R.J.’s for Ribs

R.J.’s for Ribs was one of many restaurants opened in Southern California by a man named Bob Morris who was kind of the Johnny Appleseed of restaurants. Mr. Morris made his fame with Gladstone’s, the venerable seafood eatery out by the beach.  Folks who went there when he ran it still talk about how great it was when it was wholly under his control. The current Gladstone’s bears little resemblance to that fine eatery but Morris now owns and operates the Paradise Cove Beach Cafe up in Malibu that more or less combines what was great about the old Gladstone’s with what was great about R.J.’s, which he operated in Beverly Hills at 252 N. Beverly Drive until 2006.

R.J.’s was a fun place with reasonable prices and the emphasis was, of course, on ribs. Whereas most rib joints specialize in pork, Gladstone’s did special things with the largest beef ribs I’d ever seen. Their pork ribs were fine — no complaints there — but the beef ribs were huge and meaty and tender.  I usually opted for a combo of beef ribs and chicken.  Their chicken was very, very good.  Everything there was and so R.J.’s was very successful…and imitated.  I’m not sure if Mr. Morris was involved in it but out on Ventura Boulevard in Encino, in a building that’s now a Buca di Beppo, there was a restaurant called Adam’s Ribs that was a near-clone.  It was not quite as good but it came close.

Like most Bob Morris restaurants, R.J.’s had…

  • A very, very long salad bar with items you usually don’t see in a salad bar.  I brought vegetarian friends there and they were very happy to graze while I gnawed on animal flesh.
  • Sawdust on the floor.  And interesting things on the walls, mainly photos of old Los Angeles.  Once, I spotted a photo I liked so much (it was of a fave childhood haunt) that I called Mr. Morris’s office and they gave me the name of the photographer/archivist they got them from.  Then I called him and ordered a print.
  • The Bob Morris Clam Chowder.  Folks raised in New England would sometimes say, “That’s not how clam chowder’s supposed to be.  It’s too thick.”  And it was thick.  But not having been raised in New England, I thought it was the best white clam chowder I ever had.  You can still get it at his current establishment.
  • Monster-sized desserts.  People would order the chocolate cake and be stunned at what they got: A slice big enough to carve up and share with six people, with gobs of whipped cream on the side.  It was also unbelievably rich and moist.  Once when I was there with one person, we didn’t want to order the cake because we weren’t going home after.  The people at the next table heard us and handed us the unconsumed cake they were left with after stuffing themselves.  We ate all we could and then handed it off to strangers at yet another table.  I have a feeling they weren’t the last in that food chain.
  • Decorative “to go” wrappings.  It wasn’t just the cake that most folks took home to eat the next day (and maybe the next and the next…)  I always took home ribs and/or chicken from my colossal-sized entree.  R.J.’s was known for huge portions and few could finish them on the premises.  The bus boys were all trained to wrap your overage in gold aluminum foil and then to sculpt the package into a swan or other artistic creation.  It was like making balloon animals with your leftovers.  I used to challenge them: “Hey, how about an aardvark?  Or a puma?”
  • New items.  I went to R.J.’s about twice a month and there always seemed to be something on the menu that hadn’t been there before.  Once, it was something called The 1,000 Year Old Baked Potato.  It was a huge potato that was served at your table in a crockery shell.  Allegedly, it had been encased like a mummy in a shell of brick that was stamped and numbered, then baked underground in a pit for ten centuries or something.  Your server broke open the shell with a little hammer and then served you your potato with a tray of about a dozen condiments including caviar and real, just-cooked bacon bits.
  • Other little touches.  Coffee was served with a side cup of whipped cream and another of chocolate morsels.  The chowder came with a soup mandel, which is kind of like a big Jewish crouton.  Sometimes, there was a little appetizer bar of cheese and crackers and other goodies to munch on. and there were always open bins of free peanuts while you waited for your table.  On a Friday, Saturday or Sunday evening (sometimes on a weeknight), that could be a long wait.

That was the main downside of R.J.’s, at least at the peak of its popularity: The wait.  That was a problem out at the old Gladstone’s, too.  An 8 PM reservation meant you started waiting for a table at 8 PM and were fortunate to be seated by, say, 8:45.  Even though they provided snacks, it could be frustrating and there was the clear and present feeling that it was deliberate; that they wanted you to spend heavily at the bar before they’d seat you.  The bar, like everything else there except the prices, was huge.  They’d boast of having 600 different beers or 800 different beers…the number kept changing but it was always believable, given what you saw there.  There were as many non-beer alcoholic beverages, as well.  Eventually though, you’d get your table and about the time your clam chowder arrived, you’d start feeling it was worth the wait.  In case you can’t tell, I really liked this place.

And there was a way around the wait, sort of.  I had this friend named Stanley Ralph Ross, a prolific TV writer and occasional restaurant critic.  Stanley was a friend of Bob Morris…one who claimed to have suggested the name of Gladstone’s.  (Given Stanley’s tendency to exaggerate, it wouldn’t surprise me if Mr. Morris did not agree.)  When I told him of an excruciatingly long wait at R.J.’s one night, Stanley said, “You need a Farkleberry Card,” and before I could ask what the hell that was, Stanley was on the phone to Bob Morris’s office, convincing some nice lady there to send me one.  It turned out to be a blue plastic card not unlike a credit card in look and feel but it didn’t buy anything.   Instead, you flashed it quietly to the hostess to tell her you were some sort of privileged friend of R.J.’s…I guess.  It was supposed to get you a table swiftly (or even sans reservation) but I’m not sure it ever sped the seating process and I never dared go there without a reservation.  Still, I told myself after waiting just under an hour for a table, “Just think how long it would take without the card.”  And I did feel privileged in some odd way.

Eventually, R.J.’s went away in stages.  Morris sold it to others and they took it downhill farther and faster than the folks who’d ruined Gladstone’s.  The last time I was there, they had notices up that they were moving, location unspecified.  On the sly, the hostess told me the owners had just signed a lease on a place on Santa Monica Boulevard near La Cienega and that they’d be up and running there in less than two months.  This was in 2006 and I’m starting to get the feeling that ain’t gonna happen.

27 Responses to R.J.’s for Ribs

  • Michael Rankins says:

    My late first wife and I enjoyed one of our most memorable meals at R.J.’s back in 1988. Our waiter — probably an out-of-work actor, but what waiter in L.A. isn’t? — was so entertaining and engaging that we tipped him rather extravagantly (at least, from our budgetary perspective) for his efforts, and added a note to management commending his service. When we left the restaurant, he actually chased us out to the street to thank us for our generosity. It’s the only time in a half-century of dining in restaurants that a waitperson ever went that far to show appreciation for a tip.

  • MichaelnSeattle says:

    This brings back the memory of Michael Jackson ad-libbing a live commercial on KABC going on about Gladstones and RJs, making me hungry as I sat in traffic. I wanted to head for Sunset and get down to Gladstones right then, spend the day at the beach.

  • Larry Parker says:

    I’m not sure if this is true, but I heard that Adam’s Ribs was owned by Bob Morris’s brother. I have also heard Bob is working on a new bbq restaurant on PCH in Malibu..

  • Bob Levy says:

    Not sure why I just did a search for RJ’s. I do not even remember when or how I found it the first time. I do recall once or twice a year in the 70′s(?) bringing a group of people (sometimes as large as 50) for the most fantastic meal many had ever experienced. I recall one meal where we occupied the entire upstairs and when the wait staff asked about appetizers the universal response was RIBS! If I recall it was Monday night and all the ribs you could eat for (I forget how cheap but it was cheap). The ribs, salad bar and dessert were some of the best meals I EVER had – and I am a rib lover. Sad to hear it is now only a fond memory.

  • JL Marr says:

    This brings back fond memories of my days of youth. I also wonder if you have any information about Mr. Cecil’s California Ribs?

  • Vic Baron says:

    i used to go to RJ’s with dear friend the notorious king of porn AL GOLDSTEIN of SCREW MAGAZINE… we never ate there with less than 10 people in tow… AL babe, you think thats why you went broke!????
    I thought it was okay, wasnt that impressed, i was more impressed with our guest list of friends…i’m not naming names but several of these were Enquire alumni…

  • Bill James says:

    The barbecued “Duck” was to die for. R.J.’s was an outstanding barbecue experience, there is nothing like it today.

  • Art says:

    We had some wonderful family dinners there. The ribs were the best — big and meaty. That and the green grocer salad bar were enough for a meal and take home.

