Yesterday Kim and I attended R&R BBQ‘s VIP grand opening, which was also a staff training and charity event.
“We are doing this event for at least two reason, one to train our employees and two to raise funds for those in need of funds for either before or after a transplant at U Of U Hospital,” one of the owners, Rod Livingston, explained in his invitation. We were able to check out the new place, enjoy some great food, and then donate the cost of our meal to the University of Utah Transplant Fund.
Often when a new restaurant opens, management does some type of trial run to give their employees practice before opening to the general public. For instance, yesterday there was a minor mix-up at the register between our order and the folks in line behind us — something that isn’t likely to happen once employees have had a little practice.
The name “R & R “comes from its owners, Rod and Roger Livingston, who are identical twins. At the opening, I met Roger’s wife, Brenda, who said that the brothers used to be in the mortgage business, until the economy tanked. They competed together on the national barbecue circuit, winning championships along the way. They were often asked if they did catering, which eventually led to their first restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City, opened in 2013. They have since expanded to five locations, including Farmington.
Like a lot of BBQ places, the food is served fast-casual style — you order at one end of the counter, pay at the other end, carry your food to your table and and fill your own drinks.
As expected, smoked ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork and chicken are the menu basics, although there are a few burgers, wings and BBQ-topped salads.
More than a decade ago, I attended barbecue seminars with the Kansas City Barbeque Society during a food writers’ trip in Kansas City. We taste-tested barbecue cooked with different smokers, wood, sauces, and rubs. I realized that barbecue is an art form, and cooking it right takes a lot of skill and patience. Many people don’t realize that “barbecue” isn’t the same as “grilling,” where you cook a steak in a few minutes. Barbecue involves slow cooking and low heat — around 225-275 degrees — with wood or charcoal to give the meat a smoky flavor. This can take anywhere from 8 to 18 hours, depending on the cut of meat and other variables.
Back then, there were only a handful of BBQ joints in Utah. But the number has grown, and Utahns have enthusiastically embraced them. In fact, I got bit by the barbecue bug and bought a smoker to practice at home.
It’s been a couple of years since I’d been to the downtown SLC R&R BBQ, so I had to refresh my memory on the menu.
Since Kim was already ordering ribs, I got a “two-meat” plate of chopped beef brisket and smoked chicken. If you order a combo plate, it comes with one side dish and either a roll or hush puppies — tender little balls of perfectly fried cornbread batter.
My chopped brisket was tender, with a nice dark outer “bark” and reddish pink-tinged smoke ring. Although people usually make a big deal over sauces (and R&R BBQ offers a variety), I like my first bites of meat without any sauce, so I can taste the true smoky flavor. It was definitely there on both the brisket and chicken.
Kim’s ribs were thick and meaty, unlike some places where you get mostly bone with a little bit of meat. And they had a good pink-red smoke ring too, so you could see where the smoke permeated the meat.
We were also impressed with the side dishes (something that disappointed us when we tried Dickey’s awhile back!) The beans have a savory hint of bell pepper, and the potato salad and cole slaw are well-executed classics.
And the portions were generous.
“I don’t think anyone could go away from here hungry,” Kim commented. And we didn’t. But we somehow found a little “room” for the sampler desserts being passed around — peach cobbler and chocolate bread pudding.
Truthfully, R & R BBQ isn’t the best place to go if you’re watching calories or your budget. As for calorie-counting, even the salads on the menu looked pretty hefty, topped with lots of cheese and meat. Our two meals totaled just over $30 —Kim had four ribs, two sides, hush puppies and a soft drink; I had a two-meat combo, two sides and a soft drink.
So we won’t be heading to R&R on a daily basis, and probably not on a weekly basis. But for an occasional splurge, it will likely become our go-to place.