Where are the best places in Johannesburg to get finger lickingly good ribs, you ask? Look no further.
If you are of the Christian faith, you subscribe to the idea that God magically created a whole entire woman from a totally underrated piece of this really lonely guy named Adam.
In this particular tale, God can take credit for being the first… um… being… to sense the untapped potential of that obviously unnecessary component of our skeletal system… the spare rib.
So in a moment of divine inspiration I suppose, I embarked on an epic quest of biblical proportions. In less than forty days and forty nights, I dropped in at a handful of Jo’burg steakhouses and sampled a selection of Jo’burg’s spare rib offerings.
Brothers and sisters, this wasn’t as glamourous a task as you might assume. Spare ribs come with baggage. They are a tricky customer that involve a fair amount of effort on the part of the consumer. Like crab claws and oysters, eating spare ribs require getting dirty, using your hands and generally working hard, for very little reward.
But that stringy piece of mammal meat that you tear off of the bone with your teeth, smothered in tangy basting, charred to perfection by an open flame, is worth the ball ache.
I feel like a famished Neanderthal when I tuck into a good sized rack (of ribs), growling appreciation as I dip my sticky fingers into primordial lemon soup, before tucking in again.
Now please remember that I didn’t get to every rib spot in the city so feel free to suggest your favourite spare rib merchants in the comments section below, before you lambaste me for forgetting to include your local.
In reverse order:
5. Turn and Tender, Parktown North
The Turn and Tender franchise is known for good meat, good vibes and selling a bit of art on the side. A real family affair, the Parktown North shop has a good atmosphere (better when you’re seated outside) and generally delivers tasty steaks and decent burgers. One of the most memorable meat fests I’ve enjoyed here, was an enormous (800g I think?) rib-eye called the Caveman. And as I ripped my canines through that hunk of cow, I felt like Fred Flinstone klapping some prehistoric Jersey-saurus.
The spare ribs however, although nicely basted were a little meagre. To be fair I ordered the not-so-full portion for R85 (the legendary full portion at double the price and presumably size, was a little intimidating for both stomach and wallet) but relative to the price I expected a little more beef for my buck.
Turn and Tender only serves beef ribs and as an ardent pork rib man, I wouldn’t rush back for the ribbetjies, but I might order them for a light, messy lunch.
4. The Baron, Sandown
A Jo’burg favourite amongst the young corporate crowd, consistently delivering good steak house grub, The Baron seldom disappoints when it comes to quality meat. This could be the reason my banking buddies call it a ‘meat market’. It could also be the smattering of young, well-turned out ladies in pencil skirts that seem to frequent the Sandton watering hole around sundown.
The Baron only offers pork ribs (which is cool with me – I prefer the piggy rib over its bovine counterpart) and you’ll pay R147,50 for 650g.
The portion was generous, the basting was tasty and the ribs arrived nicely caramelised around the edges, that char-grilled crispiness a necessity in any spare rib worth writing about, but I felt in general that they were just a LITTLE thin in the flavour department – I want flavour-packed porcine lung protectors people! They were nonetheless a solid offering and I gladly set about tackling the massive pile of meat and bone that beckoned me.
With only a refresher towel to wipe my basting covered paws, I cleaned myself up and gladly picked up the polystyrene take-away box, preparing myself for a morning after round two with Miss Piggy.
3. The Butcher Shop & Grill
It’s expensive, filled with tenderpreneurs and buxom, botoxed blondes looking to bag themselves aforementioned cash cows. But when it comes to cows of a more traditional nature, The Butcher Shop & Grill knows how to chop, prepare and serve our docile bovine buddies.
I ordered the BBQ pork spare ribs (you can decide between either a BBQ or chilli basting) and they were good – a nice-sized portion with lots of meat that just slipped off of the bone, a bit of charring just compacting that BBQ flavour.
The only spot that I might be inclined to order the beef ribs, just to give them a crack.
2. Spur Steak Ranch
A childhood classic, Spur is a quintessential South African steakhouse that can distract children long enough for parents to have a beer and a burger.
When my folks used to haul us to our local Spur by the busload, we would run amok, under other diner’s tables, through the play area and into the kitchen, fuelled by crème soda floats and Chicco the Clowns. And no-one really cared. With Playstations replacing those sif rocking animals, even today’s ADD kids are in their element in the Native American-styled franchise spot.
The ribs are tasty, available in pork and beef, reasonably priced and you know what you’re getting.
So if you can deal with screaming toddlers scratching around your feet like talking dogs and sad old men dressed like clowns or magicians, then Spur is as good as it’s always been for your rib fix. You know where it is, you know what it is and when you slip into those –leather-covered booths and smell the thousand island dressing, it takes you back to when going out to eat meant colouring-in a bunch of dinosaurs with well-worn crayons and trying to get as many mints as you could fit into your Bart Simpson t-shirt. Aahh, bless.
PS. Just don’t go to a Halaal Spur if you want pork ribs and beer.
1. Thunder Gun
Thunder Gun has been around since 1968 and I don’t think much has changed in the past four decades including the clientele. With a name reminiscent of a 1980’s cartoon series (a cross between Brave Starr and the Thunder Cats?), Thunder Gun packs as much punch into their famous ribs.
Unpretentious and relaxed, like an adult-focussed Spur that takes meat and beer really seriously, Thunder Gun is totally the best spot to have your Man Clubhouse: watch sport, eat meat and drink beer. MAN TEAM THUNDER GO!
The ribs are ridiculous in every respect. Ridiculously named, ridiculously portioned and ridiculously affordable. From the 300g Mary Lou’s (“the babe with an attitude”) for R74,95 to the 1kg Lone Ranger (“badder than Leroy Brown”) for only R121,95, Thunder Gun puts in some solid value for money. I wouldn’t recommend the Portuguese option as it costs more and frankly, when it comes to sauce, the Porras should stick to chicken and prawns.
Thunder Gun also offers both pork and beef ribs, although their focus is on the former, with three size offerings in pork and only an 800g beef portion.
My mother complained that her ribs were dry but I ordered the 600g Billy the Kid (“quicker than Doc Holiday”) and my ribs were sticky, tasty and moreish and with Guinness on tap providing a sweet side dish, I rumbled home patting the old belly in satisfaction.
Consistency might be a problem, but I would venture that Thunder Gun serves the best ribs in Jo’burg.
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