The interior designer of Rick’s Roadhouse has done
his her phe’s job. Taking in the surroundings as we waited for our food, my Puerto Rican dinner companion sighed, “This is what I thought America would be like.” It’s basically a glorified dive: walls decorated with miscellaneous Americana trinkets — taxidermied deer; a painting of the Phillips 66 logo; huge f*ckin’ American flag behind the bar — and waitresses wearing shirts that say “Wanna see a nice rack?” There are no windows(!) and plenty of room (including a 16-top table). It’s self-consciously kitschy, tapping into a strange lowbrow nostalgia that might as well be written into the U.S. Constitution.
The roadhouse theme comes through in the menu, too, which boasts sections like “Start Your Engines!” for appetizers and “Hit the Highway” for catering. It’s also reflected in an aggressive disdain for health food: the veggie burger is named “Burger for Bad Hunters,” and of the five salad options, two contain bacon, one contains steak and “fizzled corn tortillas,” and another is made up of iceberg lettuce. Do not order a salad here. It doesn’t make sense and everyone will probably laugh at you. Stick to what Rick’s knows best and we’ll all be happy.
The most obvious specialty, of course, is the BBQ. It’s slow-cooked and tender, filling the void left in our hearts and on Ives Street from when United BBQ was shuttered. Whether you get smoked chicken, pulled pork, brisket, or a rack of ribs — or can’t commit to just one and decide to get a whole platter — it all comes with cornbread, baked beans, and cole slaw: the sign of good barbecue. Another sign is the rolls of paper towels that are the centerpieces of each table. You will laugh at them when you’re seated; you’ll thank your lucky stars for them when you’re eating. It’s not cheap (pulled pork is $12, half a rack of ribs is $13, the platter is $17), but portions are huuuuuuge… You’ll be eating leftovers for the next couple of meals.
But friends, do not mistake this for a simple BBQ joint. Rick’s contains multitudes, and there are many other ways to get your fix: burgers, quesadillas, sizzling fajitas, and a sizable spread of home cooking classics. One friend, torn between the Carolina-Speaking Cuban — a country take on the Cuban sandwich — and the fish and chips, went for the latter, and this is what she was served:
I mean, that’s massive... and good. The Southern fried chicken is similarly monstrous in size, with four giant pieces of meat plus some fix-ins (I see you, mashed potatoes drowning in gravy). However, it’s not the greatest representation of the fried chicken genre. The batter might’ve once been good but is now a tad on the burnt side, which makes for a very thin skin… Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the whole point of fried chicken to eat the skin? Burgers are well-represented (fun fact: the man behind Rick’s also owns Harry’s Bar & Burger and Luxe Burger Bar) and ground the meat in-house, so you can make no mistakes there. And if all else fails, Rick’s serves a damn good bowl of chili (unsurprisingly, not veg-friendly).
Disclaimer: You will not leave Rick’s feeling particularly good about yourself. You cannot expect such a thing when even the salads are junk and in fact, of all restaurants you could go to, this is the one that will probably leave you feeling the most like a walrus. Depending on your spirits, you’ll either appreciate the 15-minute walk back to campus or want desperately to call your friend to come fetch you in SafeRide. But as long you know that going in, Rick’s is full of awesomeness potential. (See also: Hillbilly Punch, made with white rum, peach schnapps, cranberry and orange juices, and Sprite.) Go and see how long it takes for everyone in your group to dissolve into laughing fits over what you’re putting into your body. It’s scary, yet delicious.
How to get there: Walking’s most efficient, but it’s far enough that you should plan for good(ish) weather on your journey. Walk down to Wickenden, head towards Whisco, and cross the bridge. Rick’s is on a cross street a couple blocks up.
High: There are plenty of all too obvious (and all too sound) arguments for being a vegetarian. Rick’s is a beacon for those of us looking for a hilarious and welcome reminder of the joys of carnivorousness.
Low: Way, way hook-y. This is the kind of food that makes your belly feel like concrete. But given that this is so clearly part of the restaurant’s identity, I question whether this is even a Low…
Bottom Line: Eat at Rick’s. YOLO.