It's not Slows Bar-B-Q, but it's trying. I don't know that Slows' legion of fans who pack the place nightly could ever be lured away — it's clearly more than just the brilliant ribs that make the Corktown spot so popular. Rub is attempting some similar kinds of barbecue, but in a sports bar. Its website is clear on that persona: "30 televisions" and "65 flat screens."
Five weeks in (it opened July 8), Rub has some knots to work out, but could be a hit with the multitudes who come downtown for games and don't care for Mike Ilitch's stadia fare and pricing.
A big drawing card is the 29 drafts — from PBR (unaccountably popular) to Bell's Two-Hearted Ale — and the 42 domestic and 38 international bottles of beer. My party loved the tangy Two-Hearted (such a kinder concept than two-fisted) and Magic Hat #9 from Vermont, mild with a touch of bitterness and a nice finish, as well as Berghoff's Famous draft root beer, which has a lot of character — creamy and mellow, far from just sweet, but lacking the tang of many root beers. It wouldn't be my first recommendation to accompany ribs if the sauces are at all sugary.
The stars are the meats, of course, and Rub does better on those than on its sides. Green beans were rubbery and barely cooked, no kin to Southern green beans. Mac and cheese seemed to have the orange cheese draped over the top, not integrated in. Baked beans and slaw were passable but not to order twice, jalapeño corn bread respectable. Happily, the sweet potatoes were crisp fries, rather than mashed and marshmallow-swathed, and bourbon mashed potatoes — not sweet potatoes, but regular spuds — were mellow and full of subtle flavor.
When pigs fly: Fabulously tasty is an appetizer of "pig wings," though they come with the sauce cooked on instead of letting the diner choose. These petite pieces are braised shanks, with a slightly crisp exterior and a bit of maple flavor. There's only a tiny bone, which isn't visible till the meat is gone, so it looks a little unmannerly to pick them up and eat them out of hand. This cut is being promoted now and is going to catch on.
Chicken wings are less successful, meaty and cooked with one of the vinegar-based sauces. Another appetizer is poppers stuffed with brisket, six big ones for $6.95, just the right amount of heat, crunchy, smoky. Let no course pass without its meat module!
Prominent in each booth is a six-pack of squeeze-bottle sauces, labeled: Detroit (bright and fruity with some mustard), Carolina (mostly mustard flavor; you think of vinegar for the Carolinas, but some Carolinians do use mustard or even ketchup), Texas (less mustard), Kansas City (similar to Detroit), apple (quite vinegary) and Buffalo (like Buffalo wings, pretty nasty). For what it's worth, I liked the Detroit best, but you'll be ordering enough meat to try them all.
If the correct formula for rib tenderness has the meat splitting down the middle, rather than cleaving cleanly away from the bone (and there are so many rules in this world, aren't there?), Rub has accomplished that goal with its baby backs, which leave some shreds for gnawing. They're a little tougher than some. St. Louis ribs are a whole 'nother animal, quite meaty with a deep ham flavor that comes from caramelizing the sauce on the meat on the grill.
Also pleasing are the pulled items, both mellow pork and smoky chicken, moist as can be. Andouille is a bit boring (perhaps a Sysco product?), beef brisket is a disaster, thin and tough, and I have never been able to understand the allure of overcooked catfish, as it's done here and so many other places. I feel sure that the brisket can be rehabilitated and also hope the beef short ribs will be returned to the menu as advertised.
The Yono brothers, owner Dominic and managing partner Randy, from a family that made its mark in supermarkets, are clearly thinking big. The family has owned the Grand Circus Park building that houses Rub (and used to house the Brass Rail) for a while, and now wants to take advantage of the area's "coming back." They own 1,200 pounds of smoking capacity, so they're well prepared for tailgating season. Randy informed me that they already have pictures for their Wall of Fame. You can join it by finishing a 4-pound burrito made with chili, pulled pork and chicken, cheese and rice.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.