[Note: Shortly after this review was posted, a manager from Sunset Ribs emailed me to announce that "we have let go everyone including the chef at that time and now have a professional chef working for us and no longer have the dry pulled pork and ribs."
While I do not agree with the manager's logic and request that I remove this review, I can say that the purported personnel changes are likely to make future visits more positive than the one I experienced in July 2009.]
Sunset Ribs is a two-story seasonal restaurant that overlooks Niantic Bay. The entire downstairs is a bar, the dining room is located upstairs and both levels feature large decks offering sunshine and views of the water. There's also a mini park with benches between the restaurant and the water for pre- and post-meal relaxation. The place seems to be quite popular with families and bikers alike.
Barbecue options are limited to babyback pork ribs, country style pork ribs, beef short ribs and pulled pork sandwiches with cheese. The babybacks are billed on the menu as smoked; the short ribs are braised. But barbecue and pseudo-barbecue constitute a mere fraction of the menu, which includes seafood offerings such as shrimp cocktail, fried shrimp, baked stuffed shrimp, fried calamari, seafood stuffed mushrooms, crab and spinach dip, steamed mussels, pan-seared scallops, whole belly clams, stuffed sole, mahi mahi, swordfish, salmon, tilapia, cod and fish and chips.
Because of the way the combos worked, I tried a pulled pork sandwich (or a few bites of it, anyway) as my appetizer. This came topped with cheese on a large, stiff bulkie roll. The meat was crisp on the outside, as if reheated with light sauce at high temperatures, but they did a nice job. Inside, the meat had a pleasing pink hue and a potent, savory flavor that complemented the sweetness of the exterior. Moistness was better than the photos would suggest. If not for the glob of cheddar cheese (I must have missed that detail when I skimmed the menu) and second-rate bun, this would be a slightly-better-than-average pulled pork sandwich.
Babyback ribs were scrawny and lightly coated with a ketchupy sauce. Crust was minimal and there was no sign of pink. Tenderness was there; moistness was not. The flavor was disappointingly bland, especially since the pulled pork exceeded my expectations (if a barbecue joint is on the water, expect the worst).
Although I obviously delight in the majesty of a succulent beef short rib perfectly rendered into tenderness by hours over smoke, a braised version can come out just as tender, and the braising liquid can rival the smoke for its ability to impart bold flavors into the meat. Unfortunately, neither of these scenarios materialized with the beef short rib at Sunset Ribs. The outer surface had a nice crust formed through heat and possibly a few bastings. Inside, the meat was tough and extremely dry with the exception of the large pockets of unrendered fat. If this rib was braised, it wasn't braised long enough, because the flavor and tenderness not only weren't there but weren't even close.
Grilled salmon looked appealing enough but was very dry.
There are no sauces available at the table, but all ribs may be topped with a choice of house barbecue, honey mustard barbecue, Buffalo or teriaki sauce. I only tried the house barbecue, which was basically a kicked-up ketchup.
Fries and onion sticks were both frozen industrial strength versions. The former were billed as crisp and came out somewhat crisp, though otherwise uneventful. The latter were a slightly twisty (rather than circular) spin on onion rings that were soggy and way too heavy on the puffy batter. Cole slaw seemed fairly industrial too, with a high mayo content and no real flavor. Side salads were decent.
Service was both friendly and accomodating. The Turf and Turf combo as presented on the menu includes babybacks OR a beef short rib with chicken. Upgrading the chicken to a short rib was a pretty good deal.
The bottom line: This is a drinking establishment first and foremost. The view, the outdoor decks and the wide-ranging, something-for-everyone menu go a long way, but at the end of the day Sunset Ribs must be judged by the food, which wasn't very good on my visit.
Yelp reviews of Sunset Ribs
Urban Spoon reviews of Sunset Ribs