Read a review in the Sun today about a Texas BBQ place in Federal Hill called "Rub". Sounds like it might be excellent. Any one been? I'd love to take some special who gets homesick for Dallas,...
Rub is at the very end of Light Street. (Are they really calling that Federal Hill now?! That's South Baltimore for sure). It is run by the original owner of Blue Agave.
I've been a few times already and sampled almost everything. The BBQ is ok, with the brisket and the chicken being the tops. The sides are a major disappointment. I've heard rumors that their intensions are to expand into other locations quickly. It definitely has that feel (even the logo screams "We want to become a chain").
In terms of hound worthy BBQ, it's not comparable to Andy Nelson's.
To sum it up: Rub is to BBQ what Blue Agave was to Mexican Food. Its an ok restaurant, but there is certainly better examples of the cuisine to be found.
Does it really matter if it's in Federal Hill or just plain South Baltimore? No. It's a good restaurant/bar with a great ambiance and great sides. I have been craving the sweet potato fries and fried green tomatoes ever since I was there 2 weeks ago. Am heading there again soon to sample the rest.
I will grant that some of what is served as Mexican in this area is Tex-Mex, but some of what you may be dismissing as "Tex-Mex crap" may instead be very authentic Jalisco or Sonoran Mexican. Much of "real" Tex-Mex (we'll ignore the mangling of Tex-Mex cuisine outside of Texas for a moment) is only a minor variant of cuisines typical of parts of Mexico. So it is possible for something that looks and tastes a lot like "Tex-Mex" to be "authentic Mexican". Is it authentic Mexico City, southern Mexican, Coastal Mexican, <insert province here> Mexican? No!
To analogize, a Maine "lobster roll" does not cease to be "authentic American" just because it ain't southern grits.
As for whether or not Blue Agave is or isn't an "authentic" representation of some Mexican regional cuisine, I can't say - I only went there once. I strongly suspect, however, that at least some of the places you may be including in your "Tex-Mex crap" category may in fact be very authentic representations of their respective regions of Mexican origin.
i have been pleased. the decor is all about being in a texas bbq joint with the genuine cowhide barstools, the texas limestone bar, and the neon jim beam signs. plenty of shiner bock, but regretfully no lone star beer. the platters are very good; the meat is tender and smokey. i especially like the smoked bologna - can't say i've seen that around here before. the brisket, ribs, chicken and sausage are all worth a second visit. i do agree somewhat with KAZ on the sides; i wouldn't call them "a major disappointment" as i'm there for the brisket, not the mac-n-cheese (the string beans are strong). i also am developing an addiction to the banana pudding dessert. who cares, summer's over. i don't want to knock the andy nelson lovefest, and i admit it is superior (i generally prefer my BBQ NC to TX), but Rub certainly fills a need in south baltimore (and agreed, it is NOT federal hill).
I went last night, and have some basic observations.
I got the "try a bit of everything" sampler plate, and I would rank the items offered as
First tier: Chicken, Brisket - both fine examples of how to do these meats in a nice, flavorful way.
Second tier: turkey, sausage - both pretty good, just nothing special that would make one order them over the chicken or brisket.
Third tier: ribs - not due to any failing. they had the smoke ring, they were tender and moist, they had a decent seasoning - they just really didn't register with any sort of personality. They were good, but entirely unmemorable. Even BAD ribs make more of an impression than these did. Maybe it's just me.
Appetizer: Fried green tomatoes - not worth a repeat, in my book, though given the lack of other examples in this area, FGT junkies needing a fix may find this an acceptable rendition.
Sides: Surprisingly good fries, decent corn pudding
Of the meats I think the chicken is probably the best value, with the brisket a close second. Nothing wrong with the turkey, sausage, or ribs, but nothing particularly memorable about them either. As noted, this place has the "appeal to the widest possible audience, and offend nobody" sense of bland competency that smacks of a chain in the making.
Portions struck me as being rather small for what one is paying, especially the microscopic piece of pie for dessert. In an interesting note, the additional scoop of ice cream is normal sized, and reasonably priced at $1.25 extra with the pie. I think that if I go back, I'll see if I can order the ice cream for the same price, but skip the pie.
No matter what the "Texas BBQ shack" vibe they are shooting for might be, these are NOT "Texas sized" portions, either in the mythic "Everything's bigger in Texas" terms, or even compared to the portions one would get for the money in the sort of Texas joint they seek to emulate. If they either increase the portions, or lower the prices by a buck or two, the value ratio would be a little more in line, in my opinion. Even with my admittedly outsized appetite, I should be closer to contented after what I paid than I felt when walking out the door.
The walls (done up in corrugated tin) are adorned with pictures of the legendary Central Texas "meat market" BBQ establishments (Central Market, Kreuz's, etc. - anybody who has made the pilgrimages to Lockhart, Elgin, Luling, etc. will recognize them) but anybody who's experienced the real deal will likely come away feeling a bit uneasy about the carefully calculated artifice. They've got the look, they will offend nobody with the taste, but the prefab soul of the place is unsettling, no matter how well-intentioned their homage to the originals may be.
Maybe I should have gotten a hint from the fact that sprinkled in among the pictures on the walls of the "legendary" Texas meat markets there were several pictures of one or more locations of the Salt Lick - a Central Texas BBQ chain that may be the model for the sort of franchised "Authentic Texas BBQ" empire that Rub seems to aspire to becoming.
Don't get me wrong - this place does serve good food, and once they get the minor kinks worked out (PLEASE lose the waiter's schtick of tossing in Spanish phrases at every opportunity - he doesn't have to convince me of his ethnicity, or to give me the illusion that he's Tejano and I'm in Austin!), it will be the sort of reliably acceptable place with fairly high (if somewhat generic) standards that many will flock to. I guess I'd just prefer to remove the layer of artifice, whether it ends up being the mothership of a chain, or simply appears to aspire to be one.
If one looks at Andy Nelson's, Big Bad Wolf, Sleepy Hollow, or most of the other good 'Q joints in the area, none of them feels the need to be anything other than what they are - Baltimore area establishments run by people who are trying to put out good BBQ. I guess the whole "let's pretend this is *just like* <Texas, Mexico, China, Latvia, wherever>" schtick always Rubs me the wrong way.
In summary, if one is looking for a no-brainer, reliable place to get *decent* BBQ, in a "Texas style" atmosphere, Rub will fill the bill. If you are looking for the sort of place that is the quirky product of its owners, its location, and a unique vision, rather than an attempt to recreate or transplant the vibe of another sort of place from another location, Rub may not be what you're looking for. To each his own.