The Rib House looks like the Bates Motel of barbecue joints. I'm not sure just exactly how long it's been around, but the antiquated lettering on the well worn sign and the stuck-in-the-70s interior (tiffany lamps, wood paneling) suggest decades. The long bar and smell of cigarette smoke inside also suggest that the bar business is a priority over the 'cue, whether real or faux.
The same font on the sign is used on the menu-as-placemat, an old school touch, and the classic onion loaf (full or half) is yet another throwback. I was expecting babybacks only, but St Louis cut spares, pulled pork sandwiches and BBQ chicken are also available. Ordering the large size ribs platter allows you to mix the two cuts; combo platters allow you to pair ribs with chicken or shrimp.
A late weekday lunch visit (note: no lunch Mondays and Tuesdays) was stop #3 on a lower Connecticut BBQ crawl with a well traveled barbecue accomplice. The bar not only looked like the Bates Motel but was about as busy as the Bates Motel.
Onion Loaf: As an onion ring guy, there was no way I was going to leave The Rib House without ordering at least a half sized loaf ($7.99). It was brown and crisp, a little greasier and not as stuck together as others I've had. It was also not as seasoned as it should have been, but at least salt was on the table.
Babyback ribs: Ordered as part of a large rib platter ($21.95), the babybacks arrived as three-quarters of a rack, placed on top of a St Louis cut three-quarter rack. The babybacks had longer-than-average length, average meatiness and a lighter-than-expected cherry red saucing that let the light surface crusting peek through. A knife was needed to separate the individual ribs, but cut apart easily (that's good) instead of effortlessly (would have been bad).
The interior meat was whitish but cooked to the right doneness: tender, yes; falling-off-the-bone, no. Flavor? There was actually nothing wrong with the flavor; it's just that there wasn't much of it, with smokiness, porkiness and rub all on holiday. The sauce was harmless, offering light sweetness that didn't overpower the meat. Every rib was moist even aside from the sauce.
St Louis ribs: These had all of the same characteristics of the babybacks, from size to doneness to flavor to saucing. They might have been a tad firmer and a little more moist.
No extra sauce was available on the table, as the ribs were sufficiently sauced. As already mentioned, the sauce was a mildly sweet number that wasn't a problem, but its main strong suit was its neutrality.
Baked beans (much grayer and browner than in the photo) looked and tasted canned. French fries looked hand cut with traces of skin still on, but the dry, plastic texture and lack of flavor had me wondering if they were cooked in something similar to a hot air popcorn machine.
The Bottom Line
Okay, this isn't going to come as a shocker, but the ribs at The Rib House aren't smoked. That said, they were cooked, sauced and presented at least reasonably well, so I'm not going to bash them totally just for that, or get on the stereotypical "If it ain't smoke, it ain't barbecue" high horse. However, the severe shortage of flavor (ribs, rings, beans, fries) and a few service hiccups (which I won't get into) leave me as likely to return to the Rib House as I would the Bates Motel.
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