Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Sanford's Rockin' Ribz: Once and Future Barbecue Champion

I’ve driven by Rockin’ Ribz Smokehouse up in Sanford several times and it always looks closed. I’ve seen, at most, three cars there at any one time. The building looks a bit dilapidated. The yellow paint is fading and the A-frame style tin roof has seen better days. Old restaurant equipment and seating are arranged haphazardly under an extended part of the roof. Inexplicably, there’s a make-shift dance floor with colored lights under the shelter as well. Apparently, the space is used for karaoke occasionally. All the clutter makes the place look closed, or at best, under a remodel. An old, tired “Grand Opening” banner that’s been up for months flutters in the breeze.

In other words, it looks just the way a barbecue joint should look.

Inside is no different. A menagerie of old collectibles and random junk lines the 70s-style, wood-paneled walls. A couple of loud, old, window-box A/C units chug along to cool the place. It is the picture of one of those hole-in-the-wall spots known for great barbecue.

There is a little bit of a modern touch inside. Several flat-screen TVs hang here and there, and loud rock music blasts from the stereo. The place is called Rockin’ Ribz, after all.

When we arrived at 7:30 p.m. on a Monday night, there were two cars in the parking lot, and not a soul in the dining room. When we opened the door we startled the waitress. She seemed surprised to find diners coming in so late (the place closes at 8 p.m. nightly).

The waitress was very friendly and suggested the “Ol’ Style Ribz” ($10.99). It’s the same way the old Rib Ranch smoked them she told us, and her favorite. The previous tenant of the building was “The Rib Ranch,” a Sanford landmark that closed recently after 25 years. I decided on “Boss’z Recipe Bar-B-Q Beanz” and “French Fryz” for my sides. My guest chose “Corn on the Cob” and “Sweet Potato Fryz.”

The “Ribz” were excellent. They were served with two slices of purple onions atop them, and two slices of garlic toast on the side. The ribs were large and meaty, and not over smoked as I feared they might be. The meat was somewhat fatty and very tender. The meat didn’t actually “fall off the bone” as is often quoted as the sign of excellent ribs, but the meat did pull off easily. They were ever-so-slightly seasoned with a sprinkle of rib rub.

They ribs were served dry, with sauce available on the table in three flavors: “Homestyle,” “Sweet!,” and “Rockin’ Hot.” I sampled them all and found a mixture of the sweet and hot sauces to be my favorite. The sauces were the typical Florida-style, ketchup-based variety found throughout the state. There was a tiny taste of vinegar in all three sauces. Not enough to overpower; just enough to add a tang.

The sides were, unfortunately, a mixed bag. My baked beans tasted like they were straight from a can but the fries were light, crispy and had a nice potato taste. My guest’s corn on the cob was not fresh and was so dry not even three pats of butter could bring it back to life. The sweet potato fries, however, were deliciously crisp and sweet with the powdered sugar sprinkled on top.

There was no beer or wine available. I understand they will eventually have it available. We were more in the mood for sweet iced tea ($1.49), anyway.

For dessert I tried “Mom’s Red Rocker Cake” ($2.95) what Rockin’ Ribz calls the traditional barbecue joint dessert of red velvet cake. It was a small piece of cake but the right size for the price. Like it should be, the cake was overly moist and the icing overly sweet. I think I’ll order two next time.

Our server was particularly friendly and gracious. A woman, who I assume was either the manager or the owner, dropped by our table several times to check on us and receive our thoughts on the meal. I can’t tell you how much personalized service means to me. She really seemed to care, and had a lot of pride in the business. You don’t get that everywhere you go.

As we were about to leave, another surprise diner showed up. He was almost turned away but the manager came over to invite him to sit down and have a meal. The lone diner mentioned he thought the place wasn’t open yet but saw cars outside and decided to give it a try. When the manager told him they had been open since October, the diner said he had driven by many times and always thought they were closed. The manager intimated the possibility that he had only driven by on Sundays, when the restaurant is closed for the day.

Just down the road at Sonny’s Bar-B-Q, the parking lot was nearly full. What is wrong with people?

I hope Rockin’ Ribz makes it. The place itself seems like the genuine article. It doesn’t seem prefabricated and contrived. The ribs are excellent and, hopefully, some of the side items will improve with customer feedback. The management is caring, and the service is warm and inviting. It should be a destination for barbecue lovers from all over. The crowds should be lining up at the door to get in. The music should be blasting over hordes crowding the dance floor. It should be a rockin’ place. Unfortunately, when I drove by the last time I noticed the parking lot was empty, the dance floor vacant, and the grand opening banner was fluttering in the breeze, alone.

4 Rock-and-Roll Rednecks out of 5

Rockin' Ribz Smokehouse on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

i went there and had a similar experience that you did service-wise. food-wise, it just wasn't good enough; there are many bbq places in seminole county that do much better with it sonny's included. i thought the sauces were not what they should be-a little unrefined and not in a good way. i ask my wife if she wants to give them another try and she says why bother when there are lots of bbq places we do like close by. im rooting for rockin ribs to succeed because i think they are good for the neighborhood and they work hard but their food (and sauces) need to improve in my opinion.

Eating Orlando said...

So where's your favorite place for Ribs?

Eating Orlando

Anonymous said...

I ordered take out. When I got home and opened box I thought it was a bad joke. I ordered the baby back ribs. They were dry to the point it was almost like beef jerky. And not to mention 5 little bones. The coleslaw was bland and the fries were cold and mushy. The toast was just that. No flavor, I think they forgot to put the butter on it. Not to mention the beans tasted like they came out of the can. Very disappointed and will let everyone know.

Anonymous said...

i think this place is great!!!!!!!!!! the people are greatif you are nice to them and if you order right it is good too.