Thursday, January 10, 2008

Restaurant Review: Shane's Rib Shack

Dan and I don't go out to eat that much anymore, mostly because Max is at a stage of his development where his behavior in public can best be compared to a rabid ape of some kind. There is screaming and chest-thumping, and throwing of food, and refusals to act in a manner befitting anything other than a two-and-a-half year old, which makes sense as he is, indeed, two and a half.

But we live around the corner from a shopping center with a few chain restaurants: an Applebee's and a Three Brothers and a California Tortilla. It's painless to take Max to most of those places; there are things he will eat readily, they are family-friendly and casual, if a little boring. Also: Dear California Tortilla: there is no such thing as a chicken caesar salad burrito. Stop it. Love, Molly.

There is also a place called Shane's Rib Shack., which if you don't know about, you should, had a deal and I was curious. My husband and I got married primarily because I found a place to hold our reception where he could have barbecued ribs with a side of fettucine alfredo, so I knew he'd go for it. I'm exercising a small amount of hyperbole about why we got married, but he did go around for months before our wedding saying, "I'm having barbecued ribs at my wedding reception! Oh, and I'm getting married."

Okay, I have to backtrack slightly to Go to this website. Go on, I'll wait. Just come back when you're done.

Back? Great. How awesome was that? $10 for a $25 gift certificate, or less, to a restaurant in your very own zip code. I got the Shane's one for $6. They run these sales--sign up with them, they'll send you deals all the time in your email.

Dan and I tried it a few weekends ago and were very pleasantly surprised. I am kind of fussy about barbecue--I don't want a puddle of sticky sauce, and I want meat that's meat, not a big tangle of chopped fat. I like barbecue to be smoky and tender, but with texture. I want it to still taste like pork, or beef, or chicken. And I live in Prince George's County, Maryland: this is soul food central. I've had some wretched barbecue since we moved here.

Dan ordered the small sampler platter: 1/3 rack of pork ribs, 1/4 pound of chopped pork, and 2 chicken fingers. Chicken fingers? Hardly authentic for a barbecue joint. It came with two sides, and Dan asked for macaroni and cheese and greens.

Being a little cautious about barbecue, I ordered the chicken fingers with mac and cheese and cole slaw. Max had a kids' meal with chicken fingers and fries. The staff was friendly and easy-going, knowledgeable about their products, and worked with a sense of urgency, something we always appreciate with a toddler to feed.

You order at the register, pay, and take a seat at surprisingly comfortable booths. There was medium-loud but very good music playing (Jack Johnson, Van Morrison) and wide-screen TV's with college basketball. The staff brought out our food: plastic baskets lined with paper, styrofoam dishes of sides, plastic squeeze bottles of sauce.

The chicken fingers were big strips of whole breast meat, tender and perfectly cooked, not over-breaded. The breading tasted a little floury, but was well-seasoned (read: not too salty) and they tasted like chicken, not binder or chemicals. Gorgeous, really, some of the best I've ever had. Chickien fingers for grown-ups.

Dan's chopped pork was wonderful--smoky, really lean and without a hunk of fat or gristle to be found, well-seasoned. It was served without sauce, but like I mentioned, there's plenty on the side. His ribs were masterfully made: perfectly tender, toothsome, delecately smoky and seasoned, with just a little crust on the outside from the grill. Wonderful.

And the sides: the greens were some of the best I've ever had, a little sweet, a little tart, not skunky or boiled to a fair-thee-well. The mac and cheese was creamy and rich without being overly so, with perfectly-cooked al dente pasta. And the cole slaw was great--not too sweet, not too mayonaise-y. They were beautiful complements to delicious centerpieces.

Tonight we ordered chopped pork and chopped chicken, and split them both. Dan ordered Brunswick stew as a side, as well as the greens, and I stuck with the mac and cheese and cole slaw. The Brunswick stew is a tomato-based mix with corn, pork, green pepper, and some other things I couldn't immediately identify--in this case, spicy and rich, really big flavor. Dan traded me for my mac and cheese; he hadn't realized that the dish had green peppers, which upset his stomach. The pork was as good as it had been the first time. The chicken was even better: lean, juicy, deeply smoky, tender, and perfecly prepared, piled in a bowl with Texas toast on the side, unsauced, like the pork. There wasn't a bit of skin or bone or sinew to be found. Passing my plate back to Dan after I'd eaten half was rough, I tell you.

Two visits to Shane's, two two-thumbs-up. We're thrilled to have Shane's in our neighborhood. I can see it becoming a serious addiction.

The details:
Shane's Rib Shack
13600 Baltimore Avenue (Route 1)
Corner of Route 1 and Contee Road
Hours: Mon - Sun 11 AM - 10 PM
Phone: 301-725-2020
Take-out and catering available
Other locations: Nationwide

No comments: