Rub's St. Louis ribs, baked beans, and potato salad.
Andrew Fischel grew up in a kosher household, but he'd sneak across the street to eat bacon with the neighbors. His rebelliousness didn't stop there. Last winter, Fischel opened Rub BBQ in Las Vegas (702-227-0779, rubbbq.net), a casual eatery where the food is delicious and dogmatism does not fly.
"People ask, 'What kind of barbecue is it? Texas style? Kansas City? North Carolina?' " Fischel says. "I tell them, ‘It's really good barbecue. Want to try it?' "
Fischel also calls it "championship barbecue" in honor of his business partner, Paul Kirk, a decorated pit master and seven-time honoree of the Kansas City Barbecue Society. Instead of sticking to a single region, Rub's menu runs the gamut, listing St. Louis–style spareribs (with their bottom bones removed), brisket "burnt ends" as in Kansas City, and "pulled" portobello sandwiches—not exactly stock Texas fare.
"People's idea of real barbecue is usually whatever they grew up with," says Fischel, 39, who opened the first Rub in New York in 2005 before branching out to Vegas's Rio Hotel & Casino. "But to me it isn't one particular thing."
Rub isn't alone in breaking from tradition. Around the West, new barbecue joints are bucking convention with modern menus, pedigreed meats, and spiffed-up atmospheres. Podnah's Pit in Portland (503-281-3700, podnahspit.com) looks to Texas (dry rubs, low heat from mesquite), but the lambs for its spareribs are raised in open pastures, not pens.
At T-Rex Barbecue in Berkeley, Calif. (510-527-0099, t-rex-bbq.com), organic beef brisket and hormonefree pork shoulder are served with apple-cabbage slaw.
In Napa, Calif., Stephen Barber wears the white apron at BarbersQ, (707-224-6600, barbersq.com), where artsy photos decorate the walls, fine local vintages fill the wine list, and wet wipes rarely pile on the tables.
Barbecue purists sometimes balk at such tidiness, but few who taste Barber's Memphis-style pork sandwich doubt that the restaurant is for real. "You can call it barbecue and beyond," he says.
Photography by Jeffrey Green
This article was first published in July 2008. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.