You had me at “ribs”
Jac has been keen to eat at Tony Roma’s ever since she noticed it in our Entertainment book. I love pork ribs. Jac loves any ribs. We’re both big fans of barbecue. So on a recent Friday night after a long week, I couldn’t think of anything better than sitting down to devour a full rack of juicy pork ribs smothered in finger-sucking-good smokey barbecue sauce.
According to their website, the first Tony Roma’s opened in North Miami, Florida back in 1972. They now have nearly 200 restaurants in 33 countries. In Australia, Tony Roma’s is in Sydney and Perth (I find this surprising, as we’re often the last to get any franchise or miss out completely – Krispy Kreme, anyone?).
Most reviews I’ve read online mention that Tony Roma’s Perth does not take bookings – I’m not sure if this is still the case. I can see from their perspective why they’d want such a policy – they were very busy the whole time we were there and no bookings would make it easier to maximise table turnover.
We started with mocktails – for Jac, the Tropical Passion (the yellow drink – AU$8.90 – pink guava, orange juice and passion fruit, complete with the crunch of passionfruit pips) and for me, Tony’s Delight (the red drink – AU$8.90 – orange juice, pineapple juice, lime juice, Sprite and Grenadine). Our drinks were refreshing and presented beautifully, making me think of island holidays. Tony’s Delight was delicious. It looked like a Fire Engine (lemonade, grenadine – a drink we made for kids when I worked behind a bar), but tasted like my favourite ice cream, the pine-lime Splice.
The complimentary bread was served warm in a cone-shaped napkin (not pictured) with a dish of garlic butter. After my first bite of bread and butter I was compelled to slather more butter on the rest of my bread. It was so tempting to keep eating the bread and garlicky butter but we didn’t want to fill up on it – we wanted to make sure we had plenty of room for the ribs. Ribs! RIBS!
A heart-singing dinner
We asked our waiter how many ribs you get in a half slab (6 ribs), a regular slab (9 ribs) and a full slab (12 ribs). Reading the menu is a carnivore’s delight: original baby back ribs – tender, lean pork loin meat, or St Louis style ribs – a larger, meatier cut of pork rib with more natural marbling. We each chose the St Louis Sampler (AU$37.90) so we could try a full slab’s worth of ribs basted in four specialty sauces: original baby back ribs with Tony Roma’s Original BBQ sauce, Carolina Honeys, Blue Ridge Smokies and Red Hots. When our plates were placed before us, my heart sang* at the beautiful meaty ribs, chargrill-marked, shiny with brown sauce and smelling wonderfully of smokey barbecue.
The menu suggests that all rib mains are served with coleslaw and your choice of one other side dish, but our waiter told us we could choose any two sides from: baked potato, green beans, fries, mashed potatoes, ranch style beans, rice or corn on the cob. Jac chose coleslaw and fries. The coleslaw was fresh and crunchy. The fries were thick-cut and failed dismally at being crispy but satisfied our need for carbs to go with all that protein.
All four sauces had a barbecue base but you could definitely taste the difference in flavour. We both started with the original baby back ribs. They were pretty good.
Carolina Honeys was the sweetest sauce – for me, just a little too sweet. The Blue Ridge Smokeys was our favourite, with a subtle yet distinct extra smokiness adding richness to the barbecue flavour.
The Red Hots were topped with a sprinkling of chilli seeds and chilli flakes. I must admit to being a chilli wuss and scraping off most of the chilli seeds and flakes before sinking my teeth into the spicy ribs.
The beans were in a dark tasty gravy and reminded me of baked beans in ham sauce – while not drinkable it was definitely dippable – great for dipping fries and bread into.
Chilli heroes will probably want to order the Red Hots to enjoy the pork ribs with a nice hot bite. My friend Charlene, these ribs have your name on them – though you might prefer them encrusted, not just lightly sprinkled with the chilli seeds and flakes. :D
To eat ribs properly you have to forget about table manners and pick them up with your fingers. But don’t worry, Tony Roma’s provides wet napkins so you can clean your fingers and face afterwards. By the time I was done my fingers, lips and cutlery were all coated with a sticky layer of barbecue sauce. The pork ribs were as meaty and tender as the menu suggested and the barbecue sauces so deliciously moreish I felt like I couldn’t suck the bones clean enough!
After we left the restaurant I stood outside for a while trying to take a shot of the front without people in the doorway but that proved impossible. Evidently Perth has a voracious appetite for ribs!
Unfortunately, we were too full to consider dessert. Service was fine. We’ll eat at Tony Roma’s again for sure. Next time I’ll order a smaller number of ribs so I can fit in something else and maybe dessert. I really want to try the onion loaf (hand-cut onions, battered, deep-fried and served with BBQ-mayo dipping sauce) – sounds like an onion ring lover’s dream! Jac is keen to return to try the Southern smokey beef ribs. They have chicken, seafood, burgers and salads on the menu too, but you wouldn’t go to a rib restaurant to eat a scampi pasta dish, would you? :) I reckon avoid food envy and just go for the ribs!
Tony Roma’s is a place for carnivores and lovers of barbecue. Vegetarians, forget it. I’m sure you could order one of the salads minus the chicken, but let’s face it – the dishes are pretty much designed for meat eaters.
Tony Roma’s Sydney is located at 121-123 Sussex St, Sydney.