Opened in December 2008, Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint sadly closed in January 2010. I say "sadly" not because it was a great joint that will be missed, but because it showed much promise that never really got a chance (I'm guessing due to ownership impatience) to fully come to fruition.
There were at least four distinct phases to the short lifespan of the restaurant:
Under opening pitmaster John Deloach (easily good enough to crack the Long Island BBQ top 3, not that that's saying much)
Rudderless after Deloach's departure (bleak)
Under second pitmaster Greg Barry (promising)
Transition phase after Barry's dismissal, led by a group with connections to one of the most famous names in competition barbecue (very promising)
I tried the 'cue at Ruby's at least once each during the first three phases, and I was looking forward to tasting the results of the next phase. Now it's being converted into a pizza shop, just what Long Island needs. My initial review (in red below) was written toward the end of the first phase. A brief article (in black below) appeared shortly after Greg Barry's arrival, but it was too early for a follow-up review. Now it's too late.
Long Island BBQ: "Big Barry" is the New Pitmaster at Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint
Greg Barry, the new pitmaster at Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint
Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint (East Meadow NY) has gone through a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. When it first opened last winter under the helm of pitmaster John Deloach—who trained with RUB's Paul Kirk—Ruby's established itself as a commercial yet credible barbecue restaurant.
Before spring, relations with Deloach unraveled and so did the caliber of the food, though the two may not necessarily be related. The beef shortrib that was their best item on my first visit was yanked from the menu. The pulled pork gently bathed in a well rounded sauce the first time out was mercilessly drowned in a bland one-note sauce the next. Brisket and "smoked" prime rib looked and tasted boiled. Ribs that were once meaty, smoky and perfectly textured turned pale, with soggy meat and exposed bones. To encourage business, a Monday night all-you-can-eat rib special was added, then pulled. Public reaction was not positive.
After operating a few months without a pitmaster, Ruby's management hired Greg Barry, a West Islip resident who once toiled in the kitchen at Willie B's and is best known among Long Island BBQ competition enthusiasts for his Team BigBarryQ. The hire is an interesting choice, because there are other competition pitmasters with far more experience and a far greater collection of trophies. But after a sit-down with Barry last Friday night and a (non-anonymous) sampling of some of his 'cue, I was filled with optimism.
"My goal is to make the food traditional barbecue," said Barry. "And barbecue shouldn't just be a meal but an experience."
I'd chatted with Barry previously at barbecue competitions and events and always considered him an affable guy, but I never got a chance to speak with him at length until Friday. I was impressed by his approach to flavors, the transition to a restaurant environment and his role as not just a cook but as a hub who can make every spoke on the wheel better.
At a time when most pitmasters have an I-know-everything attitude, Barry is taking the opposite approach, engaging in conversations with customers and genuinely seeking feedback from friends within the competition community. He even posted on Chowhound earlier this week, announcing who he was to avoid being labeled a shill, and stating his goals for the restaurant (this post has since been deleted, and shame on Chowhound).
Now in his third week at Ruby's, Barry has already changed the chili (beans are out, tomatoes are in), tweaked the beans (added mustard), gently re-tooled the brisket (mustard plus "a lot of rub") and introduced a new way to check ribs for doneness. "The kitchen staff wasn't familiar with cooking barbecue, so everything was done based on fixed times," said Barry. "I explained to them how a properly cooked rack of ribs should feel and bend, and when they see that, they know it's done."
More significant changes are on the horizon after Barry gets more situated. "We'll be adding more sauces, including a mustard and a vinegar, and thicken some of our existing ones. We'll also bring back the beef ribs."
Barry's communication skills (he's a former salesman) should serve him well in his quest to educate the servers, kitchen staff, customers and even Ruby's management, who "realized that they needed to change their approach."
But it's easy to talk the talk; can he walk the walk? Based on Friday's samples, I'd say yes. Granted, my identity was known when the 'cue was prepared, but all of it was all good and some of it was very good. The pork had a much better texture than on my previous visit, losing the mushiness and adding some apple brightness under the more restrained saucing, The brisket for the first time in all my visits to Ruby's actually looked like brisket, and its flavor was more pronounced. I also liked that we received both slices and chunks. Ribs had more smokiness, a pleasing rub flavor on the outside and a moist meat inside. I liked Ruby's previous incarnation of the chili more than the new one, but that's a small tradeoff for the much-improved barbecue. I have a feeling more improvements are on the way.
Brisket and pork from the fourth visit, the first under pitmaster Greg Barry.
St Louis ribs from the fourth visit under pitmaster Greg Barry.
Brisket chunks from the fourth visit under pitmaster Greg Barry.
Babyback ribs from the fourth visit under pitmaster Greg Barry.
(01/18/08) (Original review)
Nearly hidden in the corner of an L-shaped strip mall, Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint takes advantage of a huge sign featuring its mascot, cartoon Ruby herself. She's perched above Hempstead Turnpike just a few doors before McDonald's if you're headed westbound. Inside, the long bar, separate bar seating area and large dining room don't do much to distinguish themselves from your typical modern chain restaurant du jour, and only a few wagon wheels offer a clue that this might be a barbecue restaurant. Not only is there nothing wrong with that, but it's a refreshing departure from the usual pigs, tin signs, license plates and other tired barbecue joint clichés. The pitmaster is John DeLoach, who has the distinction of having previously worked with both Paul Kirk and Daniel Boulud.
