Some chefs attend faraway schools or universities to learn how to cook, but for Emma Sue Miller McWhorter—the inspiration behind Big Mama's Rib Shack & Soul Foods—it was natural. Though she's gone to the big kitchen in the sky, a little bit of her soul can be seen today in the restaurant's hot links, saucy ribs, and fried chicken, which the Los Angeles Times called "beautifully cooked; moist, flavorful."
Bubbling pots of gumbo and jambalaya fill the eatery's air with rich smells and fill mouths with equally rich flavors when paired with sides such as corn bread, fried okra, or mac 'n' cheese served in the southern tradition of adding dairy to everything. Guests can enjoy live music on Tuesday nights, which ranges in musical style from jazz and R&B to soul and rock 'n' roll.
Smoke sultan Robin Salzer enraptures senses with his menu of American barbecue and homemade sauces dished out in a whimsically decorated dining space. In blanketing his four-ton smoker with apple and oak wood-chips, Robin appeases swine-centric palates with favorites such as the Carolina pork plate ($13.95) or the wood-fired smoked pork chop ($15.95). Slather one of four signature sauces onto meat racks of baby back ribs ($17.95+), spareribs ($13.95+), and beef ribs ($13.95+) or eschew meat for stylish swim caps while diving into plates of Louisiana barbecue shrimp ($18.95). Southern-inspired sweet treats, such as Mom's fruit cobbler ($3.95) or killer slabs of carrot cake ($5.75) cap off satiating meals, as diners pay homage to Q-master Salzer with a frothy toast of beer ($4+) or handshake of fresh lemonade ($3.25).
Diners detect the smoky aroma of their meals before the server even arrives. Within moments, the diners behold a table full of the chefs' specialties—baby-back ribs, pulled pork braised overnight, and beef ribs possessing bones thick enough to double as barbells. In addition to barbecuing meats to fall-off-the-bone tenderness, chefs prepare an array of traditional sides, ranging from corn muffins to collard greens. For group gatherings, Ribs USA's team bundles five catering packages for parties of up to 200.
Smoke City Market's resident chefs enlist natural ingredients to season meats smoked Texas-style over natural oak, as well as sides and sauces prepared from scratch. Barbecue buffs slice lean beef brisket by the pound, while a cornucopia of side dishes rides shotgun in the culinary Cadillac. Red chili eschews beans for a thoroughly meaty mouthful that has no chance of conjuring up giants, and cabbage apple slaw and beet salad add crunch to the meal's textural palette. Diners saddle up picnic-style wooden benches inside Smoke City's clay-orange eatery, lined with strips of raw wood and Old West décor including wagon wheels, a cow skull, and a man-eating cactus.