The menu features plenty of egalitarian barbecue and bar food fare, most of which has been named to match the restaurant's rock 'n' roll theme. There are straightforward items like the "house band salad" and "backstage chix sandwich," while the "lazy roadie wings" are boneless chicken wings, deep-fried and slathered with a choice of sauces that includes a superspicy blend called "Run to the Hills." Iron Maiden fans will get a kick out of that name, as well as a family-sized platter called "Appetite of the Beast," which throws down a rack and a half of ribs, a pound of pork and beef, half a chicken, plus sides for under 50 bucks. If one person manages to finish the whole platter, it's free.
I've sampled each bit of 'cue Rock 'N' Roll Ribs offers, and while I'd be hard-pressed to call it barbecue in the traditionalist sense, it is fine stuff. Take that phrase "fall off the bone," for example. To the kind of barbecue fanatics who populate gatherings like Memphis in May, those words don't mean as much as, say, "bark" or "smoke ring" (two traits these ribs definitely lack). But negating the value of meat this tender and juicy just because it doesn't adhere to a strict insider's code is like criticizing a Ferrari for not being a Lamborghini. Either way, you want to drive one.
The spareribs, in half- or full-rack portions ($12.95/$18.95), are a prime example of this. According to Baum, the racks are first smoked, then slathered in the house barbecue sauce and grilled, forming a sweet, caramelized char on the surface. My gang of friends cleaned them up in no time — all that was left after a few minutes was a pile of completely bare bones and the sounds of finger-smacking. Baby back ribs ($15.95 for a full rack) are equally satisfying in that grilled, wet sort of way. Each of these platters, like all the "headliners," comes with a choice of two sides. For my money, the baked beans — more like shredded pork with some beans thrown in for good measure — are among the best, but the corn, cole slaw, and fries are all good options too.
While Joanne and Scott polished off the ribs, my buddy Fenton and I were enthralled by the barbecue sandwiches made with garlicky Texas toast ($8.95). "This is how we should make our barbecue sandwiches," he told me in between heaping bites. Each slice of toast is an inch thick and supremely crunchy, piled on tall with the joint's slow-cooked pork, which is cut into big, meaty pieces. The brisket, though, is my favorite. It's pulled — not shredded — into long strips of beef that retain their hearty texture. Topped with a little bit of creamy cole slaw, it's about as perfect as a sandwich gets.
Wisely, the restaurant serves these sandwiches, as well as platters of beef and pork, with the sauce on the side. For me, all three of Rock 'N' Roll Ribs' sauces are a bit too sweet — there's almost no discernible difference between the "sweet" and "bbq" varieties, though the tangy sauce is the spiciest and thus the best of the bunch.
By the time we were finished, the gang and I had worked through more ribs and pork than a road crew after a sold-out show. Scott clutched his belly and moaned quietly. Gary, after working through a foot-long death dog ($8.95), somehow found room for a slice of chocolate cake the menu described as "gladiator-sized" ($3.95). Maybe it was the '80s rock tunes belting in the background that gave him the energy to take it all on; it sounded just like the iPod mixes he plays at his parties.
I, on the other hand, couldn't sit after all that plus a pork-stuffed baked potato slathered with baked beans and slaw ($8.95). I got up and walked around the restaurant, admiring the memorabilia on the walls. Among the dozens of guitars and concert posters are McBrain's gold records — there's even a decorative cassette tape commemorating the sale of Iron Maiden's album Somewhere in Time. "This was the first tape I ever bought," I told Gary. That it was on the wall here seemed fitting.
Of course, Rock 'N' Roll Ribs could make a few changes that would be equally fitting. The beer list is small (some more craft selections would be nice), and some greater variation in the sauces would be welcome. Regrettably, the kitchen is still backing up after two months of operation as well. But the overall sense that you're here to hang, drink a beer, and eat some home-style 'cue is intact. That Nicko McBrain, the drummer for perhaps the greatest metal band ever to hit the stage, would choose to open a place like this in suburban South Florida speaks volumes. What's better than being surrounded by food, tunes, and good friends on a nightly basis? Even for a traveled guy like McBrain, that answer is clear: Nothing.