Smokin' Good

R&R Bar-B-Que Company prepares delicious meats, but the side dishes need work

When it comes to barbecue, there are many schools of thought. Dry? Rubbed? Sauced? Chopped? Pulled? The list goes on forever.

Since Tucson isn't exactly in the heart of traditional barbecue country, barbecue shops here have a little more leeway to find their own signature style. R&R Bar-B-Que Company does a little bit of everything, from pulled pork and baby-back ribs to smoked sausage and dry-rubbed beef brisket.

With two locations—the place I reviewed, at Wilmot Road and Speedway Boulevard, and a new location at Rita and Houghton roads in Rita Ranch—R&R specializes in eat-in, carryout and catering. For my first R&R meal, I figured that a great way to wrap up an extra-hectic workday would be to get some barbecue as takeout.

All of the entrée portions are huge; most are designed to share, family-style. I wanted an entrée that showcased a bunch of the meats and barbecue styles that R&R offers, but their sampler platter ($39.99, including one whole rack of baby-back ribs, one pound of pulled pork, one whole barbecue chicken, two sides, six dinner rolls and a bottle of sauce) seemed excessive for two people. Instead, I went with two of their entrées: the "ribs and more" ($16.99) for Ted, and the three-meat build-your-own entrée ($18.99) for me. The "ribs and more" comes with a half-rack of baby-back ribs, two sides, a roll and a choice of pulled pork, beef brisket, a barbecued chicken breast or a smoked grilled sausage. I chose the pulled pork for the second meat, and coleslaw and ranch beans for the sides.

For my entrée, I selected the hickory-smoked beef brisket, the pulled chicken and the smoked grilled sausage, accompanied by corn on the cob, potato salad and a roll. It took R&R about 15 minutes to get the order together, which was right-on with their estimate. (I was told that the sausage takes just a little longer to prepare.) By the time I got home, I was more than ready to chow down after driving with all those tantalizing smells.

The sausage was my favorite of the meats. Super-smoky with a rich, meaty flavor, it was spectacular. The brisket—sliced thin and served without sauce—came in a close second. It had a lovely smoked pink ring around the outside, and was juicy and tender; it needed no sauce at all. The ribs were cooked well and slipped right off the bone, but the sauce was a little too sweet for my palate and overwhelmed the pork flavors of the ribs.

I was surprised that the pulled pork that came with the rib entrée didn't come with any sauce, since the larger family-style meals featuring pulled pork all come with a bottle of barbecue sauce. The pork had a nice smoked flavor, but was dry without the addition of sauce. The pulled chicken was also a bit on the dry side, but in this case, the sweet sauce complemented it and helped moisten it up a bit.

The meats at R&R are clearly the focus of the menu, and the sides are unfortunately forgettable. The potato salad suffered from a lack of flavor and texture; the corn on the cob was a bit mealy, like it had been sitting in the steamer for too long. The mayonnaise-based coleslaw was nice, but nothing special. The ranch-beans side was the best; the beans had a nice tang. The rolls were plain, pre-prepared white-bread dinner rolls, and were not notable.

We returned to R&R for a weekday lunch later in the week to check out some of their burger and sandwich offerings. I've always been a little wary of places that do both barbecue and burgers, because burgers are cooked fast and hot, while barbecue is cooked low and slow, and the burger I got illustrated why I feel this way. The R&R BBQ burger ($7.99) was a half-pound patty topped with lettuce, tomato, pickle, red onion, bacon and melted cheddar cheese. A cup of the restaurant's signature barbecue sauce was served on the side, and was much needed; the burger was prepared well-done and was rather dry. (I wasn't asked my doneness preference when ordering.) The egg bun didn't help, either; it was thick, cold and crumbly. If I hadn't slathered the burger in barbecue sauce, it would have been unpalatably dry.

The smoked-sausage sandwich ($8.99 with a side) was much better than the burger, but also suffered from the choice of bread. A generous amount of sausage was sliced lengthwise, smothered in cheese and peppers, and served on soft hoagie-style bread, with barbecue sauce on the side. The sandwich was good both with and without the sauce, but the bread got soggy and limp about halfway through. It would have been much improved had the bread been toasted just a little.

Both Ted and I ordered mac-and-cheese as the side, which sounded good for a chilly day (by Tucson standards, anyway). Again, the side dish was forgettable—the pasta shells were overcooked, and the sauce was bland. It was at least made with real cheddar cheese, though.

R&R has potential to be one of the better barbecue spots in town; they've got the basics down and have some nice, flavorful meat choices. However, the cooks need to pay more attention to detail on the side dishes and the non-barbecue items.

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