Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Calvin's Royal Rib House

Conventional wisdom says that any place with extremely limited hours is likely to be very good (see Shopsin's). Unfortunately, conventional wisdom can often be wrong (would anyone like to start a land war in Asia?). This may be the case with Calvin's Royal Rib House in Bed Stuy. It's only open three days a week-- Thursday, Friday and Saturday until the food runs out-- but these limited hours don't necessarily translate into a meal worth seeking out. That's a shame too, since I'd love to be able to find authentic Southern barbecue in New York City (beyond the Big Apple BBQ).

I admit that East Carolina barbecue, with its signature tangy vinegar sauce, is far from my favorite regional style. When I lived in Georgia, the local barbecue was similar, but (much) lower quality. Maybe that clouded my perception (you can see how hard I'm trying to be nice), because in my experience (and in many other's) the vinegar sauce completely overwhelms the flavor and smokiness of the pulled pork. This results in a sandwich that tastes like meaty vinegar with cole slaw. At least where I frequented in Georgia, this meat-vinegar was served on "Graecian Bread" (essentially extra-buttery Texas toast), which mitigated things somewhat (along with copious boiled peanuts).

The tiny, take-out only restaurant sits on a quiet block of mostly brownstones. While it was empty when I visited at 1:30 on a recent Thursday, lines are allegedly usually out the door. I focused on ribs and a chopped barbecue sandwich and placed my order. While waiting, I chatted a little bit with the proprietors, who were as friendly as someone who's behind a bulletproof wall (with iron bars!) can be.

Once home, I tore open the bag and got to eating. The ribs pulled easily off the bone, but were completely overwhelmed by that vinegar sauce. It's obvious from the picture how much of it is in the container. Also, I got the hot version, so I can't speak for the mild (which seems to be the favored choice).

Mac and cheese was overcooked and mushy (I'd call it meh-caroni and cheese, but I'm sure that's been used before). Collard greens were much better, but you don't go anywhere just for collards.

The chopped barbecue sandwich was much better than the ribs, but still not something I'd seek out. I ceded the saturated bottom bun to the barbecue sauce and attacked the rest with a fork.

Royal Rib House is not necessarily a "cheap eat" as advertised. The rib dinner and sandwich set me back nineteen bucks. I could have easily spent that crisp twenty dollar bill many other ways, but it's too late. While admittedly there's a lot on the menu I didn't try (convince me otherwise, what's good?), let's just say the limited hours aren't the only reason I won't be going back to Royal Rib House.

Calvin's Royal Rib House
303 Halsey Street
Brooklyn, NY 11216
Royal Rib House on Urbanspoon


  1. Aside from a serviceable bowl of yams, sides at the Royal Ribs are regrettable... I tend to stick to ribs and chopped to save my money. And I'm actually into both! It's not smoked and it's not southern, so I tend not to think about it in terms of traditional barbecue. There's a weird all-hands Carolina-to-NYC transplant flavor going on in the sauce and in the pork, and while I wouldn't call it a destination, I do wish I lived just a little bit closer so I could swing by more often for some chopped pork and cornbread.

  2. That's a good point James.

    I tried to stress that I've never really been into this type of BBQ-- it's definitely the result of too much bad BBQ in Georgia.

    I like my pulled pork with a strong, smokey flavor and I guess there's no reason to smoke this if you're just going to cover it in sauce.

    Do you usually get the mild or the hot?