Give Me That Old Time Religion-
To have an icon of serious Austin history and lore right under my nose and not knowing about it made me feel a bit like a doofus. About midway through my interview with Ruby’s co-owner, Pat Mares, that devastating realization came home to roost. Big time.
Austin continues to be the proverbial onion. Even though I already knew much about the town after religiously visiting for many a year, since moving here I keep peeling back layer after layer of just incredible, mind-blowing stuff this fantastic city has to offer. And Ruby’s B.B.Q. certainly qualifies. Consider me here to sing their praises! Albeit belatedly…
I know when it comes to barbeque a thousand different people will give you a thousand different takes on what they think is the best. I know I certainly have my favorites. If you want ribs, go to “Angelos” in Fort Worth and don’t forget to hug the Grizzly Bear on your way in. Sliced beef sandwich or stuffed baked potato? “Tex’s” in Brenham. Pulled pork and cole slaw? “Corky’s” in Memphis. Dry rubbed ribs? “Rendezvous”, also in Memphis. Find yourself hungry in Kansas City? Don’t you dare miss “Gates”. Far away from home, specifically in Panorama City, California deep in the heart of the San Fernando Valley and have a serious hankering for barbeque? You’ll be okay, make a point to drop into Dr. Hoggly Woggly’s Tyler Texas Pit Bar BQ. I mean, I could go on and on here but I think you get my drift.
And of course, there are any number of places here in Austin to find good barbeque, too, just depends on your taste buds and your mood at that moment. Not to mention we are close to Lockhart, too, one of the barbeque capitals of the world! But in Ruby’s I’ve found that one stop shop place. As a matter of fact, what I tasted and the vibe I felt while visiting with Pat the other day was so unbelievably profound and righteous I may just give Ruby’s the crown for best all around barbeque ever! They are that good. Simplifies my barbeque search, that’s for sure. Next time I want some get down barbeque, no more agonizing on which place I’ll go for what. I’ll simply hop in my truck and auger on over to the north side of the drag and plop down inside Ruby’s cozy quarters and order up a mess of it. Hell yeah!
Like I mentioned earlier, Ruby’s comes with a bit of history. Allow me…
Once upon a time there was this girl named Pat who was growing up on a farm in Nebraska, milking cows, tending to a garden, gathering eggs, working as a popcorn and candy girl at the local movie theater, learning some very valuable lessons from her mother who wielded some mighty utensils in the kitchen.
There was also this guy named Luke who was growing up in Minneapolis, managing some local bands. Growing restless in those young and turbulent years he moved to San Francisco and then New York where he spent time as a cabbie.
Eventually both of them gravitated to Austin, she enrolling in UT to enroll in Latin studies, one of Luke’s stable moving to Austin whereupon he followed suite. When here they both began to work as waiters in several local restaurants to support themselves. As fate would have it, they both gravitated that one degree closer by both applying for waiter positions at Kerbey Lane on South Lamar. They met. They liked each other. A lot. They up and fell in love and got married in December of ’87. Life got a helluva lot more interesting, and not just for them. We all would eventually be the beneficiaries of their union, we just didn’t know it yet.
Sensing pending greatness, Greg Shilling, the artist whom Luke was managing who’d moved here, began to prod them into opening their own restaurant, seeing clearly how they loved the food business, and obviously noticing that their taste buds were very elevated from the normal two legged variety. And boy, was he correct on that score!
They wrestled for a while on just what type restaurant they’d want to open, but after having a moment of supreme clarity, meeting the lords of destiny head on, they wisely chose barbeque. Even though there were more than a few local competitors, both Luke and Pat knew they could create a magical place that would certainly hold its own.
They then set about putting together what would formally be known as Ruby’s, handpicking the best recipes they could from all the great barbeque cities (now there’s you a gig, eh?!), choosing to have a brick oven ala the greats in Lockhart rather than the standard Southern Pride smokers, for instance (big time wise choice as brick cooks meat like no other!). And then came the big decision: location (location location location!). The gods were truly smiling down upon them on this choice as they found the perfect spot, right next to Antone’s, already a legendary music hall, and right around the corner from this upstart of a magazine, The Austin Chronicle. Shadoobee!
In November of 1988, Ruby’s was officially born.
Right off the bat both Luke and Pat made some very important decisions on how they could best set themselves apart from all their competitors, and their choices were again, spot on. Quite simply they’ve chosen the quality route rather than the quantity route. It all started with the brick oven. Then they decided to only use organic beef from the B3R Childress Ranch. Next they chose to make everything on premise, no canned goods here. Hell no! Every item on the menu is literally a labor of love. Hell yeah! Bottom line is they knew going in their food costs would be higher than normal, but their pride of food was way more important. Double hell yeah!! Consider my hat doffed for those all important decisions, thinking of the customer first. To be commended…
If only walls could talk. I can only imagine the stories those walls would tell about all the gatherings of the great blues musicians who would stop in to eat after their gigs at Antone’s, where Ruby’s stayed open until 4 AM to accommodate them, be a part of the party that was raging in those halcyon days of Austin music history. All that’s left now are the memories, pictures of those blues icons decorating the walls, signed napkins celebrating the great food that Ruby’s provides, napkins with signatures from the likes of Buddy Guy, Kim Wilson, Maceo Parker, James Cotton, and many many others. Knowing that these guys probably knew every great barbeque place in the country through their travels meant Ruby’s had to be get down, or they would’ve simply eaten elsewhere. Says a lot, it does.
