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Rufus Ribs 206 S. Federal Hwy., Boynton Beach.
Open Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. till 7 p.m. Call 561-932-8206.
The search for South Florida barbecue worth phoning home to Memphis about continues with Rufus Ribs: a humble, pull-away trailer that, on weekends only, appears in a convenience store parking lot in Boynton Beach's diverse east side. There, Rufus Allen gently stokes his hulking barrel smoker, infusing the savory aroma of slowly smoldering red oak into meaty racks of ribs, honkin' pork shoulders, and wild game.
As the name might suggest, ribs are Rufus' premier attraction — manly-sized ribs, the sheer girth of which will have you questioning what manner of pig could produce such broad bones. It's an impression afforded by the fact that Rufus neither removes the meaty rib tips nor the underside flap from his spares, meaning you get maximum oink for your dollar. The ribs are lightly spiced, with a crackling exterior that gives way to a juicy, toothsome layer of smoke-ringed meat. Barbecue heads turned off by "fall off the bone" flaccidity need not worry: this flesh has bite, yet does give way with minimal prodding. A dinner portion of Rufus' pride ($10) contains four big ol' segments and a choice of two sides, including some truly stellar collard greens flecked with chunks of pork and a heap of mac and cheese so creamy you'll be swiping your finger across the Styrofoam container until it's completely gone.
There are, however, some issues with consistency. Rufus' sauce — a spiceless mixture of ketchup and vinegar — isn't up to snuff in the slightest. Luckily the 'cue is good enough that it never even requires it — most of the time. After four visits, we found the ribs to be best around lunch, with a declining curve that placed them squarely in the average category by nightfall. Stick to daytime munching and get your sauce on the side, though, and you'll be a happy camper.
Whole slabs and half slabs are also available ($23 and $12, respectively), as are whole and half chickens ($10 and $8), pulled pork and catfish dinners ($10), and any of the above meats in sandwich form ($7). Wild hog, boar, and goat are also available upon special request. And although calling this 'cue Memphis caliber would be reaching, a velvety slice of sweet potato pie laced with shreds of coconut ($1.25) conjures the South as accurately as any confection could.
Truluck's 351 Plaza Real, Boca Raton.
Open daily 11 a.m. till 10 p.m. Call 561-391-0755, or visit trulucks.com
Truluck's seafood restaurant got its start in Texas, but its appearance in Florida is reason for stone-crab lovers to rejoice: The company keeps its own crab fishing fleet of 16 boats outside of Naples, Florida, where it hauls in enough crab to provide the chain with seriously fresh claws during season. So says the slogan: "From our traps to your table in less than 24 hours."
You can chow down on the large claws for $10.99 each any time, either alone or as part of a "build your own" seafood tower. But every Monday night at Truluck's is a crab massacre — $59.99 for all the stone crab claws you can eat, plus grilled asparagus and mashed potatoes. It may sound like mayhem, but you'll be sucking those claws in style: the Boca Raton location is beautifully appointed with leather booths inside and glass tables on the terrace, plus a wide-ranging wine list offering dozens of wines by the glass or flight.
There's also a good selection of fresh — never frozen — fish that changes depending on availability, either simply grilled or fancied up, from Gulf red snapper, wild salmon, and black cod, to black grouper Pontchartrain blanketed in crab and shrimp sauce.
Noodles Panini 821 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale.
Open 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Call 954-462-1514, or visit noodlespaninirestaurant.com
Two schools exist in the debate over how to prepare the Italian meatball: those who fry them until they've got a potato-chip-crispy exterior and those who believe a long soak in a red sauce gives them the perfect tender texture. If you're among the latter, you'll dig the "Aunt Marion's" meatballs served up at Noodles Panini. They're bready, soft and, on the two occasions I had them, medium rare. They come in pasta ($21), in a sub ($14), or for the true connoisseur, as an appetizer with nothing but a red sauce and a simple salad ($14).
There are several excellent salads, with a chopped version stuffed with herbs, olives, salami, and Gorgonzola ($16). Entrées include a plate of bombolotti pasta with Kansas City ground beef sauce ($16) and a lemony chicken piccata ($23).
But what brings in customers, who fill this place even on weekday nights, are the sandwiches. After all, the place has panini in the name, and it's those toasted sandwiches that you see on most tables. The Panini ($11 to $14) include a savory house roast beef with Gorgonzola spread, onion confit, and Dijon mustard. Oddly, the sandwiches don't include the standard Panini grill marks but instead have that flat, pressed texture of a Cuban — still, they don't lack the crunch of that traditional Italian grilled sandwich.
Noodles Panini also offers up its sauce, meatballs, and other ingredients from a takeout counter located in the center of the tight space. And if you're the soft-meatball type, you'll be bringing them home by the quart.
Boca Skewers 130 NE Second St., Boca Raton.
Open Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. till 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday till 10 p.m. Call 561-347-9961, or visit bocaraton.com/bocaskewers
You might wonder how a tiny, nine-table, family-run Armenian café could survive two years on the fringes of Boca's ritzy Mizner Park. But order a plate of Boca Skewers' falafel, and you'll get the picture. These crunchy little balls of fried, spiced chickpeas may be served on a plastic plate with paper napkins, but there's no doubt they're made from scratch by a cook whose family has refined the recipe over generations.
At Boca Skewers, the falafel is served with a "secret sauce" made from yogurt, garlic, and spices. The small, reasonably priced Mediterranean menu ranges from grilled lamb kebabs ($16.99) crosshatched with char — rich, tender, and long marinated — to chicken soltani, smoky organic eggplant stew ($11.99), and kafte kebabs ($12.99) of ground beef pressed and grilled on a skewer, all accompanied by a side of lentil-flecked rice sweetened with a touch of sugar.
You've seen these appetizers, pita sandwiches, and salads on other menus: stuffed grape leaves, baba ghannouj, kibbeh, spinach pie, salads flecked with mint and parsley, but rarely prepared with such care. There's lots to wow vegetarians. And the Armenian families you'll find eating here aren't complaining. Gail Shepherd