Flavor: Bayou barbecue
Ambiance: Lively and comfortable
Service: Friendly and knowledgeable
Having been in Asheville for what may pass as a decent amount of time, I’m always excited to discover great new spots where I can while away the time doing nothing in particular. Ruby’s Tap House is one of those places.
Tucked away in East Asheville’s Haw Creek neighborhood, Ruby’s boasts an exceptional beer selection, a good wine list and plenty of drinking-appropriate activities, like darts, billiards and Skee-ball. The atmosphere is lively and airy, and the place is eclectically decorated with architectural salvage pieces and funky artwork, including a giant cow-jumping-over-the-moon clock.
On the bright afternoon that my Picky Companion and I visited Ruby’s, the expansive, sliding French doors that separate the sunny patio from the bar were wide open, allowing a light spring breeze to flow through the building. The bartender presided over a smattering of customers (“Mondays,” he said, “are always very slow”), and a couple of children ran about, giving the place a comfortable, neighborhood feel.
We bellied up to the bar and surveyed the generous beer selection. Ruby’s stocks an ample amount of micro brews, on tap and bottle, as well as some hard-to-find European beers. We were delighted to find a large number of labels we’d never seen before; we sampled the Bamberger Pilsner and Weiss first, and loved both.
Properly primed, we sidled over to Ruby’s house kitchen, Ed Boudreaux’s Bayou Bar-B-Que, which is operated by Dustin Vanderbunt and Eric Feichter. Vanderbunt lived in New Orleans for a spell, and learned the ins and outs of the regional cuisine while working at the prestigious Hotel InterContinental. When he left bayou country, he joined the team at Gabrielle’s at the Richmond Hill Inn, where he met Feichter, a Culinary Institute of America grad. The two decided to join forces, and the concept for the barbecue venture was born.
While Ed Boudreaux’s offers some traditional bayou staples like gumbo and red beans and rice, and many of the spices are Cajun-influenced, the overall concept is Southern, barbecue-heavy and just damn good, roll-up-your-sleeves kind of food.
The kitchen serves up some nice-looking salads, including one with avocado and artichoke, and a selection of vegetarian sandwiches like the BBQ Tempeh Po’ Boy, but Picky and I were there to satisfy our carnivorous cravings, and stuck mostly to the ribs and the (literally) meat-heavy sandwiches.
We tried the Cowboy Reuben and the straightforward BBQ Po’ Boy first. The Po’ Boy comes with a generous amount of pulled pork, beef brisket or smoked chicken, coleslaw and pickles on French bread, all for a modest $6.25. Being a bit of a traditionalist (as well as an adamant fan of swine), I chose the pulled pork.
The meat was tender and mildly smoky, and absolutely begged for one of the dozen or so house-made barbecue sauces. My personal favorites were the Voodoo sauce, a hot, vinegary concoction, and the Creole, a spicy and very flavorful potion. The slaw was fresh and crunchy, the bread thick enough to absorb all of the juices and drippings. Picky was quite pleased; his only (meager) complaint was that the pickle served on the side could have been crunchier.
The Cowboy Reuben was good as well, with Creole mustard, mayo, cheddar cheese, kraut and tons of smoked beef brisket on grilled Texas toast. I declared this one a “five-napkin sandwich,” and handed it over to my companion, who found it “moist, greasy and awesome” and added that the extra grease from the cheese and the griddled toast took the whole thing “over the top, in a good way.”
After a substantial rest and further sampling of the beer selection, we ordered up a half a rack of smoked pork ribs, green beans, baked penne with Vermont cheddar (Vanderbunt described this as “grown-up mac and cheese”), and a Muffaletta Po’ Boy with Genoa Salami, Ham, Mortadella, Provolone, Swiss and house-made, tangy olive spread on French bread.
The ribs, like the barbecue, were tender, meaty and mildly smoky. Again, the sauces completed the dish, and when smothered in more Voodoo, Creole and Rebel Uprising – a mustard and chipotle-spiked brew – the dish was very good. I tried the Apple Jack sauce, with caramelized apples and onions, and found it a bit sweet for my taste, but gave it points for creativity. Picky pointed out that the green beans were cooked more than he would prefer them to be, but the way they were prepared is what one should expect from Southern-style green beans. The penne and cheese was hot and homey; my dining partner barely managed to get a fork into it before it was all gone. The Muffaletta sandwich was good too (especially later on, when I had part of it as a midnight snack).
Steeped in beer, ribs and barbeque sauce, I knew that we were done for the day. Vanderbunt tried to convince us to try the Gumbo. He was obviously very proud of the dish, and he beckoned for us to poke our heads into the kitchen and smell it. Full to the brim, we had to decline, but promised to try it next time.
Ruby’s and Ed Boudreaux’s left me with only one real complaint: They’re not in my neighborhood. Regardless, given the good food and inviting atmosphere (to say nothing of the owner’s plans to add an expansive deck overlooking the creek), I left knowing that this was a spot where I’ll be whiling away some more hours – and soon.