Thud’s No Dud With Meat And Potatoes, Barbecue Style
From the outside, Thadeus T. Thudpucker’s looks like a hillbilly museum.
Blame it on that goofy sign that lords over the southeast corner of Riverside and Browne. The three-dimensional still life looks like a scene out of “Grapes of Wrath,” with the rusted-out vintage trucks parked in front of “endorsements” from Bonnie and Clyde and the Waltons.
Still, it’s that sign that has always made me curious about what went on behind the stucco walls of this popular barbecue joint. Is this where the Clampetts might eat if they were in town?
So, after driving by this place for some 11 years, I decided it was time to investigate.
Surprise, surprise. I liked it.
No gourmet grub here. This is a no-frills, meat and potatoes kind of place, with comfortable Naugahyde booths, reasonable prices and a friendly waitstaff.
The dining room windows look out on a “nature” scene - a diorama with lawn ornament deer and, on a recent visit, live bunnies. (For Easter, we were told. Around Thanksgiving, live turkeys trot around out there.)
The menu at Thud’s is largely barbecue. Meats are barbecued Southern-style over apple and cherry woods. There are also steaks and prime rib, which is slow smoked, as well as an old-fashioned turkey dinner. And how’s this for a combination plate: a sirloin steak and a chicken-fried steak.
I’m afraid vegetarians are plum out of luck here.
For my first visit I invited a friend and her parents out to dinner. Mom and Dad had spent years living in the South, so naturally they considered themselves experts on chicken-fried steak. And, as far as they are concerned, Thudpucker’s could do no wrong when it comes to that flour-dredged, fried top round.
Thudpucker’s buys its top round in whole and then cuts its steaks fresh daily. None of that frozen, pre-breaded stuff.
The tenderized steak is smothered with a creamy chicken-base country gravy and served with a scoop of real mashed potatoes and canned green beans. The side dishes reminded me of school lunches, but for many people, they are pure comfort food.
I tried the barbecued chicken, which had a good, smoky flavor, though not quite enough barbecue sauce for me. How about serving some sauce on the side? Also, I thought the slightly sweet sauce was fine, but not particularly memorable.
My friend ordered the teriyaki steak and it was terrific - a good piece of meat properly cooked.
Dad ordered a full slab of baby back ribs and had no trouble cleaning his plate. (OK, so he shared with us.) The ribs were fairly meaty, but they weren’t exactly juicy (as the menu describes).
Throughout the meal, our waitress was attentive and extremely friendly - the kind of server who can call her customers “hon” without being offensive. She also took our order without writing anything down. Very impressive.
For lunch I returned with another friend, one who is a self-confessed barbecue addict. By the time we finished, he vowed to bring his whole family back for another helping.
He ordered the barbecued beef sandwich, which consisted of a big pile of lean, paper-thin slices of brisket. It had a deep, smoky flavor that wasn’t overpowered by the subtle barbecue sauce.
I liked my barbecued chicken sandwich - a full breast that was basted with sauce as it cooked. It was juicy and had that same nice, smoky quality.
It was served with a choice of side dishes, but I suggest bypassing the so-so beans and uninspired iceberg lettuce salad and ordering the crispy, crinkle cut French fries. They were tops.
We also sampled the chili, which is a mild concoction with kidney beans and lots of ground beef. It comes topped with shredded cheddar, sour cream and chopped onions. I liked it, but my friend wished they offered a real Texas chili - a hot and spicy stew with no beans, just chunks of meat.
The only real disappointment I experienced at Thud’s was the dessert. I liked how sweets are listed on the same page as the appetizers with the proviso - “Life is uncertain … so eat dessert first.”
I’m glad I waited until the end of the meal, though. The crust on my blackberry cobbler was limp and flat-tasting. The canned whipped topping didn’t help, either. The blackberries had a good, sweet-tart taste, but the filling was runny.
I’ll be back, though. The food’s decent and affordable. The atmosphere is comfortable. On Tuesdays, kids eat free with every grownup’s entree purchased, and there’s a clown who does magic tricks and contorts balloons into swans and kitties. The restaurant works hard to make families feel welcome.
Presumably, even the Clampetts.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Thadeus T. Thudpucker’s Address/phone: 43 W. Riverside/ 747-5577 Meals: barbecue, steaks and burgers Prices: lunch, $4.25-$7.50; dinner, $6-$17 Days/hours: Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sundays, noon-8 p.m. Alcohol: full bar Smoking: smoking section is in the lounge Reservations: yes Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V Personal checks: yes
This sidebar appeared with the story: Thadeus T. Thudpucker’s Address/phone: 43 W. Riverside/ 747-5577 Meals: barbecue, steaks and burgers Prices: lunch, $4.25-$7.50; dinner, $6-$17 Days/hours: Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sundays, noon-8 p.m. Alcohol: full bar Smoking: smoking section is in the lounge Reservations: yes Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V Personal checks: yes