Rudy’s, a ‘classy but trashy’ Norwalk staple11/7/2012
Rudy’s Bar and Grill is like a presidential candidate — it changes its image depending on the crowd. By day, it’s a family-friendly, “classy” restaurant touting a menu of ingredients from local sources and furniture and appliances refurbished or re-used from pioneers of the industry — a testament to its owner’s staunch work ethic and years of loyalty to the place. But by night, it’s a table-top dancing, midget wrestling, get-down-and-dirty, dark hole in the wall, lit only by the red neon glow of a Budweiser light over the bar and another swaying over the pool table hanging from the ceiling in the back room. By day, it’s a grill. By night, it’s a bar. And it’s always been that way.
“In the 10 years I worked here as a bartender, it really hasn’t changed,” said owner Joel McCoy, who bought Rudy’s from his now former boss, Ron Ross, a year ago. “It’s basically stayed what it’s always been: It’s just good people havin’ a good time.
“You can paint the walls, and you can replace the flooring, but it’s still Rudy’s,” he said, adding that the “labor of love” involved sanding down the booths by hand and refinishing them — each requiring about 16 hours of work that he did himself.
“I hate those things,” he laughed. “I love them, but I hate them.”
The bittersweet booths are unique, though, and worth the work McCoy put into them. He said they were salvaged from the first Happy Joe’s Restaurant, circa 1946, and made with 100-year-old pine wood. The industrial-sized commercial pizza ovens McCoy and his cooks use in the kitchen have a similar history. Sporting a metal tag that dates them at 1957, they were bought at an auction and are valued at $60,000 a piece, he said. They’re safe from thieves, though, because it takes six men to one of them.
The back-breakers were a lucrative addition to the kitchen, as Rudy’s now boasts a full menu of pizzas cooked in the brick-ovens from “back when they made shit right,” McCoy said.
Among some favorites McCoy has created are Hannibal the Herbivore, The Jeff Spiocoli, Dirt and Turf, Marco Pollo in the Garden and a special pie affectionately named for his old boss and mentor, The Ross Hog, “for the meat-lover.”
“That son of a bitch moved up to Sioux City and opened a restaurant,” McCoy explained. “He created a big, old smoke-sausage sandwich and named it ‘The Joel McCoy.’ So I came back with the meat-lover’s ‘Ross Hog,’ ” (spinning off the porky villain, Boss Hog, from the old TV show “Dukes of Hazzard”).
“I just sat there and got drunk one night and thought up all these names,” McCoy confessed.
He also developed a few creative signature drinks, such as the dangerously delicious State Fair Lemonade, shaken with Skyy Vodka into a frothy treat, and the wicked whiskey-based Northern Lights. He won’t reveal the recipes, but both the pizzas and the drinks are worth the short drive down Highway 28 to Norwalk. CV
Rudy’s Bar and Grill 804 Main St., Norwalk (515) 981-9575 Hours: Mon.-Sat. 3 p.m.-2 a.m. Happy Hour: 3-7 p.m. every day Capacity: 112, plus a huge patio that’s more like a backyard equipped with a regulation-size sand volleyball court and a basketball slab all enclosed by a tall privacy fence.