True Southerners would be horrified at this Southern California martini-swilling sow, but Babe's Restaurant & Brewery fits quite nicely into the mix of new restaurants here at The River.
From the three huge bronze statues outside, to the floral sow near the door, to the pigs on the walls and, well, everywhere, the motif is not understated. But the ambiance is comfortable and welcoming. Big, comfortable booths line the wall and upper dining area.
Outside, there's a nice patio with wicker furniture around a fire pit, cooled by misters. Inside, there's a busy bar to the right and a clubby lounge tucked away behind a fireplace.
They're ready for a crowd with pagers to offer to diners waiting for a table. Reservations are accepted for parties of six or more.
The waiters, decked out in cowboy hats and blue jeans, were friendly, knowledgeable, prompt and plentiful.
There's a separate beverage menu with a large martini list and wines by the bottle as well as a wide selection of regional beers. This trip, we stuck to Lucky's House Brewed Root Beer, $3. It was creamy and flavorful.
The menu offers entrees after 5 p.m. with chicken listed at $18 and steak at $26. There's a nice selection of eight salads offered from $5 to $14. For those not interested in traditional barbecue sandwiches, Babe's also offers six pizzas from $10 to $14.
Babe's is a great place to take your friends -- it's good to have help with some of the large portions, and they won't mind if you're a little bit sticky from the barbecue. In two visits, we tried a variety of starters and entrees, and ended up taking a lot of it home for later.
The cast-iron skillet cornbread, $5, is cakelike and served with honey butter. It was tasty, but not authentic according to the Southerner in our party.
We liked the buttermilk popcorn shrimp, $8, which was more than enough for two. The crispy batter-fried tidbits came with cocktail sauce, blue cheese and celery crumbles and rémoulade/Thousand Island dip.
The barbecue wings, $8, were served swimming in sweet sauce, with more on the side. They were moist and tasty without being greasy.
The Bib salad, $7, was what had to be a whole head of bib lettuce opened like a lotus blossom on a shallow bowl. Cheese, tomatoes, cornbread croutons and orange slices were sprinkled on top. The requested blue cheese dressing was served on the side and was fresh and tasty. You have to cut the salad yourself, but it's worth it for the beautiful service. It might be tough to share, but it's enough for two if you're planning to have an entree.
The tortilla soup, $4, was presented heaped with strips of multi-colored tortillas and cilantro leaves. The soup was creamy and spicy with an almost enchilada saucelike spiciness to it.
The eight-slice shrimp pizza, $14, was topped with cheese, strips of red and green pepper, red onion and about three small rock shrimp per slice. For an entree, it's big enough to share. Served cold the next day, you really get a taste of the spicy heat.
The Santa Fe Burger, $8, was flavorful with two meat patties, cheese and a chipotle-spiced mayonnaise sauce on a fresh baked bun. It was served with sweet potato fries and coleslaw.
The first time we visited, we must have been among the many who picked the raisins from the slaw. On our return visit -- no raisins!
The real deal -- the barbecue pork and brisket sandwiches -- come with your choice of French fries or French-fried sweet potatoes sprinkled with sugar. Both are very tasty, with the sweet potatoes being a nice change if you're in the mood for something different.
But what about the barbecue? For $9, you get two sandwiches on smallish soft rolls. The lean pulled meat is mixed with a sweet sauce that was a little too sweet to the taste of my Southern companion. I judged them not down-home, but darn good.
Babe's is definitely upscale in the barbecue world with nary a linoleum tile, paper napkin nor squeeze bottle of sauce in sight. But it's OK Babe is not a down-home pig; we're happy to have him here in the valley.