Have you ever known of a restaurant’s existence for a long time but never went because you underestimated them? We had that experience recently. I’ve known of The Rib House in Lakeland for a long time but never looked past the name (assuming it was a simple barbecue joint). My wife was there years ago and was not overly impressed. So we were truly delighted when we decided to go there for lunch one recent weekend.
The decor is contemporary and spotless, with soothing colors and Asian-themed prints and other decorations. While the hostess who seated us seemed a little stand-offish (I got the sense she might have been a new employee), our server was very pleasant and helpful throughout our meal. My wife commented that the interior – and the menu – were completely different from her past visit.
I found the Rib House concept a little difficult to get my mind around from simply viewing their web site, but fully embraced it once we were there. They describe themselves as American-Thai BBQ. Even that doesn’t fully describe the diversity of their menu. They offer sushi, burgers and sandwiches, barbecue, Thai-influenced seafood and meat/poultry, noodle dishes, and they even offer a full breakfast menu from 7AM – 3PM daily. This seems like a combination that should not work, but they pull it off brilliantly.
The Rib House immediately impressed us by offering Thai iced tea – there are a lot of different recipes out there, but it’s essentially strongly brewed tea with spices that generally include star anise and/or cardamom, and whole milk or coconut milk.
We started our meal with an appetizer of steamed dumplings – shrimp, pork, and water chestnut with fried garlic on top. Savory, mildly spicy, with a light soy sauce that added a little sweetness. This was truly delicious, I could honestly have these dumplings for dessert and be very happy.
For our main courses, I ordered a BBQ pulled rib sandwich (shredded cheddar cheese added for a slight upcharge) with a side of fried green tomatoes. My wife ordered Kao Moo Dang. I’ve found this spelled a variety of ways on the Web – but it consists of slices of red barbecue pork with jasmine rice, sliced cucumbers, and a hard boiled egg.
Like the dumplings, the first thing we noticed was how well presented the food was. They seemed to give attention to every detail. And the flavor lived up to the presentation. My pork sandwich came on a brioche bun. It came with a couple of hush puppy type of fritters, not mentioned in the menu, so this was a delightful surprise. The breading on the fried green tomatoes was mildly spicy and they came with a side of ranch dressing. My wife loved the combination of flavors in her entree.
We ended up taking some leftovers home to enjoy for lunch the next day. For the quality and quantity of food we received, our total with tip was a very reasonable $38. In every way, The Rib House was a wonderful surprise. We look forward to returning – we still haven’t sampled their sushi or breakfast menus – and highly recommend this restaurant. The Rib House is on South Florida Avenue in Lakeland, just south of Edgewood Drive.
If we have inspired you to visit The Rib House, or if you have already been and want to share your experience, please do so via the comments section below. And if you have Polk County restaurant tips, we would love to hear from you via our Contact Us page. Thanks for stopping by and happy eating!