Executive summary: eh. it was okay. Next time I need too much beef, pork and sides, I'll be back to Uncle Pete's or Blue Ribbon, even though I could walk to Ryles in 5 minutes and waddle home afterward in 10.
Dined there tonight with two friends. Best feature is a decent beer selection, owing more to the pedigree of the bar/jazz club than the presence of bbq meat.
Room was empty when i popped in just after 7pm to pick up a paper carry-away menu to read on the way to meet friends. Was still empty at 8pm when we arrived for dinner. Seated ourselves at a window, waitress unseated herself from the bar, and we dug in and hoped for the best, encouraged by good reports here.
Cajun catfish strips (an appetizer, but a pretty big portion) were reported by the fish-fan eating them as "I don't see what's cajun about these" and "they don't have any flavor." We concluded that the fact that they were fried must make them cajun, and that their flavor was, in fact, "fried".
Specials were written on a chalkboard out front but we were hungry and hurrying to get inside, and naively assumed they'd be repeated on the inside, either printed in the menu or read out by the server. Wrongo... and i forgot to ask, so if there were specials, we missed them.
Our fish-eating semi-vegetarian tried to order the "vegetable of the day" only to find out there was no "vegetable of the day." Now, this reminds me of something I would have expected in a Seinfeld episode... how can there be no vegetable of the day?? How much effort does it take to keep some broccoli on hand or to steam some baby carrots with a little honey butter glaze? I cook. I can answer that. Not much.
Waitress also didn't ask what sort of sauce I wanted with, on, or alongside my meat, and only after I inquired (when I had food in front of me) did she let on that there's a "honey mustard" sauce (I am guessing this is the same stuff that came with the sweet potato fries and completely drowned out any flavor they once had)... and a "hot sauce" which I requested. There is no vinegary-wet vinegar sauce, apparently, and we were disappointed. The hot sauce was good, actually was a bit hot, and added a much needed counterpoint to my otherwise sticky sweet bbq... a bit more about that later.
Sandwiches come with fries and cole slaw. A request to swap hush puppies (probably 3 silly little pieces, for crying out loud, as came with the catfish app) for the standard fries was rebuffed with a stern "they don't allow substitutions but you can change to sweet potato fries for a dollar."
Hush puppy fan then ordered a side of hush puppies, five small ones again in a really sad little unceremonial bowl for $1.50, a decent price I guess, and he at them all without offering me one, so I think he liked them, but was sad that there was no vinegar to pour over them.
Cornbread muffin that rode along on my plate was nothing special, and may as well have been a jiffy muffin for its oily crumbliness. Maybe it's authentic to some tradition or other, but I have enjoyed some quite excellent corn muffins around the city from time to time and i'd rather have one of those than what I was served... i note that the corn muffin mix at Trader Joe's is excellent.
For my part, in the role of Fred Flintstone big-meat-eater, the BBQ combo platter with St Louis ribs and beef ribs, sweet potato fries and beans on the side ($15.95) , was meaty, crunchy, burned a bit on the outside the way i like it, piled high, and pretty moist with a fresh coating of sauce. I like the sweet sauce ok but it was sugary sweet in a really overwhelming way, and the hot sauce really did a lot to bring out some of the smoky goodness of the meat. Sweet potato fries were more fried than flavorful, in fact they were mushy, and the mustardy sauce that comes along with them is a terrible mismatch, so strong and overpowering against what should be the delicate sweetness of the potatoes.
We concluded that a restaurant that has kids stuffing its carry-away menu under the wipers of every car in the neighborhood, and that's empty when others are not, should do a lot more to encourage people to WANT to go back there... a little less stinginess with the substitutions, a little more effort to "sell" anything unique or good about the place, maybe free refills on iced tea and sodas to encourage people to linger a little... we even expected to be charged for the hot BBQ sauce that was brought out in little individual cups (but were relieved that we weren't)... and a little less stinginess with the portions, the $1.75 side of collard greens came in a sad, tiny little bowl. The greens weren't chiffonaded fat and left alone, but had been chopped down into little pieces, and we couldn't figure out what spice they'd been mixed with but it wasn't what the diner expected, and she left half the tiny bowl uneaten. My side of baked beans was again, smaller than I'm accustomed to anywhere else, and sticky/gooey, Uncle Pete knows baked beans and Ryles does not.
Anyway, they can always start making stern rules after the place is packed and has a line to get in, but for now, they need to loosen up a bit and act like they're the new kid on the block (by being a little bit indulgent with the early brave customers) until they find their groove.
Tab was around $60 all in, 1 large rib platter, 1 sandwich, 2 sides, and upgrade to sweet potato fries, and 2 draft beers...
POSTSCRIPT: OH YEAH, I ATE AT BLUE RIBBON LAST WEEK
Now don't get the wrong impression because I rarely eat this much meat in this short a time, but the ribs I carried out from Blue Ribbon (Arlington) last week were better. Much better. More meat on the ribs. More smoke in the flavor. Memorably finger licking-ly i can't wait for leftover time to come around better. The sides were more inspired, and the portions were considerably more generous. And Blue Ribbon has half a dozen sauces and a serve-yourself and let it soak if you want attitude.. I enjoyed four sauces from Blue Ribbon on that meal, sometimes all at once and sometimes sequentially, and felt very happy, two days running (dinner and then leftovers at lunch).