Friday, September 20, 2013

Baby Back Ribs Seem to be Everywhere

Several buffets this summer have featured baby back ribs. This is unusual. I have not seen baby back ribs at a buffet in a number of years. What are baby back ribs? These are pork ribs that are taken from the top of the rib cage from market weight but young hogs. These are not taken from adult hogs. There is meat between the bones and on top.

I summer I have tried baby back ribs at Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earle, PA, several Golden Corrals, Ryans, Old Country Buffet, and while they were not labeled "baby back ribs" but just "ribs" at Dutch-Way Family Restaurant in Gap, PA. Some were very good, some were OK and some were not so good at all.

I will start with what I consider the best and this I am sure is going to surprise many of you with this coming from me. The best have been at Old Country Buffet. These have been consistently good over several visits. The sauce is not too sweet and not overly applied. Additional sauce is available on the condiments counter. The meat was tender and has fallen completely off the bones. There was sufficient meat on each rib but not so much meat that it was no longer like a rib but a chunk of pork with a bone. These ribs kept me going back for more with little interest in any other entree on the buffet. The baby back ribs were a summer special feature every night and by the time you read this article they may no longer exist - at least for this year - at Old Country Buffets - or maybe not and they are still being served.

The second best were at Dutch-Family Restaurant in Gap, PA where they were on the buffet on two different visits on different nights. At Dutch-Way the menu changes nightly and you may go in and find or not find ribs. At Dutch-Way the ribs, as I said above, were just labeled "Ribs" and not baby back ribs but the size, bone, and meat were consistent with what baby backs are. Here the sauce is a tomato based sauce that is barbecue sauce but more like tomato sauce. It is not overly sweet and it was good. The pork was tender and also fell off the bone. Had OCB not come out with their ribs mid-summer, these would top the list. With Dutch-Way there is a good chance that you will find these ribs showing up on the buffet throughout the year, but do not expect them to be there on any particular night.

One would think that since Ryans is owned by Buffets, Inc. as OCB is, that the baby back ribs there would be the same as at OCB, but on the two occasions on different nights that I tried them at Ryans they were not as good. This may be the fault of the particular Ryans, though as Ryans Buffets go this particular location is pretty good. The sauce here was sweeter. The meat was drier and the ribs were over done.

The baby back ribs at Shady Maple Smorgasbord were as feature on the Fourth of July dinner buffet and having been back several times for dinner over the summer I did not see them again. These baby back ribs had the most meat on them and that was the problem. These were like eating a chunk of pork with a bone in it. Eventually, the bone did come away from the meat. The sauce was OK but sweet. I was thrilled to see this on the buffet but was disappointed when I got them. They were served from the grill. It is odd to complain about too much meat, but that is what I found as fault with these ribs.

The worst of the baby back ribs were the ones at Golden Corral and I tried them at four different Golden Corral restaurants. These ribs from restaurant to restaurant were consistently dry and overcooked to the point of crunchy where you could not tell if you were biting into meat or bone and when what came away was just as indistinguishable - burnt meat or burnt bone - neither of which was easily chewed or swallowed.  The baby back ribs were part of a summer feature of hot wings and baby back ribs. At one of the Golden Corrals they were being carved from the rack at the grill. At the others they were out on the buffet next to the grill in a tray. It did not matter how they were served. They were not good.

I am hoping that Old Country Buffet keeps the baby back ribs on the dinner buffet for a while longer - maybe even making them a regular on one particular night or more. OCB has served other ribs but these have always been like a pork roast sliced and served as ribs. What they call Country Ribs are not ribs at all and are hard to distinguish from what they just serve as pork. Those and the honey riblets are also overly sauced and excessively sweet. Nothing like the baby back ribs. If these are discontinued in the Fall, I very much hope that they make a come back again next summer!

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