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Restaurant review: Looking for ribs in three Utah places

Smedley Manor serves barbecue out of a stately home in Bountiful. Courtesy image

By lesli j. neilson

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Mar 27 2012 03:47PM
Updated Jun 25, 2012 11:39PM

I believe that a barbecue place is only as good as its ribs. If you don’t do those well, then you’d better take a step back and survey your entire production. Of course, the other fare — brisket, pulled pork, the sides — follows soon after. I recently made two visits each to three barbecue places — Smedley Manor in Bountiful, Soul & Bones in Ogden and Moon Dog’s Café in Layton — and I can report that two out of three make good ribs.

Bountiful • Smedley Manor is located in an old house built in the late 1800s by the Smedley family. Each wood-trimmed room has chairs with tables set with your basic commercial cutlery, salt and pepper shakers, wet wipes, ketchup and napkins. Honestly, it’s a bit of a disconnect to eat barbecue in such a stately place.

A modest list of beverages (sodas and beer, $2.25-$5) goes along with a concise menu of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, burgers and barbecued items.

Start a meal with a brisket quesadilla ($5.99), battered and fried green beans ($4.99) or mild salsa and tortilla chips ($2.99) that are served fresh from the fryer. Entrées include ribs (½ rack, $13.99; full rack, $19.99, both with a side and sauce), which were overcooked on one visit. As I tried to pick up a rib, the meat stayed on the plate and all I had was a bone in my hand. On a second visit, the ribs were a bit better but still overdone, although they had a nice smoky flavor to them. Choose from six sauces, which vary in hotness, though even the hottest one, "honey hot" wasn’t very spicy.

The ribs are also served as a sandwich ($8.99 with a side and sauce) or choose a tender brisket sandwich ($8.99; $9.99 as an entrée; both come with a side and sauce). Both sandwiches are topped with coleslaw in need of salt and vinegar. A side of bacon-flecked baked beans, on the other hand, were plenty tangy. Cornbread ($1.50), minus the funky-tasting honey butter, is also a good choice. The macaroni and cheese (as a side or $6.99 as an entrée), though, needs rethinking. One day, a lukewarm, $6.99 portion had overcooked pasta resting in a pool of melted butter. On another visit, as a small side dish, it was only marginally better.

None of the desserts particularly wowed me: a root beer float ($2.99), a fried tortilla bowl with vanilla ice cream and artificial-tasting red sauce ($4.99), an apple buckle (similar to a streusel) with ice cream ($4.99) and cheesecake ($5.99) topped with more of that red sauce.

Service varied from friendly to very accommodating, which felt almost neighborly, especially considering we were eating in what was once someone’s home. I just wish the menu selection and food execution matched the restaurant’s regal name.

Ogden • Soul & Bones is the opposite of Smedley Manor. Situated just off 25th Street, the restaurant’s look is reminiscent of a grand bayou speakeasy. To complement the feel, live music is played on weekend nights and at Sunday brunch. Soul & Bones’ food and drink menus are just as grand. The Cajun part of the menu is the "soul," think jambalaya, po’ boy sandwiches and gumbo. The "bones" is the barbecue, in the form of ribs, brisket, pulled pork and smoked chicken.

Of the many appetizers, be sure to get the crab cakes ($9). They come on dirty rice, collard greens, a tasso ham hollandaise and creole sauce. One of the best salads I’ve had in a long while is the Cajun shrimp and crawfish salad ($10), with mixed greens, pickled okra and onion chutney all tossed with a Cajun spice vinaigrette. The sweet shellfish balanced the pickled vegetables and zingy tangle of onions.

For heat-lovers, the jambalaya ($16) is also a must-have. Spicy andouille sausage, chicken, shrimp and crawfish all get mixed in a hefty portion of rice and a creole sauce. As for meat, ribs come as "timid baby backs" (½ rack, $16; full, $24) with lots of meat, and "bold St. Louis ribs" (½ rack, $15; full, $23), which are more tender but have a bit more fat. Soul & Bones’ ribs were nearly spot-on, with the right level of smoke worth every finger lick. Smoky pulled pork and tender brisket come at $12 a pound or in sandwiches with crunchy coleslaw (both $8) and limp french fries. For the indecisive, consider ordering two meats and two sides ($13), as there are 10 to choose from. I’d recommend the baked beans, black-eyed peas, dirty rice and coleslaw — if you add your own salt.

Wash it all down with one of 33 beers, a glass of red or white wine or one of the bar’s specialty cocktails ($8), including the S&B lemonade, made with Jack Daniels, triple sec, sour mix and Sprite.

Unlike the rest of the menu, for dessert there’s only a respectable house-made peanut butter mousse pie ($6) and a refreshing Key lime mousse pie ($6), which is fine by me as the savory dishes are where you’ll want to spend your time.

Layton • Moon Dog’s Café touts an even bigger menu, as it is open seven days a week and serves breakfast until 2 p.m. The diner-like counter seating and other casually set tables add a homeyness to the place.

Breakfast covers the basics: egg dishes, hotcakes, French toast, biscuits and gravy. Carb loaders will appreciate the loaded hash browns ($6) that includes onions and green bell peppers ladled with sausage-flecked gravy, all topped with two eggs. A surprisingly good "snapple" omelet special ($7.49) combined cheddar, ground sausage and chunks of red and green apples. The flavors worked together but I think smaller apple cubes would have been better.

From-scratch potato chips and excellent "Moon Doggie" beans come with the 13 burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and salads that make up the lunch menu. One sandwich was overflowing with ribbons of smoked brisket ($7.49) while a beef patty curiously made it onto a pulled pork sandwich ($7.49) with coleslaw (with a serious amount of mayonnaise) and banana peppers.

Dinner, served after 3 p.m., comes with a salad, those beans, coleslaw, choice of potato and Texas garlic toast. In addition to the brisket and pulled pork, there’s smoked turkey, meatloaf and ribs. Order the four-rib plate ($15), with perfectly cooked, smoky ribs. Bottles of sweet or spicy sauce (with just a bit more heat and tang) are on each table.

Desserts are of the mediocre cafeteria ilk, but our friendly server offered to top a Utah scone ($2.50) with some vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. For locals, I could see how Moon Dog’s could become a regular lunch choice.

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