Ernie's Barbecue has become a Fort Lauderdale institution of local popular culture during its half-century-plus in operation. Somehow, I strayed onto websites that suggested it was the top ribs joint in town and should be high on the Fort Lauderdale things-to-do and restaurants to sample list.
I don't look for ambiance in a barbecue restaurant. Ernie's has some Florida murals, an interesting floor that may be terrazzo and looks like it needs a thorough cleaning, and the ever-present TV screens of the sports bar.
The first sign that this would not be a meal to remember in a good way was the menu description of the ribs threatening it would be "smothered" in sauce.
I've come to favor Memphis and St. Louis spice rubs. But I've got nothing against a good sauce, either. I've sampled some of the best in Georgia, can whip up my own with a complex layering of flavors that includes the subtlety of leeks, and I'm not against Bone-Sucking Sauce in a jar in a pinch.
Ernie's sauce was all but inedible. Lumps of diced onions that had not been cooked thoroughly enough to dissolve floated in a mixture of catsup and vinegar. I couldn't scrape enough of it off the ribs fast enough.
Slaw was served in a tiny cup. C'mon folks, cabbage is cheap. Why be stingy?
The Bahama bread was okay. On the plus side, real butter was served, and the ice tea was strong and flavorful.
The waitress was indifferent, and the barkeep could barely pry his eyes off the TV long enough to summon her.
Like the fast-food restaurants that litter the American landscape, Ernie's is another example of Americans insensate palates. That it has such a long history proves the bankruptcy of popular culture food preferences. You can find plenty of poor reviews along with the raves; I recommend trusting the former.
Ernie's is located at 1843 S Federal Hwy (US 1), just slightly south of 17th Street with its Causeway, on the West side of Federal.