Few things are as seductive as secret-recipe sauces. And Fortitude Valley's newly-opened Ribs & Burgers has them in spades. Take the 'pink sauce', for instance, which is based on a closely-guarded family recipe which has been handed down through the generations. Combined with a delicious hint of charcoal grill, it lifted my 'original burger' with fresh lettuce, tomato, onion and dill pickle from ordinary to sublime.
As the name suggests, the Ribs & Burgers menu specialises in ... ribs and burgers. It's straightforward food, unashamedly carnivorous, with several variations on comfortingly familiar themes. There are beef, pork or lamb ribs (as well as pork riblets), while burgers run the gamut from cheeseburger to Cajun chicken burger to Mexican to Dagwood (complete with beetroot, Swiss cheese, bacon and fried egg). Premium burgers include Atlantic salmon, veggie or wagyu. And then there's the provocatively-named 'naked burger' which comes sans bun and thus caters for gluten-free folk.
So there's nothing on the menu representing a dramatic departure from what's expected. But where Ribs & Burgers did take me unexpectedly and deliriously by surprise was the execution of its dishes. Having arrived during the lunchtime rush, it took half an hour for my food to reach the table. But it was worth the wait. Seriously, my burger was the most enjoyable I've ever eaten and there are a few good reasons why this is so.
Firstly, only the highest quality meats are served and all cuts are free range, grass fed and blissfully free of hormones, antibiotics, steroids, binding agents and flavourings. The ribs, meanwhile, are marinated, slow cooked for 8 hours, grilled and caramelised with basting (made according to another 40-years-old secret recipe). There are a couple of salads - butcher's and cabbage - the latter of which I also sampled. It was a refreshing and crunchy blend of red and white cabbage, chopped apple, roasted pine nuts and fresh mint and parsley.
Situated as it is in the upmarket Centro on James precinct, you'd expect Ribs & Burgers prices to be a little steep. But I walked away having devoured a more-than-satisfying burger and salad for a mere $16. It was a shame I didn't leave any room for a serve of chips - $4 to $9, depending on size.
Visually, the place is a delight. There is a nod to nostalgia in the traditional butcher shop style fit-out and various vintage pieces dotted about. An open kitchen is on display - which was full of steam and motion when I visited. And its James Street location means it's a perfect place for people-watching.
The ordering system can prove a little confusing to first-time diners - such as the couple who selected a spot behind me and waited in vain for table service. The idea is that diners arrive at the front counter, order and pay, receive a little numbered bucket containing cutlery, napkins and a selection of sauces, and then find somewhere to sit. The restaurant does not accept reservations.
Reportedly the burger-joint-of-choice for celebrities including Joel and Benji Madden, Ribs & Burgers is part of a larger chain of eateries dotted throughout NSW and Victoria. This James Street location represents the first Ribs & Burgers restaurant in Queensland. And with five more Australian (and overseas) branches planned for 2015, it will likely not be the last.
I know that the sans bun appears to cater for the gluten free folk, but if you have a look on their website, there isn't really one protein option that doesn't include gluten ..as a result of their '40 year old' secret recipe.