Friday, July 22, 2011

The Rib Whip - Chicken Drumsticks and Crackin Mackin Cheese

Barbecue. The very word means so many different things to so many people. Carolina barbecue. Memphis barbecue. Brazilian barbecue. Mongolian barbecue. The list goes on and on. Heck, I'm sure after we encounter life on Mars we'll soon be discussing the finer points of Martian barbecue. And if you're looking for great barbecue off of a truck in San Francisco, the Rib Whip wants to make sure that list includes Midwest barbecue.

I arrived at Off the Grid for dinner, and since I had my three year-old son in tow the first stop had to be at Chairman Bao for some pork belly. Usually the line is pretty deep, but this time one look was all it took to know that I wasn't going to make my way through it in under an hour. And my kid was hungry! So promising him that we'll get some pork belly next time, I moved on to the truck that I really wanted to stop at, the Rib Whip, which conveniently happened to be the next one over. And the line was only five people long. Score!

While getting ribs this time would have been the obvious choice, I also had to deal with a completely hyper toddler. Having to use two hands to eat wasn't going to work, so I decided to go for the Chicken Drumsticks. The Rib Whip features two different chicken drumstick preparations for different persuasions. One is a skinless drumsticks dish prepared with dry rub known as "Skinny Legs." You can get your Skinny Legs prepared without sauce for a truly low-fat, low-calorie meal, but Midwest barbecue with no sauce? Now where's the fun in that?

Another option is a trio of smoked drumsticks with skin still on, dressed to kill in the Rib Whip's tomato and Budweiser sauce. Since mains are served a la carte, I completed my meal with an order of Crackin Mackin Cheese. Skin, sugar, pasta and cheese; I certainly wasn't looking for diet food.

Midwest barbecue is an amalgamation of Kansas City barbecue—with the preference for slow smoking—and St. Louis direct grilling. But whatever the specific cooking style, when it comes to the Midwest the sauce is indeed the boss. The Rib Whip's beautiful dark and thick sauce hit all the requisite flavor profiles. There was a spicy bite to it that was pleasant instead of overpowering. The vinegary tang hit me in the back of the mouth, and it was just sweet enough to balance everything out. This is not a sauce for Man v Food challenges. It's a sauce for savoring.

The rich aroma of smoke foreshadowed the taste of the chicken itself, which didn't disappoint with a nice smoky flavor and good pink color running throughout. Aside from some pepper and paprika, I couldn't pick up a lot of flavor from the dry rub, but to be honest due to the ample sauce on the drumsticks I can't say it was wanting for anything.

The Crackin Mackin Cheese is the Rib Whip's contribution to the gourmet mac & cheese movement that's been going on lately. Packed into a little paper cup was a combination of cheddar, Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses that evenly clung to the sturdy noodles, never turning into a gloppy mess even after cooling down. It's a stovetop mac, so there's no thick breadcrumb crust here. The sweetness of the Gruyere and full mouthfeel of the coated pasta played especially well with the saucy chicken. It's a good side for a pairing, but I would recommend a little bit of hot sauce for some added kick if you were to eat it on its own.

In a wide wide world of barbecue choices, the Rib Whip owner Ryan Gessel wanted to make sure San Franciscans think Midwest when they think barbecue. Mission accomplished.

Chicken Drumsticks Rating: 4/5
Crackin Mackin Cheese Rating: 3.5/5 (ratings guide)

The Rib Whip (@theribwhip) $6 for three drumsticks, $3 per bowl of mac & cheese

Does reading this make you want to try this vendor? Tell them that you saw them at I Left My Cart in San Francisco and support San Francisco street cuisine!

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