The deep menu at Ruby's Famous offers several varieties of ribs: babybacks, St Louis ribs, “Big Boy” beef ribs (short ribs) and "Riblets" (pork rib tips). Ribs may be ordered by the rack or half-rack, “Memphis Style” (dry rubbed only) or “Kansas City Style” (slathered with one of their three sauces). Pulled pork, sliced and chopped brisket, smoked and pulled chicken, smoked prime rib, smoked turkey and smoked chicken pot pie are also available. A few set-configuration platters are offered with multiple meats, with prices dependent on the rib quotient. Sandwiches expand beyond the usual pulled pork and sliced brisket, presenting inventive creations such as the BBQ Manwich, a Sloppy Joe, a few different 10-ounce burgers and a “French Dip” style smoked prime rib sandwich.
Appetizers include the smoked and the unsmoked, with riblets, smoked wings, chili, potato skins, porcorn chicken, nachos, BBQ shrimp and two types of fried onions. Non-barbecue entrees include fried chicken, fried or blackened catfish, jumbo shrimp, meatloaf and five different salads.
Almost exactly a month after they opened, I visited Ruby's Famous on a Sunday night, joined by two barbecue fans who are well versed in the Long Island BBQ landscape.
We started with the riblets ($8.95), ordered without knowing what they were, and we were impressed to find that they were good sized chunks of meat that, based on the cartilage, were probably rib tips. The outer surface was only slightly crusted and coated with a more than generous (read: excessive) allotment of sauce. Inside, the meat had a texture closer to pork chops, with some pink, flavorful meat that was clearly smoked, even though the flavor wasn’t smoky. These were decent, but with a few tweaks (more crust, more rub, less sauce, a little more time in the smoker), they could be something special.
Up In Smoke Wings ($8.95), requested without sauce, supplied much more rub than the riblets, though the effect would be much more positive had the slightly crisp skin been just a little more so. The slight skin issue was more than offset by the intensely smoky and perfectly tender meat within.
Ordering the entrees was easy here, with the Ruby’s Famous Pig Out ($24.95) and the Big Boy beef ribs ($21.95) supplying all the protein we needed. The Pig Out platter was extremely generous, providing well over a half rack each of St Louis ribs and babyback ribs, a deep ramekin filled with pork, several slices of brisket and a dark meat chicken quarter.
The Big Boy beef rib captured our attention the minute the plate hit the table. This had two large bones, with the meat between them uncut and some extra hanging off the sides. This had a well-defined crust with much less rub than the riblets but much more smoke. The meat inside was uniformly pink, firm but gentle to the touch and juicy. Flavorwise, it was a hit, with the smoke enhancing without overtaking the natural beef flavor. At first I wondered whether the $21.95 price tag was warranted, but considering the cut of beef, the solid execution and the sides that came with it, it was a better value than many steaks you’d find in the same neighborhood.
Pulled pork was interesting. Served in a ramekin, it was a soupy concoction that had long chunks of nearly-barkless, nearly-smokeless pork that were overcooked, though well shy of becoming mush. The thin vinegar sauce—a departure from the table offerings and rib slather choices—was a huge hit, deftly managing the balancing act between sweet and vinegar tang. As a result, the pork succeeded more so than its smoke and doneness issues would suggest.
The brisket for me was average in nearly every aspect, falling nowhere near the best or worst I’ve had. The edges had the crispness I like, the texture was just adequate and the flavor fairly ho-hum. Saucing was a tad excessive but not really a problem, as it supplied more flavor than the meat did on its own.
The smoked chicken was a highlight, with a much crisper skin than the wings, just as much rub and a pink, intoxicatingly smoky flesh that was succulent and chewy in the best combination imaginable.
Oddly, we attacked the pork ribs last and their texture held up for the duration of the meal. Both rib types had a slightly crisp outer crust with a fair amount of rub, a firm but tender consistency and moist, lightly porky meat inside. The meatier St Louis ribs had the slight edge in the moistness department, though both were good.
Overall, a good showing, with the beef ribs and smoked chicken the standouts and the pork ribs solid.
Three sauces are available in squeaky clean plastic containers on the table: “Original” (sweet, very commercial-tasting), “Sweet Talkin’” (sweeter, but not all that different) and “Snake Bite” (hotter, but not all that hot). The last one was the winner for me, with just enough zesty flavor to enhance the meat without really biting, but the meats for the most part either didn’t need the sauce or were already so lathered up with it that adding more wasn’t even a consideration. Next time I’ll pour some of the vinegar sauce into a small bowl, add an equal amount of the Snake Bite and wind up with the best sauce of the bunch.
Sides—called "Fillers" here—were mostly average. Beans had a strong molasses flavor and a slightly crusty texture. Extremely creamy cole slaw lacked other attribures. Cornbread looked and tasted a little odd, with a plastic texture unlike any I've tried previously. Collard greens were chunky and flavorful despite the lack of meat. Mac and cheese offered thick, droopy elbows with the loose, mild sauce that kids seem to like.
The bottom line: The menu breadth and creativity make you take instant notice of Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint, and the pleasant atmosphere and aim-to-please service ethic make even the occasional menu clunker a little easier to overlook. Overall, there were more hits than misses and enough bright spots to make a return visit to Ruby's a guarantee. This probably says as much about Long Island BBQ on the whole as it does about Ruby's, but I'd already put it in my top two or three joints in the area. After only a month in business, there's certainly some promise of better things ahead.
White Trash BBQ's review of Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint
Newsday's Joan Reminick on Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint
BBQ Brethren review of Ruby's Famous (membership required but free)
BBQ Brethren review of Ruby's Famous after Greg Barry hire (membership required but free)
Yelp reviews of Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint
Urban Spoon reviews of Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint