Plenty of restaurants come with a backstory, but the tale behind Robbie's Super-Stuff Super-Licious BBQ is more like a saga.
It begins almost a century ago, when an Italian boy in Monroeville befriended an African-American kid whose family came into his father's shop. Decades later, Vincent Chianese was running Vincent's Pizza Park, a Forest Hills landmark, while Robert Chambers worked on the Union Railroad and fought for civil rights in the east suburbs. When Robert's son — Robbie Jr. — opened a barbecue place in Homewood, his dad's old friend Vincent would stop in for takeout.
But the barbecue restaurant had its own story, not all of it triumphant, and the younger Chambers went on to work in sales, based in Chicago. While Robbie traveled, Chianese had trouble keeping occupants in a second restaurant building on his Ardmore Boulevard property, and tried to convince Robbie to return to the grill. Six years ago, the younger Chambers finally agreed, opening the flamboyantly named barbecue next door to the old Vinnie's space.
Robbie's offers straight-up Southern barbecue of chicken, beef and pork, with all the sides you'd expect. We ordered up a full rack of pork ribs, with sauce on the side so that we could taste the meat first. Good call: Robbie's delivered the smoke, and while his sauce — a customization of KC Masterpiece, as per the menu — was a pretty good condiment, with a touch of heat to offset its sweet base, the meat was good enough to eat unaccompanied.
We're not big believers in fall-off-the-bone ribs: Too often, that's synonymous with meat that's cooked beyond tender and clear into mushy territory. We found Robbie's ribs to be on the other side of that equation: The meat was tender, but there was significant chew, and someone — whether it's you at the table or a canine friend sampling leftovers — will have a good time working the last few morsels from the bone.
While the rib meat needed some pull, we really were able to liberate the chicken meat from the bone practically just by looking at it. The cooking method — grill-smoked, then finished in an oven — resulted in flabby skin. But the flavor — mustardy and with just a hint of spice — was excellent. While the spices stayed on the skin, the smoke permeated the moist, juicy meat, and it was worth pecking through the half-bird in search of every last morsel. We ordered some of Robbie's mustard sauce on the side in hopes it would add some Carolina-style tang, but it turned out to be a fairly standard honey-mustard mixture. For us, the chicken was more than good enough without any sauce.
Macaroni and cheese was less noteworthy, with bland cheese melted into the noodles in place of a creamy sauce, but the browned bits from the top added welcome toasty flavor. Angelique was much more impressed with the greens, whose long simmer in pork broth had tenderized without disintegrating them, and infused them with deep, salty, smoky flavor.
We loved that Robbie put actual corn in his cornbread, but we found it too sweet, and its texture was closer to that of a moist cake than to a fluffy bread. As with so many restaurant cornbreads, it seemed better suited to dessert than to soaking up the hearty flavors of a savory meal.
Vincent's is closed now, but Robbie has installed the booths from the legendary pizzeria in his store, just one more commingling of the Chianese and Chambers families. Robbie reports that Vincent's relatives are working to reopen the pizzeria. If they succeed, the legacy will continue, with both families once again serving up food, side by side.
In the meantime, a lengthy construction project on Route 30 hid Robbie's driveway behind orange cones for much of this year, dampening business somewhat, but long-time customers know how to find their way in. Construction is now finished, allowing barbecue-seekers old and new easy access to Robbie's Super-Licious ribs of repute.