Stick to Your Ribs BBQ: Wally's vs. Bobby-Q
It's hard to resist the allure of a good rack of ribs, even if you know you're going to need a dozen wet-naps to clean up afterwards. Many professional BBQers spend a lifetime trying to perfect their baby back recipe.
Since we didn't have that long to wait, we checked out two local restaurants -- one a dedicated BBQ joint, the other a pub with a weekly rib special -- to see if their ribs would stick to ours.
In One Corner: Wally's American Pub N' Grille
5029 N. 44th St. in Phoenix
"Serendipity" is the name of the game at Wally's in East Phoenix. It's the kind of cozy, well-hidden neighborhood joint that you wander into by accident, perhaps after shopping at the neighboring AJ's Fine Foods or finishing a game of tennis at the nearby courts. You also might meet a new friend there, or find an old one you haven't seen in ages.
By pure luck I'd wandered into Wally's on Sunday, the one day of the week their BBQ rib Blue Plate Special is offered. Sweet! I ordered up a half-rack with fries and watched the bartender clean a few glasses and chat with patrons while I waited for my entree. The ribs arrived about ten minutes later, a good-sized, meaty portion with a nice outer char. That's what I like to see with slow-cooked ribs. As my southern friends would say, "If the outside ain't crispy, the inside ain't tender."
I tried to pick up a rib with my hands (the only real way to eat 'em!), but the meat slid right off the bone. Hmm. A good sign? I switched to the fork-and-knife treatment and was pleased with the tenderness and moistness of the meat. The outer skin was as crisp as diner bacon, with a delicious salty-sweet rub that didn't require tons of BBQ sauce for flavor. I barely needed the accompanying BBQ sauce. It had a delightful smokiness, without being too sweet, making it a worthwhile condiment to use sparingly.
My dining companion, who missed the meal but cleaned up my leftovers later, commented that he knew the pork fat was there but couldn't really taste it. Pigs aren't the leanest creatures after all. But Wally's did an excellent job of "breaking down" the fat by slow-cooking overnight, a technique used at barbecue cook-offs to guarantee tender but not fatty meat. The accompanying fries were crisp and light on grease, and the cole slaw has a sweet tang and a light texture that made it good to the last bite.
"Whoa! It'll be hard to top these," remarked my friend. "I'll toast to that one," I replied as we clinked glasses.