CARNIVORE CRUISE

In the corner of the dining area stands a cigarette machine. Two ashtrays rest on every table and several cigarette stains are burned into the heavy wood. A glance at the menu and puffing customers confirms our suspicions: Chubb's exists in a world that never heard of the Surgeon General, coronary bypasses or nouvelle cuisine. It's a darned good world, at least for an evening.

Fulfilling childhood longings, I again tried a shrimp cocktail. Chubb's version is worth nagging for. Six decent-sized shrimp had the flavor and texture that I recall from my youth, accompanied by the sharpest horseradish cocktail sauce I've ever encountered.

Chubb's also serves a superb half-rack of baby back ribs as an appetizer. These are lean, meaty creatures, cooked crisp and crunchy, with a terrific sweet-and-tangy barbecue sauce. They're about as good as I've had at a non-ribs place. As at Treulich's, dinners here come with soup or salad. The soup, at least, doesn't suffer from benign neglect. The evening's Southwestern bean soup had a homemade touch, stocked thick with white beans. Pieces of smoked ham in the savory broth indicated that somebody back in the kitchen cared about rustling up some flavor.

The salad, though, was strictly routine: some iceberg and romaine, unredeemed by a few slices of fresh mushrooms. Warm pumpernickel and some tasteless white bread occupied us while we waited for our main courses.

I went for the Chubb's extra cut of prime rib, enough for two, a slab of beef on the bone so monstrous it looked like it came from an elephant. Perfectly cooked from its pink interior to the light brown edges, the prime rib was wonderfully juicy and crammed with flavor. This was just the kind of red meat I require to put my meat-eating urges on hold for the next few months.

Just as good was Chubb's filet, about a half-pound of filet mignon topped with crab and bearnaise sauce. The meat was rich and fork-tender, just as I'd hoped. But part of me also feared it would be covered with that dreadful imitation krab" that restaurants try to pass off as the real thing. Instead, a nice portion of real crab (a piece of shell I bit into confirmed it) made a good foil. And the chef showed a bit of restraint with the bearnaise, putting on only enough to enhance the combination of flavors, not drown them. The side dishes also showed off Chubb's attention to detail. Instead of bland white rice, we got some stir-fried Oriental rice seasoned with soy sauce and green pepper. And the thick-cut french-fries, crispy and light, actually managed to slow down our demolition of the steak.

The only place Chubb's seems to have overlooked detail is in busboy training. We couldn't put our forks down, in earnest conversation, without someone swooping by to whisk our still-full plates away.

Desserts come from Oscar Taylor, except for a homemade chocolate mousse. Perhaps Chubb's should make its own desserts, because the light, bittersweet mousse was the perfect ending for this gut-expanding meal.

It's probably inevitable that prime rib and steak joints are going to seem stuck in a vanished time, like a Bogart movie or an Elvis tune. Tastes and styles change. They don't make movies, music or restaurants like they used to. But we still occasionally fire up Casablanca" on the VCR, and Jailhouse Rock" on the CD carousel. The solid predictability that hopelessly dates them is also their greatest strength. Same for Treulich's and Chubb's.

JERRY'S SECRET BATTLE PLAN... v5-20-92

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