Wobbly Boots BBQ12/17/2014
Theme restaurants originated with the best of intentions. By using trappings and menus from another time or place, they transported diners into a more romantic experience. New York City’s Russian Tea Room, opened in 1927 by Russian expatriates from the Imperial Ballet, became an escape to Tsarist times for émigrés and tourists alike. Trader Vic’s and Don the Beachcomber, the owners of which both claimed to have invented the mai tai, brought Polynesian ambiance to San Francisco and other western cities in the 1940s. They also inspired tiki bar culture, a similar style without as much emphasis on fine dining.
One generation’s idea of romance is the next generation’s idea of boredom. The Russian Tea Room was bought in the 1990s by Tavern on the Green for the purpose of shutting it down. Trader Vic’s still exists but mostly in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman and Qatar. Theme restaurants morphed into something far less authentic. Las Vegas turned the idea into entire hotel complexes. Planet Hollywood, P.F. Chang’s and Hard Rock Café are today’s most popular theme restaurants.
Wobbly Boots BBQ, which opened this fall in Clive, is a theme restaurant for modern times. It actually has a double theme — Ozark cliché and horse stable. “Wobbly boots” is a term horse people use to describe someone who has been thrown off his or her mount. Female friends suggested this might also be a play on words as Wobbly Boots is a cleavage-free version of Twin Peaks. The stable theme is carried on through horseshoe coat racks and several stable doors, with the names of famous racehorses overhead. Otherwise, Wobbly Boots resembles Twin Peaks quite a bit. Lots of TVs, loud country music, long bars with good offerings of local beers on draught, faux country décor, signs with fishing jokes, antler cup holders, black velvet art of Elvis, a few wrestling stars and country cooking.
Wobbly Boots BBQ is not ready to challenge local barbecue smokehouses. Brisket was disappointing — slices were so uniform and dry that it seemed they might have been pre-sliced, stored and reheated. Pulled pork was also dry. The restaurant’s signature sauce was a weird amalgamation of Texas and Carolina styles — thick, tomato-colored and sweetened yet still predominantly tasting like vinegar. The best smokehouse dishes I tried were smoked meatloaf, which had grill marks, spare ribs and Wobbly wings, which were smoked, not fried.
The best dish I tried was a pork tenderloin. This Iowa-sized beauty was breaded like chicken and tasted like it had been marinated awhile in buttermilk. It was one of the best tenderloins I have eaten — and I have eaten scores of them. Other sandwiches of note included reubens made with house smoked corned beef (which we usually call pastrami here); French dips and po boys made with shaved, smoked prime rib and smoked sausage with sweet peppers. Among cheeses available on sandwiches and burgers was a ghost chile version. Ribeyes, prime rib (weekends only), salmon, fried shrimp and catfish comprised the steak and seafood menu.
Side dishes strayed a bit from the southern theme. Though potato salad was made with mayonnaise, red onions and pickles, other dishes were more Midwestern. Cole slaw was creamy rather than vinegar based, fries were curly, baked beans sweet and meaty. Greens, hush puppies and okra were absent. If there is a dessert menu, no one mentioned it during multiple visits.
Service was smart and friendly. Parking was more than adequate for the crowds the place was drawing when I visited.
Side Dishes: Front Row, a Hawkeye bar with popular steak night specials, moved to the venue where Phil’s Bar and Grill previously operated, in the Creekside Shopping Center… Check this column next week for the Chef of the Year. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.
Wobbly Boots BBQ
1301 N.W. 114th St., Clive, 223-5700
Daily 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.