I first sampled Rudy’s Country Store & Bar-B-Q’s products in 1993 in Leon Springs, Texas, a San Antonio suburb on the fringes of the magnificent Texas Hill Country. At the time Rudy’s was just beginning to make inroads toward becoming a significant barbecue presence in Texas where beef and brisket are king. Back then Leon Springs appeared to be a test ground for new restaurant concepts–and in fact, it is the site of the first Romano’s Macaroni Grill and the first Rudy’s Country Store & Bar-B-Q.
Before it was Rudy’s Country Store & Bar-B-Q, however, it was just Rudy’s Country Store. The country store was opened in 1929 by Rudolph Aue, the son of the founder of Leon Springs. It included a gas station, garage and grocery store. In 1989, Rudy’s added Bar-B-Q to its country store’s name. Rudy’s was transformed to a meat market selling meats cooked on 100% oak-fired pits.
My first impression was that this intriguing country store concept would be a perfect fit for for Albuquerque which until recent years has had pretty slim pickings when it comes to great barbecue. It took more than a dozen years for those hopes to be realized. Today, Rudy’s now has two stores in the Duke City. These are the only Rudy’s stores (along with one in Oklahoma) outside of Texas (for the time being), but this expansive enterprise will likely grow beyond the 25 store barbecue powerhouse it has become.
Rudy’s still offers Texas style tangy barbecue in a country store setting. Unlike many Texas barbecue bastions which seem to prefer acerbic mesquite woods, Rudy’s meats are prepared using only oak, a slower-burning wood than mesquite (Its meats are also imbued with a nice smoke ring characteristic of good barbecue. Those meats are flame cooked pit-style.
The meats are dry-rubbed, not slathered with sauce before being placed in the smoker. The meats are characteristically moist, tender and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. You can purchase them in increments: quarter-pound, half-pound, pound or more if you so desire.
The meats are delicious with or without sauce (sause is how it’s spelled on Rudy’s menus). There are two kinds of sause–a hot sause which is better, bolder and more peppery than its counterpart, labeled “sissy sause.” New Mexicans who adore green chile give the hot sauce a healthy respect and might insult wimps who use the sissy sauce by calling them Texans. To some, the secret to the deliciousness in Rudy’s barbecue starts with the distinctive sause and its peppery flakes which imbue a sweet tanginess and zesty kick (especially if you use the hot sause).
Surprisingly Rudy’s markets itself as the world’s worst barbecue. There are at least two explanations for this slogan’s genesis. Some surmise that this is just a clever advertising ruse intended to be taken ironically, not literally. It’s as much a “rib” as the meaty ribs on the menu. The other explanation is that “worst” is a play on the German word “wurst,” a type of sausage prepared in the Texas hill country by Germans who first settled this part of Texas in the mid-1850s.
A great meal features a pound or more of very good smoked meat wrapped in butcher paper with accompanying bread slices (rather ordinary wheat or white bread) that make for several sandwiches. Their brisket is probably the number one selling item on the menu. It is tender, juicy, and melts in your mouth. You can smell the oak that’s used to smoke it in every bite. The pork and brisket are superb, links are terrific and ham is excellent. If you’re a ham fanatic, Rudy’s serves some of the best in town. A light, sweet glaze contrasts with the porcine saltiness of the ham to dance on your taste buds.
Seating is family-style on wooden picnic tables, but no one seems to mind sitting with strangers. Perhaps that’s because most patrons are too busy with the entrees, but more than likely it’s because the environment seems to inspire friendliness. Aside from the indoor seating with a view of the prep tables where the slicing and cutting is done, Rudy’s offers covered porch seating.
In the mood for a sandwich: Rudy’s offers huge sandwiches for about five bucks a piece, the best being the pulled pork sandwich (which is really more like a shredded pork sandwich) and the most lifeless being the turkey (good name for it) sandwich. The pulled pork is slathered in a light brown gravy which appears to have a cider vinegar flavor. It’s certainly not a standard barbecue sauce.
Rudy’s also serves something called the “brown cow taco” which is made from barbecue brisket (or you can substitute pulled pork as in the photo above), tomatoes, cheese, and sour cream. It could be argued that this taco is more authentic than what is offered at Taco Bell. For one thing, “authentic” tacos are made from rolled up tortillas, not the cracking, crispy shells used at Taco Bell.
The menu includes several sides: potato salad, green bean salad, coleslaw, corn-on-the-cob, green chili stew, pinto beans, cream corn, new potatoes and a jumbo smoked potato (nearly the size of a football). The buttery boiled potatoes are a popular favorite which many guests seem to love. The cream corn, which is also quite good, uses large niblet corn and a sweet, creamy, buttery sauce.
Rudy’s employees wear shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “We didn’t claw our way to the top of the food ladder only to eat vegetables.” That’s the way most diners feel as well. The walls nearest the entrance are festooned with accolades proclaiming the self proclaimed “world’s worst barbecue” Albuquerque’s very best several years running by various publications.
Since man cannot live on barbecue alone, a collection of sure to please desserts are available: banana pudding, pecan pie, chocolate pudding, buttermilk pie, Rice Krispy treats, ice cream and peach cobbler. Buttermilk pie, despite its deeply Southern roots has become somewhat of a big hit at Rudy’s in New Mexico. This custard pie with its faintly caramelized top is almost cloying in its degree of sweetness, but it’s perfect for sweet-toothed diners.
Rudy’s was one of the first restaurants to introduce Albuquerque diners to Stewart’s sodas which come in several varieties including a root beer which was named the top root beer at the 2006 World Cup of Root Beer. Stewart’s sodas evoke nostalgic tangs among people who grew up with Nehi sodas and their colorful variety.
Rudy’s is perhaps the best Texas import to land in the Land of Enchantment. It’s become a barbecue landmark in its two Duke City locations.
Rudy’s Country Store & Barbecue
10136 Coors Blvd NW
LATEST VISIT: 27 July 2009
# OF VISITS: 23
BEST BET: Brown Cow Taco, Pork Sandwich, Brisket, Ham