The ghost of Bob Crane led me to Bobby-Q, though the star of the '60s sitcom Hogan's Heroes didn't stick around to help me eat my ribs. I should explain that Crane's brutal, 1978 homicide in a Scottsdale apartment complex has always been a subject of fascination for me, long before the release of Paul Schrader's film Auto Focus. I guess it has to do with the fact that when I was in grade school, syndicated reruns of Hogan's Heroes were popular, and I and all my pals wanted nothing more than to emulate the wisecracking, womanizing, cooler-than-thou Colonel Hogan, played by the somewhat unctuous Crane.
These days, I resemble Sergeant Schultz more than Colonel Hogan, but the Crane case continues to intrigue me. The first time I ever visited the Valley, I made a beeline for the Winfield Place Condos (once the Winfield Apartments) to eyeball the unit where Crane breathed his last. I've since checked out the Buzz nightclub, once the Windmill Dinner Theatre, where Crane had been performing before he was killed. So when I heard that the new barbecue joint Bobby-Q was once the original Bobby McGee's, my ears pricked up. Bobby McGee's features prominently in accounts of Crane's sojourn here as a place where he liked to hang, and where he had a fateful outing with the man many believe responsible for his demise. Perhaps I'd bump into Crane's ectoplasmic emanation romancing some busty blonde in the bar with tales of his Hollywood high jinks.
Alas, I failed to take into consideration that there had been other Bobby McGee's in and out of Arizona. I now suspect Crane frequented a long-gone Bobby McGee's in Scottsdale, closer to his apartment. But no matter. I found Bobby-Q to be an upscale, urban-cowpoke sort of place, with a swank, almost Vegas-y lounge that would've appealed to a swinger like Crane. Bobby McGee's was before my time, and, from what I can glean, pretty corny by today's standards. Perhaps that's what led McGee's owners Shelley and Bob Sikora to reinvent their operation, in the hopes of appealing to a younger, hipper crowd.
8501 North 27th Avenue (off I-17 between Dunlap and Northern avenues)
Fire-pie pizza: $8
St. Louis-style ribs, whole rack: $17
Smoked beef brisket: $12
Blackberry crisp: $6.50
602-995-5982, web link.
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Q-Lounge open later.
Their concept is right on the money, ambiance-wise. The entire enterprise has a weathered, rustic, House of Blues quality to it, with corrugated siding, and a patio ringed by red-brick inset with colored-glass bottle bottoms. The main dining area is all brown and terra cotta, hung with vintage Coca-Cola and Barq's root beer signs and sconces fashioned from tarnished eating utensils. Over here is a divider crafted from different kinds of window shutters, and over there is a portrait of a lazy cowboy sprawled out on a sandy expanse. Up front is a big, square bar surrounded by flat-screen TVs, and nearby the entrance is the door to the Q-Lounge, with its plush banquettes, faux rock walls, and generally more sophisticated vibe.
Would I return here to imbibe? Absolutely. Even on the slow nights of the week that I visited, there was a well-heeled, attractive crowd present, and I can only imagine the surfeit of eye candy on the weekends. But when it comes to the spot's main culinary attraction, Bobby-Q's 'cue falls short of less stylish pork palaces like Big City BBQ in Tempe and Mesa or Joe's Real BBQ in Gilbert. It's as if Bobby-Q is content merely to aim right for the middle, a mark it hits about 80 percent of the time, without ever going any higher.
Admittedly, the St. Louis-style rib rack I noshed was flavorful, if not amazing. I appreciated the fattiness of the swine, and both the sweet mild sauce and the thick, peppery hot sauce were to my liking. But the baby-back ribs I had the following day were not warm enough, and I was put off by how quickly they turned cold on my plate, leaving an odd, rubbery aftertaste in my mouth. The brisket was the most successful of all the barbecue offerings, the hunks of beef soft and engrossing. However, the hot links lacked hotness, and I kept harking back to Big City's spicier, tastier variety. And the beef ribs? Too chewy and gristly to be truly enjoyable.
The quality of the non-'cue items on the menu was highly inconsistent. You get a nice-sized piece of salmon for the money, yet it tasted strangely ordinary, despite the fish's buttery exterior. The prime rib French dip was mediocre as well, with the beef slices on a too-soft roll, and the jus too salty. Even the French dip at the fast-casual, ersatz-Frog chain La Madeleine is superior.
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My "fire-pie" pizza with barbecue sauce and chicken was toothsome, if CPK-like. And the chicken tenders were edible, albeit overpriced at $8.50 for five little strips. There was almost as much chicken on the pizza for nearly the same dollar amount, so I haven't quite figured out the price tag on the clucker bits, unless someone sprinkled them with gold dust without telling me.
The sides continued this pattern, with the roasted corn, iron skillet mushrooms, mac 'n' cheese and ranch beans earning the label "solidly average," while the potato salad, shoestring fries, mashed potatoes and pecan coleslaw garnered a double thumbs down. The mashed pots had no flavor, and the fries tasted like McDonald's, with that same weird industrial smell and taste that I thought Mickey D's had the patent on. Nice touch adding chopped pecans to coleslaw, even if the slaw itself was bone dry. I don't know what was wrong with the potato salad with red-skin potatoes, but after one acrid bite, I wanted no more.
On the flipside, Bobby-Q's cornbread was delectable, though rich enough to come at the end of the meal. Too bad it didn't, because the desserts were grotesque, ranging from the bland to the bad. The three I tried -- the blackberry crisp, the apple griddle cake, and the C.O.D., or chocolate overdose -- came crowned with a baseball-size sphere of hard, cheap-tasting vanilla ice cream. The sour, soupy blackberry crisp might have worked as a cobbler, with a lot more sugar. As is, it's inedible. The apple griddle "cake" was a mess of cinnamony, not-sweet-enough apple slices and an outer crust of crepe. Blech! And double blech for the C.O.D., a goopy, half-cooked brownie that did not even live up to the conventions of the cliché.
Oh, well. I'll make a deal with you, Bobby-Q: I'll keep chasing the ghost of Bob Crane, you keep after improving your victuals, and maybe one day we'll kick it in the Q-Lounge and exchange notes. Deal?