Something's smoking at Rub

Restaurant Review

October 29, 2006|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

Food: *** (3 STARS)

Service: *** (3 STARS)

Atmosphere: *** (3 STARS)

Rub seems as if it's in the middle of nowhere. When you get to the corner of Light and Wells, the neighborhood will be quiet, dark, even deserted.

A large neon sign beckons, but the authentic rundown Texas bar look of the place doesn't quite hold up on close inspection. There are too many signs about the shuttle to the Ravens game, and the massive hardwood doors are too highly varnished to be anything but expensive and new.

Open those doors and light, noise and fragrant smoke spill out into the night, welcoming you in. This is chef-owner Michael Marx's newest project, the one that follows the Mexican restaurant Blue Agave, which he sold last year. By its nature, Rub, a barbecue joint, is less concerned with introducing its customers to an authentic native cuisine and more interested in good cheap eats.

Good cheap eats are something I'm all for, particularly when there's a nod to the new millennium's sensibilities. The sausage is 100 percent beef and all natural, and the poultry is hormone- and steroid-free. The pork is premium natural White Marble Farms or some such. All that seems beside the point when you're indulging in the deliciously greasy smoked-on-the-premises sausage, the too-fatty spareribs, or the mac `n cheese made with cream and butter; but you know what I mean.

Marx and partner David Long have gutted a rowhouse and a former bar to create a handsome Texas-inspired space with lots of wood, corrugated metal and exposed brick walls, neon signs for art and flat panel TVs. We were told we didn't need reservations, but when we arrived the upstairs was closed for a private party, and we got the last table in the bar downstairs. You may get stuck next to smokers if you eat there, though; only the upstairs is smoke-free.

The place isn't trying too hard to be authentic -- our waitress told us she's a vegetarian, doesn't smoke and hates football. And, yes, you can get a glass of sauvignon blanc or merlot. But the barbecue is authentic enough, with dry rubs, an oak wood smoker and long hours of slow cooking.

All this results in juicy, tender meats. We tried them all: thin slices of brisket with a chili rub, colored pink by the smoking process; pork ribs with a jalapeno and sugar rub; plump chicken quarters; and thick, meaty slices of turkey. And, of course, that great sausage. This is barbecue that doesn't shout at you. You add a sauce if you want from one of the plastic squeeze bottles on the table, but the meat doesn't need it.

The meat is a highlight, as it should be, but the kitchen gets a little too elaborate with the rest of the meal. Dinners come with your choice of two sides. There are 10 of them, the expected (fries, cole slaw) and the not-so-expected (corn pudding, a broccoli and cauliflower salad). Most of them would benefit from one or two fewer ingredients. The ones I particularly liked were the sweet potato fries -- which would be just as good without the red pepper, garlic and onion seasoning -- the creamed spinach, and the home-style green beans (although the kitchen doesn't know that home-style green beans would be cooked all day on the back burner of the stove, rather than being still tender-crisp and green). The corn pudding would have been great if it hadn't been baked so long.

Also, I'm no Texas toast expert, but it seems to me that you can serve it with or without garlic, and you can serve it with or without butter, but you can't not toast it.

Starters are sketchy, which is fine. There's a good version of classic bar food chicken wings, and fried green tomatoes that are simply a vehicle for their cornmeal crust, and an iceberg lettuce wedge prettily decorated with chopped tomato and crumbled bacon. A non-spicy version of blue-cheese dressing would be better with both the wings and the salad.

After awhile the heat builds up. If you aren't drinking beer, cool down with sweetened ice tea or Rub's signature drink, a fresh lemonade slush spiked with bourbon and served in a cute little glass milk bottle.

If you have any room after this, there are various indulgent desserts, including a sweet potato cheesecake, banana pudding with vanilla wafers (sorry, just not my thing), a cobbler-like peach buckle and an apple pie -- the only dessert not made in house. The best is the rich bourbon pecan pie, served warm with ice cream.

Rub is so off the beaten track you have to wonder if its location is going to hurt it. It's not exactly a destination restaurant; but good food is to be found here, and if you don't indulge in too many $8 lemonades, the size of your check will pleasantly surprise you.

elizabeth.large@baltsun.com

Podcasts of Elizabeth Large's reviews can be found at baltimoresun.com/large.

RUB

Address:

1843 Light St., South Baltimore

Hours:

Open every day for lunch and dinner

Prices:

Starters, $5-$7; main courses, $11-$19

Call:

410-244-5667

[Outstanding: *** (4 STARS) Good: *** (3 STARS) Fair or uneven: ** (2 STARS) Poor: * (1 STAR)]

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