Ever since Slow’s Bar-B-Q basically saved an entire Detroit neighborhood, smoked barbecue has been on the tip of every local foodie’s tongue. There’s something about slow-smoking tender, juicy meat over wood logs and then slathering the result in sweet, tangy barbecue sauce that instinctively appeals to our most primitive senses. I dare say it’s slowly revolutionizing how we view food.
Enter R.U.B. (Real Urban BBQ) BBQ Pub – one of the latest attempts to cash in on the momentum Slow’s and others have put into motion. Practically across the street from Comerica Park and Ford Field in downtown Detroit, R.U.B. Pub is well-situated to catch the pre- and postgame crowd. Inside, the dizzying array of random sports memorabilia, flat screen TVs, and craft beers are sure to bowl over any affluent sports fanatic that happens to walk by, pinning their testosterone oozing brains into submission in seconds flat.
And while that’s all well and good, if you’re going to accurately judge a BBQ joint, of course, you really have to start with the ribs. If the ribs suck, you’ve got nothing, nada. You’ll be out of business faster than Pets.com.
Luckily, at R.U.B. Pub, they take ribs as serious as Joe Sixpack takes his fantasy team. Here, the ribs are dry-rubbed lovingly each day with a special in-house seasoning blend, and then cooked in big coal black smokers for hours, the way God intended it. The result is – unsurprisingly – phenomenal, a tour de force of pork.
And as if that wasn’t enough, there are six different sauces you can choose from at your table to smother your ribs in, from a traditional Texas-style sauce to a “mustardy” Carolina sauce, although the ribs are almost good enough alone. At the least, anyway, each sauce is unique, and testing out the different flavors on your preferred hunk of charred, glimmering rib meat is most definitely a heaping spoonful of good, wholesome, all-American fun.
Don’t worry if ribs aren’t quite your thing, however. In a frightening concession that there could be more to life than ribs, R.U.B. Pub also has some tantalizing pulled pork and beef brisket sandwiches on the menu – named after Michigan mainstays like Ted Nugent and Bob Seger – along with big Angus burgers and other delectable options like turkey drums and Andouille sausage. The Ren Cen, for example, is a half-pound burger topped with cheddar cheese, pulled pork, fried onions, and BBQ sauce on two thick slabs of Texas toast.
I mean – are you kidding me, man? I’m drooling just thinking about it.
Unfortunately, I regret to report, that despite all the work the owners have clearly done to make R.U.B. PUB a premiere establishment, things can and often do go wrong. True, the meat is usually cooked to perfection, down to the way the pork falls off the bone and the smoke rings on edge of the beef brisket.It’s all the other stuff you have to worry about.
It’s like playing Russian Roulette – sometimes you’ll get a batch of fries that look like a row of burned down homes on Detroit’s east side, or a side of vegetables that tastes like pure smoke, or the wrong appetizer (or even no appetizer at all). But then again, it might come out exactly like you ordered. One night, the cute waitress in the front might tell you not to order anything on a brioche roll because it “ours don’t taste that good”, or if you’re unlucky enough to get that surly waiter in the back section, he may forget your cornbread, and then your drink, and then even his own name at one particularly embarrassing moment. Or he could turn out to be the ideal server, an exemplar of culinary service. It’s like having tea with the Mad Hatter – a surreal, incoherent and yet oddly consistent experience.
All in all, I guess it’s fair to say that R.U.B. Pub is that really talented team that has an annoying tendency to make stupid, boneheaded mistakes at the most random moments. Sure, they usually have enough talent to still pull off the win, but when they do lose, it’s hard to forget all the little miscues. Think the insufferable Detroit Lions, but a score better.
Now that’s not to say R.U.B Pub is bad. No, the prices are good for what you get (unless you’re getting a full rack of ribs, your meal shouldn’t set you back more than $10-15), and when there aren’t any screw-ups, it’s one of the best deals in town.
OK, sure – many of the menu items read like direct copies from Slow’s, and even Rub Pub’s commitment to locally sourced ingredients comes off as merely a calculated imitation of the competition. Thankfully, though, that’s Slow’s problem, not ours. For my money, R.U.B. Pub is just good enough that I think I’ll keep rollin’ the dice on ‘em.