Rudy's Bar-B-Q, 'The Worst Bar-B-Q in Texas'? Hardly

Day one of a quest to establish the ultimate food T-shirt collection starts with Rudy's Bar-B-Q
Day one of a quest to establish the ultimate food T-shirt collection starts with Rudy's Bar-B-Q

“If you can't bar-b-que like ‘the original' Rudy's stay away from the pit!”

A quest to discover how many food T-shirts one food-obsessed editor could wear without breaking the chain starts with an homage to a Texan institutionChain restaurants have their place. Some are appreciated for being chains. Others because they almost don’t seem like one. For me, Rudy’s Bar-B-Q is a keeper. It was introduced to me by my wife (there’s always a bottle of “sause” in our fridge), who grew up in San Antonio where the first Rudy’s opened at the edge of the Texas Hill Country, north of the city in Leon Springs. 

How Many Food T-Shirts Can One Food Editor Wear in a Row?

Rudy’s had humble beginnings: Rudolph Aue’s one-stop gas station, garage, and grocery store where “Bar-B-Q” was added in 1989. Rudy's "Country Store" and Bar-B-Q has expanded to about 40 locations in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, and (of course) Texas.

I’ve done the Lockhart four, visited Franklin Barbecue, and married into a Texan family. So let’s be clear, I’ve had great barbecue. And I’m not saying Rudy's is the best, but the pits are 100 percent oak-fired, and it’s damn fine, especially for a chain. And they don’t take themselves too seriously. Case in point, the slogan you may have seen: “The Worst Bar-B-Q in Texas." 

Yeah, right. Forty locations and a T-shirt that says “If you can't bar-b-que like ‘the original' Rudy's stay away from the pit!” Worst barbecue? Don’t think so. 

I reached out to Rudy’s to find out about the origins, inconsistency of appearance, and the fading of this “worst” slogan, and learned that it originated from Phil Romano shortly after he opened the first Rudy's in 1989. You may know the name Phil Romano as that of the founder of Fuddruckers and Romano's Macaroni Grill. Vice president of operations for Rudy's Pete Bassett related that the story he heard was that “Phil said everyone always claimed to be the best, so instead of joining in, he decided to go the other direction and say Rudy's was the worst.”I reached out to Rudy’s to find out about the origins, inconsistency of appearance, and the fading of this “worst” slogan, and learned that it originated from Phil Romano shortly after he opened the first Rudy's in 1989. You may know the name Phil Romano as that of the founder of Fuddruckers and Romano's Macaroni Grill. Vice President of Operations for Rudy's Pete Bassett related that the story he heard was that “Phil said everyone always claimed to be the best, so instead of joining in, he decided to go the other direction and say Rudy's was the worst.”

It’s a story that Mr. Romano confirmed through the people at his Dallas-based food charity Hunger Busters, which helps feed the city’s children. 

“We dropped that tagline shortly after we purchased the company from Phil in 1996,” Mr. Bassett explained. “The Austin franchise group and the San Antonio licensee group are the only Rudy's that still use that saying.”

Which explains, considering my wife’s San Antonio background and the family we visit in Austin, why that’s the slogan I keep seeing. I dig that. It’s a very Texan slogan, and the fact that a chain still has the character to display it at some of its locations exhibits Lone Star character I admire.

The food? Well, the menu changes depending on the location, but generally, it features brisket, chopped beef, pork ribs, baby back ribs, half chicken, sausage, and for sides: potato salad, Rudy's beans, cream corn, and coleslaw (you can grab a peach cobbler for dessert). But the thing I’ll happily defend to anyone is the smoked turkey. Flavorful, sure. But every time I’ve had it, well, let’s just say that turkey has taken on new meaning. 

We served barbecue made by Daniel Delaney of BrisketTown (the best brisket in New York City, I don't care what anyone says... I doubt the credibility of anyone who says otherwise) during our wedding and adhering to the sanctity of the meat and the process by which it was cooked was something we thought paramount. The Texans? They asked for the “sause.”

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