain restaurant could not possibly have the quality of barbecue that is found at a small family operation, at least with respect to Rudy’s, those people would be wrong.

Like eating at most great barbecue places, the experience begins before you even enter the door. The smell of the burning wood and smoking meat welcomes the visitor the minute the car door swings open in the parking lot. Unlike a lot of hill country barbecue joints, Rudy’s uses oak, and not mesquite, to cook its meat. Without debating the merits of what cooking wood is best, I will say that Rudy’s uses the oak to its advantage in producing high quality meats to serve. That point is not subject to debate at all.

With respect to the meats offered, Rudy’s seemingly has all the correct choices for a barbecue restaurant in the hill country. Offering brisket, chicken, chopped beef, pork loin, pork ribs, sausage, and turkey, Rudy’s covers it all. The meats are complimented with excellent sides, which, like the meats, are always fresh. Beans, cole slaw, cream corn, and potatoes are just but a few of them. And, of course, for dessert lovers, there are many choices, including, banana pudding.

Eating at Rudy’s, however, is not just about the good barbecue and sides. Equally important, is the experience of dining at a Rudy’s. Ordering the food, and eating it on the premises, is as delightful as savoring the delicious food.

After moving through an extremely fast moving line which wraps around ice chests filled with ice, beer, soft drinks and water, you come face to face with a refrigerated display case with little packets of cheese, servings of cole slaw, and desserts. If you want any of those, you need to grab them quick, because what comes next is the row of ordering and paying stations. “Next in line, please,” is what you’ll hear, and that is quickly followed by a “have you ever been to Rudy’s before?” If not, your personal cashier will explain to you how the ordering process works, and, of course, will patiently answer any questions you may have.

The ordering station is the place to order your meats and hot sides. With respect to the brisket, for example, you order it by the half pound. So you need to determine the appetite of your eating companions before you order. If in doubt, the cashier will help you sort it all out. During the ordering process, your cashier will throw in a half a loaf, or whole loaf of bread, depending upon the size of your party and a sheet of white butcher paper for each person. There are no plates at Rudy’s, so, in traditional fashion, you eat everything off the paper, sides included.

Once you’ve collected your order and paid for it, you visit the condiment station for onions, pickles, mustard, and plastic table service. Then, you head to either an indoor or outdoor picnic table to enjoy your meal. On the table is the “Bar-B-Q Sause,” as it is called at Rudy’s. All that’s left after sitting down at a table is spreading the butcher paper out, shoveling the food onto it, then devouring it. It’s always a lot of fun, especially when bringing guests who have never visited a Rudy’s before.

If you happen to be passing by a Rudy’s in Texas, Oklahoma or New Mexico, and see that sign which reads, “Worst Bar-B-Q in Texas,” don’t believe a word of it. As Rudy’s loyal employees and everyone else who has ever eaten there know full well, it’s exactly the opposite.

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