Antone’s has moved, so has The Chronicle, but Ruby’s is still there and continues to serve the finest barbeque around, the cool and notorious vibe still very much intact, as if Freddy King was at the table with you, laying into some mean groceries after delivering some stinging notes from Maybelle.
Since this was Russ’ pick, as I’d never eaten here before, Pat was nice enough to bring out a sampler plate so I could see what all the fuss was about.
If the brisket isn’t any good, don’t bother eating anything else on the menu is my motto for finding great barbeque, even though I knew the food was gonna be great by the awesome aromas that kept wafting past. So I picked up that first piece of brisket and popped it into my mouth… and subsequently a low moan escaped my lips as their brisket was simply divine. That brick oven infused the meat with the most delicious smoky flavor. That’s another thing, don’t go for the sauce right off the bat, if the meat is good, it doesn’t need any sauce and that much can be said for Ruby’s. In a word… slammin’! Pat supplied me with two kinds of cole slaw, one with vinegar, the other with poppy seeds. Both were superb accompaniments to the meat. The baby backs were scrumptious, as good as I’ve had anywhere, and that includes Angelos, which heretofore was in a class all its own. Sausage was tender and juicy, not fatty, just right. There were two types of beans, pinto and black. Again, traveling around and choosing the best from whatever region they were in was a mighty wise decision. The pintos were wonderful, just the right amount of tang, and the black beans were based on a Cuban recipe, a little lime and voila, butt rockin’! There was a mustard based potato salad that was as good as my Mama Nell used to make, and that’s saying something. Pat also supplied two small portions of the Louisiana part of the menu. Naturally I was skeptical, but the crawfish etoufee’ and the chicken and sausage gumbo were on the money, I might as well have been in Houma, La. That good!
As I continued to eat Pat gave me some menus to peruse and I was knocked out by the selections. Luke and Pat have done their homework well, offering barbeque from all the great cities, from St. Louis, to North Carolina and everything in between, they have it. They offer a really cool selection of side dishes too… hell, I could make a meal alone on the Andrew Bell’s collard greens, the very finest collard greens I’ve ever eaten. They even serve barbeque tacos, something I’ve not seen anywhere, but Pat was quick to point out that even though serious carnivores come to graze here they do offer some tantalizing vegetarian dishes as well, the black bean with cilantro taco one of their biggest sellers.
All of their recipes have great origins, and Ruby’s has also been fortunate enough to have attracted some very qualified chefs in their day, too, not the least of which was Andrew Bell, he of Brio, Uchi, and Wink fame. Christopher Concannon from Chez Nous, also spent time in their kitchen. There was also a mystery man from Port Arthur, La. who brought them their Cajun specialties, and yes, Cajun food and barbeque do go together, make no mistake. And their old friend, the man who caused all of this, Greg Shilling, was also instrumental in helping them find some of their outrageously good recipes.
Usually I’ll find something in particular that I like at a certain restaurant and that is all I’ll ever order there. But you have to see this menu to believe it! It might take me awhile, but I damn near want to try everything on their menu, from barbeque plates, to tacos, chili, Cajun, sandwiches, salads, and a variety of meats by the pound, it’s all good. They also offer some great deserts that will go down easy after a barbeque meal, and for beverages they have sodas, teas, coffees, lemonade, fruit juice, milk, bottled waters, beers- domestic, microbrew and imports, and also wine by the glass. A dazzling display. Great dishes to fit just about anyone’s taste buds. Like I said, you gotta see this menu to believe it!
Ruby’s have daily lunch specials that run from 11AM to 3PM Monday-Friday and prices range from $5.95 to $9.00, and also dinner specials that run from 5:30PM to 11:30 PM, where prices range from $5.25 to $12.25. Admittedly everything on the menu is very reasonably priced, especially when you take into consideration all they do, taking that extra step, spending that extra dough to insure that you, the customer, get nothing but the finest in quality. The Ruby’s bar is high, folks, and they are to be applauded for going the extra mile. Luke and Pat’s creation, Ruby’s B.B.Q. is simply nothing short of an Austin icon, an Austin treasure!
Hours are 11 to midnight, 7 days a week.
They also offer catering, dine in , take out, and delivery too.
Ruby’s is located at 29th and Guadalupe, specifically at 512 West 29th Street.
Their phone is (512) 477-1651.
They have a website where you can read even more about this down home joint at www.rubysbbq.com.
They accept Mastercard and Visa, checks, too, and cash is, and will forever be, king!
Like I said, consider me enlightened. And do yourself a favor, enlighten yourself to by taking in the experience that is Ruby’s B.B.Q.. Why?
Magnus says so, and Magnus knows best.***