HOG HEAVEN

Actually, I thought the best thing here was not the ribs, but the fabulous brisket, lots of thin-sliced, rich-flavored beef that comes open-faced on some thick Texas toast. And the barbecue pork sandwich, thick piles of smoky meat, finished a very close runner-up. But the chicken was a bit disappointing, although not because of any flavor lapse. It was a scrawny creature that simply didn't have enough meat on its bones.

If you're going to detour here among the side dishes, plan a stop at the beans. They're not particularly spicy, but they have a sweet molasses touch punched up by smoked sausage. And if you have any room left at all, make believe you never heard of the four food groups and American Heart Association nutritional guidelines, and get some homemade peach cobbler, a hot, mushy, sweet, doughy treat.

Real Texas Bar-B-Que, 2415 West Bethany Home, Phoenix, 249-9985. Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

We headed back down to the Lone Star State to check out another shrine to swine, Real Texas Bar-B-Que.

No mistaking this joint's Texas pedigree: The walls sport a skull, antlers and enormous steer horns that wouldn't be out of place on the hood of a 57 Cadillac whose horn toots out "Dixie." It's also got the coldest air-conditioning west of the Red River.

Like Lovejoy's, Real Texas furnishes friendly and perky waitress service. Too bad it's friendlier and perkier than the food.

The pork ribs are nothing to squeal over, a serious drawback in a barbecue restaurant. They're not particularly meaty, tender or flavorful, hardly worth messing up your hands and face.

The sauce is also a letdown--a dark, vinegary mixture with no distinctive taste or bite. Might as well pour on ketchup or A.1. Sauce for all it adds to the ribs.

The sandwiches here are huge, but not terribly distinguished. The pork is best, mild, thin-sliced layers of meat on a hamburger bun that could hold a lumberjack until dinner. The beef brisket, though, seemed to have been sitting a while, its dry texture requiring a gulp of iced tea to send each bite stomachward.

The hot links with cheese tasted like they had just been retrieved from Davy Crockett's knapsack. The tough, stringy sausage resisted my manly attempts to reduce it to bite-size morsels. And the gloppy yellow cheese melted on top added neither taste nor visual appeal. Nothing we'd eaten to this point prepared us for the beef ribs. To my astonishment, they were wonderful, just the way I like them: hefty, juicy, meaty and crispy. I scraped off the sauce and gnawed them to the bone. A kitchen crew that could produce these ribs, I thought to myself, perhaps just wasn't trying hard enough on the other items.

A sampling of the side dishes bolstered this theory. The best of them, the beans, barely merit a passing grade. No seasonings or spice intruded to enliven their bland taste. And if General Santa Anna had been subjected to this Texas-style coleslaw and mashed potato salad, he might have ignored the Alamo altogether and marched his troops right back to Mexico.

Apart from the beef ribs, it's depressing to think the tastiest item here is dessert, but that's the case. Hot apple pie, with thick chunks of fruit drizzled with rum sauce and topped with ice cream, is a sweet success. But it's not what I came here to pork out on.

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