Munch goes to Duke's Rib House

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May, the month of lilies and emeralds, means a lot of things to a lot of people. For some, it means having too much to drink while watching thoroughbreds going around in a big circle. For others, it means having too much to drink while watching Indy cars go around in a big circle. For still others, it means having too much to drink (today) while eating a burrito. And for Bob Hope, it was the month he was born.

Also, May is zombie awareness month. So keep an eye out.

For Munch, May reliably means it's time to break out the spice-rubbed meats and try to get the barbecue grill to ignite. Which, reliably, it won't. Low on propane? Maybe the regulator is jammed with stinkbugs. Stupid #@m$%• grill. Some 70 minutes later, Munch finally admits to knowing as much about grill assembly as internal combustion engines or string theory, and says, "The heck with this, Munch is going out."

Duke's Rib House & Grille is one of those places you've driven past dozens of times, but you've never visited because it is named "Duke's." Such a name connotes that the bar is patronized by a dubious class of cowboys, scofflaws and ne'er-do-wells such as Munch, and it's a valid concern, because Duke's is precisely where Munch found Munchself on a recent weekday.

In other words, if you don't want to hang out with the likes of Munch, you may not want to hang out at a place like Duke's. Especially in early May.

Fortunately Munch's running buddies are not so discerning; either that or they like a free lunch. Accompanying the Great Hambino was North Side Friend of Munch, who is somewhat of an expert on barbecue, bowling and reality TV, not necessarily in that order. She is also an authority on cole slaw, which comes in handy at a rib joint. Most vitally, she isn't afraid to get her hands covered in barbecue sauce, even when wearing a white blouse.

That's commitment to the cause right there.

Munch's dining philosophy is to always try the house speciality, and at Duke's, that means sampling Duke's original baby back ribs, $13.95 for a generous half rack. A full rack will set you back $22.49, but frankly, there is rarely an imperative to eat a full rack of ribs. Do you know how many calories are in a full rack? Two thousand! At least! Might as well call a full rack the Jamie Oliver Lifetime Employment Act from now on.

Anyhow, Munch isn't the ideal person to be giving dieting advice, so let's get to the ribs. Nice flavor, tangy but not sweet, high-octane but not too spicy, and the meat was soft and tender. If you're a rib connoisseur, you'll want to know that these ribs were of the Kansas City variety -- thick sauce, and lots of it. The adorning sides were acceptable, if not special. Sweet potato fries are everywhere these days, and they're on the Duke's menu, too.

NSFOM's pulled pork sandwich ($8.49) was generally the size of a football, although it tasted better (at least Munch assumes it did -- the pigskin is the one pork product Munch hasn't yet tried). There are a dozen other sammies on Duke's sandwich board, plus eight burgers, a couple of steaks and salads, some wings and seafood selections, and three "zerts," which is Munch's new word for desserts, courtesy of "Parks and Recreation."

Seriously, best show on television.

Not long ago, Duke's Rib House was called Duke's Station III. Before that it was a bar called Gangster's Grille. The layout remains the same: Downstairs are the main dining rooms and the bar, fronted by several flat-screen TVs and backed by the largest Pittsburgh skyline photo reprint you've ever seen. Upstairs are two lofts, one for diners and one for private parties. Outside is a covered deck, perfect for sipping beers on a summer evening while taking in the sights along Cochran Road. The main sights you will see are parked cars, but, hey, it's a free country, and you're welcome to take in whatever darned sights you please.

Speaking of beer, there is a decent list of potables at Duke's, better than Max & Erma's anyway, which is right next door. It's kind of like being the tallest midget in the room, but, hey, better than being the shortest.

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