Ryles is a decades-old jazz club that’s practically an Inman Square institution, but their barbecue (“Mitch’s BBQ”) was introduced just a few years ago. I’d never had a full sit down meal there, although I shared a sampler of babybacks with friends a few times over the years when we designated Ryle’s as our meeting place before a surf and turf frenzy at the nearby East Coast Grill.
The large room has a jazz motif, with instruments and framed photos of jazz legends hanging on the walls. Programs and other jazz memorabilia are integrated into the glass-topped tables. The bar is long and the bartenders are generally friendly and knowledgeable.
The Ryles BBQ menu has beef ribs and babyback pork ribs, both as appetizer samplers ($6.95) and as platters. The St Louis ribs, which were listed for years even though they were mysteriously always out of them, have been merifully removed from the menu. Pulled pork, pulled chicken and brisket are available on sandwiches ($7.95 to $8.95) and full platters ($9.95 to $12.95). Platters come with a cornbread muffin and your choice of two sides. There are only two different combo plates: Mitch’s combo pairs babybacks and beef ribs ($15.95); Butch’s combo offers brisket, pulled pork and a barbecued half chicken. There are several seafood options among the appetizers (two different seafood gumbos, barbecued shrimp, fried shrimp, Cajun catfish strips, Maryland crabcakes) and entrees (pan seared salmon, fried catfish, shrimp Creole, more crabcakes).
I started with the appetizer portion of the babybacks. These were scrawny and well sauced. I’m not normally a big fan of heavily sauced ribs, but I have to admit the ruby colored sauce was very good, with a nice balance of sweet, hot and tangy. Under the sauce, though, the ribs were a little charred. The dry meat wasn’t that tender and not at all pink or smoky. But that sauce made them worthwhile.
This cleared the way for Butch’s combo. Although I ordered it unsauced with three available sauces on the side, it arrived sauced, and with just one sauce in a cup. Two more trips from the kitchen later, I received all three sauces. The brisket was dry and barely smoky, making the sauce a necessity. Soggy pork was a immersed in a thinned mustard sauce. I liked the flavor but not the texture, and (as is often the case) wanted more smoke. The chicken was the star of the plate, with moist meat across the board and a nice gently smoky flavor.
The three sauces were all good. There's the sweet/tangy/spicy house sauce, a honey mustard sauce and the hot sauce, an interesting blend of what seemed to be the house sauce with vinegar, black pepper and Worcestershire.
Sides weren’t bad but nothing special. I liked the tartness of the collard greens. The cornbread muffin was dry.
My wife’s salmon was crunchy on the outside, with a good rub and a tasty lemon butter sauce. Inside, it was tender and flaky.
Parking can be tough, but you can use the free lot across the Hampshire Street provided by the S&S Deli (another decades old Inman Square institution), whose owners also own Ryles.
The bottom line: The 'cue is a little too dependent on the sauce and flash grilling for my liking, but within that context it's mostly not bad. I'd go back, but probably not of my own choosing. With East Coast Grill right around the corner and SoulFire a short drive across the river, there are better barbecue options to be had.