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The Central Texas towns of legend have long since been turned into prettified versions of themselves, century-old hardware stores transformed into antique shops, saloons into genteel restaurants, and old clapboard houses into bed-and-breakfast joints with lace curtains in the windows. And sad as it is to say, the good barbecue place in Texas towns these days is less likely to be that scenic dining room in the square than it is to be in a prefab industrial building out by the Wal-Mart on the highway, a building that happens to be decorated with the old license plates and cow skulls and splintered butter churns that shriek louder of eBay than they do of tradition. Robin's Wood Fire BBQ, which occupies the destination-restaurant slot in an east Pasadena shopping center, is a Texas-style barbecue of the latter-day ilk, splattered with rusty street signs and old advertisements for feed, beer neon and sports paraphernalia, crushed peanut shells, bottles of blue cream soda and dusty chicken bones. The menu prose gladhands the local city council and the Rose Bowl committee, butters up the owner's in-laws, and describes the actual food in an overheated tone you haven't seen since the 1970s. Robin's is awfully, awfully proud of catering the tri-tip at Irwindale Speedway. Every order of barbecue comes with a giant slab of blueberry coffee cake and a bowl of cole slaw with blue cheese and pecans. The sauces are too sticky by half. But do they get the oak into the meat? They do, actually, especially into the beef ribs, a blackened, smoking order of which is the closest thing I have ever seen to that rack of brontosaurus ribs that tips over Fred Flintstone's car. Robin's, which may be more authentic than the owners even know, sets the standard for suburban barbecue.
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