We don't normally opine on chain restaurants, and the new Rudy's Country Store and Bar-B-Q — with its roughly 25 other locations in four states — more than qualifies.
Except people love Rudy's, like they love breathing, or Saturdays. The kitschy, localized sports flags and faux gas station decorations; the bags of complimentary white bread and the folksified barbecue "sause," set on picnic tables covered in sheets of wax paper instead of plates; the actual gas station out front. It all adds up to a non-threatening vista of intrinsic familiarity at the corner of Highway 24 and South 31st Street, and generates a fan base too passionate to ignore.
While waiting — I spent an average of 30 minutes in line during both my visits — I overheard conversation from folks who drove in from Falcon, Pueblo and Denver. Twice I helped first-timers navigate the initial maze of ice-filled drink troughs and menu items listed by the half-pound, of which the turkey breast ($5.69) was tender and salty, while the "moist brisket" ($5.89) was dry and peppery.
Rudy's website says the restaurant only cooks with oak, "a slower burning wood than the mesquite used by others." Each item is covered in a dry spice rub which basically tastes like salt and lots of pepper, a hit-and-miss flavor profile that results in a wonderful, richly fatty prime rib ($8.99, Friday through Sunday only), but an over-peppered green chili stew ($1.99/small, $3.59/pint, $6.79/quart) of tomatoes, potatoes, chilies, shredded carrots and pork. The moist lemon pepper half-chicken ($4.69) could use a crispier skin.
Even the vinegar-based sauces get in on the act: The original is sweet, but with a dominating pepper kick, while the "sissy" sauce is even sweeter. Along with more rub, sauce is centrally located on the table, since individual meats arrive naked.
"Central" is a big concept at Rudy's: Orders are given to employees at the counter, who personally butter buns, retrieve sliced meats, and hand it all over to you. Napkins mainly bookend a focal station stocked with a variety of eating equipment, as well as to-go bags for later.
Also available is a spread of various peppers, pickles and onions, which go great on any of the restaurant's sandwiches ($4.19 each). The sausage was spicy, greasy and delicious. The pulled pork came with a great mustardy, sweet, dirty yellow sauce that's perfect with onions. The tasty chopped beef (shredded brisket) also tastes sweet and moist — so moist the bun had sogged to mush by the time it got to the table.
Like the green chili, sides come in three sizes ($1.69/small, $3.19/pint, $5.69/quart), and run the gamut: The pinto beans and three-bean salad are bland and undercooked, while the potato salad is textbook, and the crunchy coleslaw is great, filled with diced green apples.
Morning brings breakfast tacos ($1.50/two items, $1.70/three, $1.90/four) on soft flour tortillas. A combination of jalapeño sausage, bacon, potatoes and cheese was really good.
Lastly, we bypassed chocolate pudding and cobbler for mini pecan and buttermilk pies ($2.99), which were average.
Undeniably, Rudy's has appeal. Its large dining area has tons of room for families, and its food might be just the thing when all you want is sweet and salty and lots of it. Though some of the shtick is just annoying — like no to-go containers, just paper bags to pile food into — I'd still be happy to see that round red light towering as I was coming off the highway.