| Meat! |

It's Ribs, But Go For the Chicken

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Have you ever walked into a restaurant where the staff is so kind and eager that you just don't want to say anything bad about the food? Such is the predicament I find myself in.

When I read about a place called It's Ribs opening in Northwest Houston, dreams of meat candy danced in my head. I imagined a place that could make ribs far superior to any place else in Houston because that's their specialty.

The staff at It's Ribs are as friendly as you could ever ask for. There's a homestyle cooking vibe here, and any question about an item was met with an offer of a sample. Places like this represent what Texas hospitality is all about.

Regrettably, my dreams of perfect ribs were dashed. The ribs there have no meat candy or char. While they are oven-tender, they are not crispy on the outside and smoky. Instead, the lack of smoke is compensated for by a hefty dose of cumin-laden rub.

I suspected there was only so much they could do with just one normal-size gas smoker near the back door. How do you produce enough true barbecue for a day's worth of business with only that? You can't. The brisket here is tender and smoked, but there is no ring. I guess they smoke it just enough to get the exterior, and finish in an oven for tenderness.

The sauce is just awful; a molasses-heavy concoction that seemed ever so slightly burned. If you're a sweet sauce fan, you might like this, but it was shunned by two-thirds of my family. The bland pulled pork was practically ignored.

However, none of this is to say this is not a worthwhile addition to Northwest Houston. Here's my recommended menu:

• Smoked, whole chicken • Potato salad: your choice of mayonnaise or mustard • Baked beans

Forget rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. We had leftover chicken after sampling our extensive to-go dinner at home. I kept finding myself diving into the fridge to grab hunks of it. I didn't bother to heat it. It was delicious cold, and worth the $7.95 price at It's Ribs. The mustard potato salad was reminiscent of my mom's and I really can give no higher compliment than that.

I'm not a huge baked beans fan, but I liked these. They were sweet, but not overly so. We couldn't tell whether these were doctored beans out of a can or actually made from scratch, but either way, they were pretty good. Ironically, the sauce that I hated by itself or on meat might be the exactly what made these beans tasty.

The leftover brisket and pulled pork made it into Chef's Fried Rice the following evening, and that was a good use for it.

The macaroni and cheese here is a take-it-or-leave-it side for my tastes, although the 16-to-23 year-old set here seemed to like it well enough. It's made with Velveeta. If your mom made it that way, this might bring back some memories, but this just wasn't much to write home about for me.

Starting a barbecue business is hard. It requires substantial equipment to do it right in volume. Just go to Snow's, Muller's, Black's or any notable Central Texas barbecue place and look at the big smokers and giant stacks of wood. My hope is that It's Ribs will find a following and reinvest profits to get what they need to do some true Texas barbecue. I think the know-how is there. In the meantime, just order that delicious chicken.

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