Rickybobby is a great place for stoners. That's what I was thinking as I sat in the month-old restaurant, surrounded by a kaleidoscope of cartoonish colors and images, half-watching Super Troopers projected on one wall and trying to avoid the glassy stare of a spooky taxidermy calf with two heads. The food seems made for the munchies too — totally filling, but you compulsively eat it anyway because it tastes so good. The remarkable thing about Rickybobby is that it helps you achieve a higher state of being even if your mind isn't chemically altered.
Even in its infancy, crowds are at the Lower Haight restaurant every night because the food's reputation proceeds it. Rickybobby's name comes from the movie Talledega Nights, and is one of the many quirky pop culture references thrown in this new spot from James Moisey and Shane LaValley, the dudes who until recently were serving much the same food at Broken Record, an Excelsior rock and whiskey bar with a restaurant in back. Moisey and LaValley have taken their hits from those days to the new location, and have beefed up the menu with new comfort food dishes that are bound to get their own cult followings.
The most famous Broken Record dish replicated here is the beef and bacon burger, wherein ground bacon is added to two beef patties wedded together with American cheese. It was one of the best burgers I have ever eaten: The kitchen uses just enough bacon to infuse the beef with smokiness and general succulence, but not so much that the grease takes over. It's indulgent, but not overwhelming — an impressive balancing act considering the amount of fat involved.
That same balance is achieved with the lobster mac and cheese, a new dish that has a creamy cheese sauce with just a hint of tang surrounding soft farfalle pasta, and is punctuated by bits of sweet corn and spinach (one must get one's greens somehow). Lobster mac and cheese is usually a gimmick — the cheese sauce overpowers the scant amount of lobster involved — but this version had large hunks of lobster scattered throughout, enough to make the seafood's presence known, and impressive for the $12 price tag.
A healthy dose of seafood was also found in the crawshrimp grits, another Broken Record favorite. Creamy grits were placed in the bottom of the bowl and covered with a rich sauce containing plenty of hunks of crawfish and bay shrimp, then topped with cheese and bits of house-made chorizo for an almost chili-like effect. It didn't hold up taste-wise to the best versions in the South, or even the version at Brenda's, but on a winter's night it was salty, creamy, warm, and satisfying.
Everyone's favorite is the sweet potatertots, a childhood classic made upscale with sweet potatoes instead of more pedestrian spuds. These were crusty and delicious, smaller than cafeteria tots by about half which made for more crispy surface area, and served with ketchup and a house-made ranch dressing. Ketchup was too sweet a dipping sauce — sweet potatoes have more than enough residual sugar already — but the ranch provided the much-needed saltiness the sweet potatoes lacked.
The interior of the place is an eclectic mix of Americana that fits with the cuisine. The walls are hung with oversize photos — a horse, a seagull, a dalmatian contemplating those rocks from Star Wars on one; a burger cross-section and a photo of a million flocking seagulls on the other. Above the chalkboard menu is aforementioned calf with two heads. The bathroom is graced with a framed print of William Holbrook Beard's 1870 painting of dancing bears known as Wall Street Jubilee — it's all a bit surreal, but it's also charming.
And not everything on the menu conspires to break your diet. A shaved apple salad over greens, showered with mizuna cheese and toasted cashews with a tangy honey vinaigrette, was a well-composed little number. Chicken drumettes with an Asian-inspired glaze weren't healthy, per se, but would do for daintier appetites. Same with the house-smoked salmon, served with daubs of crème fraîche and dill, though the kitchen of course couldn't resist putting them on slices of grilled croissant instead of the traditional rye crackers. The effect of the buttery croissant on the salmon is outstanding.
They do need a more interesting beer selection. For now, the restaurant is only offering a handful of familiar beers by the bottle like Anchor Steam and Lagunitas, along with house red and white wines. And the service was casual to a fault — it was busy both nights we came, and the kitchen and waitstaff didn't seem prepared for the crowds. But they admirably made up for lags in service with free dessert, and everyone around us at the communal picnic tables seemed to be in a forgiving mood: young and not-so-young, hipster and not-so-hip, sober and not-so-sober. It could have been the buzzy vibe, or the euphoria that comes after eating a day's worth of calories in one sitting, but at the end of the night, it seemed like everyone was having a righteously good time.