I barely even have to chew," my friend Jeffrey said, pausing for a moment from sucking sticky-sweet barbecue sauce off the business end of a baby back rib. "They fall right off the bone." He and I and about a dozen of my friends were hovering over aluminum trays outfitted with racks of the smoked-then-grilled ribs, each worthy of the ultimate rib compliment. We alternated mouthfuls of succulent meat with sips from sweaty bottles of Blue Moon, our fingers tacking to the sides, leaving smudged sauce prints on the label.
Our group of beer-guzzling, tattooed, red-meat-eating man-children and their spouses had congregated at Rock 'N' Roll Ribs in Coral Springs that night to do what it is we all do whenever we get a reprieve from our increasingly busy lives: eat, drink, play.
Our get-togethers don't always happen with the regularity they used to. But still, there's the occasional backyard barbecue: a birthday party for Gary's 6-year-old daughter, complete with two coolers full of more beer than any of us can possibly pound and every inch of grate space on the two-tier propane grill packed with Ball Park hot dogs and burgers matted with processed American cheese. Or a Fourth of July brouhaha at my place, munching on grilled chicken wings and bullshitting about the greatest zombie films of all time as the Florida sun goes from white to pink-orange in the background. These gatherings, not the many restaurant meals I eat, are my happiest food moments these days.
I bring this up because an evening at Rock 'N' Roll Ribs feels just about as close to a backyard barbecue as you can get in a restaurant. The food isn't exactly Memphis- or Texas-style 'cue; rather, it tastes like what you might whip up with some friends huddled around a Weber grill. In fact, the very idea for the place was born of such gatherings, cooked up over cold Coronas by guitarist and food-industry vet Rick "Moby" Baum and his close friend, Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain. As McBrain tells it — in his thick English accent — starting a restaurant together had been a dream since Baum first shared his rib recipe with the rocker at one of their back-garden parties. A self-admitted "foodie" who's eaten his way around the world some dozen times over, McBrain says it was these ribs that stuck with him the most.
Although most of the recipes are Baum's (the exceedingly tender ribs, the thickly chopped pork, the foot-long "death dog" wrapped in bacon and stuffed with pepper jack cheese), it's been the presence of McBrain, the hard-rock icon, that has reeled in the hype for the rib joint. The buzz has reached the point that people not even remotely interested in barbecue are clamoring to get in. Since it opened in late November, the 50-some-seat barbecue room has been ass-to-glass packed, not unlike the thousand-plus rock shows McBrain performed during his long career.
Inside, McBrain works the room in much the same way as he does a stadium concert, greeting fans and shaking hands with genuine enthusiasm. I've seen him stop by every table in the busy restaurant, posing for more sweaty hug pictures — devil horns flying — than should be expected of any celebrity. But he seems to enjoy it thoroughly. Tall and blond, he's the kind of likable dude that you want as your host, with the swagger of Johnny Cash and the sense of humor of Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel.
It doesn't hurt that at any point in your meal, you can look up at the large flat-screen TV surrounded by drum sets and Marshall amps and watch live concert footage of the same guy who's had a hand in making your pulled pork sandwich. When Nicko came to our table and posed for a photo with my friend Joanne, she was as giddy as a groupie for the rest of the night. "I got my picture with Nicko McBrain!" she screamed in apparent shock. "Woo-hoo!"
Baum, on the other hand, does his share of entertaining too. But mostly, he's hard at work managing the front of the house. He does a good job of ensuring that his staff is keeping the punters happy with cold beer and small bites — namely platters of thick-cut onion rings breaded with cornmeal and served with a pasty chili spread called "whammy sauce" — even if the kitchen may be backed up by the wall of customers. The wait staff, consisting mostly of pierced and tattooed ladies, is on the ball even when the kitchen is slow. But occasional gaffes like disappearing for extended periods of time and forgetting little things such as napkins and silverware do happen. Still, the faux pas tend to enhance the casual nature of the place rather than detract from it. The goal is clear: You're not here to rush in and out. Just drink a beer and relax for a while.