  • Sloane says:

    All I can say is with a name like Rattlesnake…how can you go wrong??? I love this place!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Jan says:

    I worked as temporary wait staff at R’J’s when they opened (mid 70′s?). What stands out in my mind besides the food was the massive wood bar that rose to the ceiling stocked with countless bottles of liquor that was called “The Library of Liquor” It had an old sliding librarians ladder on wheels as the means in which you’d retrieve the upper bottles!

    This website is a treasure and I cant tell you how happy I am to have stumbled on to it.
    Jan

  • Mike Webb says:

    Not sure this applies but I worked for a single owner restaurant that had taken over an old RJ ribs place we kept the name for around half a year deciding what to change it to. It had the same brick façade and green awning on the back side of the place with the RJ letters like in the Pic that was the entrance to the bar. This place was small though and the bar was nothing to talk about very small my understanding was it used to be a coffee shop before it was an RJ’s called Honeys this is in Westminster CA. next to mile square Park. It’s too bad we sold it before we started making money we renamed it Abilene Rose we sold BBQ food as we used the big slow smoker cooker that was in place 1998 to 2000 now a Vietnamese restaurant as they talked the owner into selling it to them one day. I was very angry he sold it as I just put two hard long years trying to get it running but the owner made some very bad mistakes in the beginning that doomed it.
    We had a country western BBQ theme and did have live bands Blues, Country and Rockabilly bands 3 days a week.

  • Mike Webb says:

    A news article for you Abilene Rose

    http://articles.latimes.com/2001/jan/17/local/me-13445

  • Ken says:

    I found RJ’S by mistake an artist friend of mine was showing her painting at a fru-fru restaurant about two or three doors down, the food and the portions did not look good. So we snuck out and discovered RJ’S. I loved the rattlesnake chicken. I really hoped that they were still open I know that my son would have loved it as well and probably would have become some sort of weird family tradition like handing the secret of RJ’S from generation to generation. RIP RJ’s……

  • Elise says:

    I only ate here once. My boyfriend at the time said he was taking me to dinner there. He said not to eat anything all day because we would be eating a ton that night. Like an idiot I listened to him. By the time we went out to eat I was STARVING. And when I’m hungry I’m a grouch. I remember we had to wait a long time and I was so hungry I don’t even remember eating.

  • Ken says:

    My dad used to take us there in the late ’70′s/early ’80′s. Two memorable highlights: they had great guacamole at the salad bar (a noteworthy addition at the time) and fantastic ribs. I never left there hungry, that’s for sure.

  • Phil Ankofski says:

    For Elise;
    Your comment put the biggest smile on my face. I have known several people over the years who seem to function as your boyfriend.
    I too become a different person when hungry. Not a pretty sight.
    And because I am this way, I cannot patronize a restaurant where the seating time may be longer than ten minutes.
    If the wait was to be longer, I would exit and head for Johnnies Pastrami
    or Joe Patrellie’s Steak House in Culver City.
    Thanks for posting …. I am STILL smiling.
    Phil Ankofski

  • Teresa says:

    I was one of the unemployed actors working there in the mid 80′s. Surprised no one has mentioned there legendary Sunday brunch. Line ups an hour before the doors opened. Ice sculptures, omelette stations, all you could eat buffet. Desert and fruit station. It was enormous. Great place.

  • Jim says:

    Wasn’t RJ’s originally a Gladstone’s Beverly Hills? I know there was a branch right around there late 70s or so.

  • Sam D says:

    Bob Morris was a customer of mine when I had a business selling and servicing business machines. I had lunch dozens of times at RJ’s. He had the best salad bar around back then with genuine Roquefort cheese salad dressing and artichoke hearts. RJ’s also served a terrific hamburger and if you ordered the burger, it included a trip to the salad bar. I miss that place as it was in the 1970s and 80s.

    I seem to remember that when Bob Morris originally opened the present Gladstone’s location on PCH it had a different name. Then the restaurant was closed for an extended time due to a fire. Later when it re-opened, it was renamed Gladstones.

  • Jimmy says:

    Actually, Adam’s Rib was owned by Mike Ridell. I was a barternder there for about 2 years…. loved my time there. Not sure about RJ’s because I moved to LA in 1989 and left in 1991. Mike had already opened Adam’s. I think I remember him talking about RJ’s. If anyone sees this post and remembers Adam’s, say hello. Hard to believe this was over 20 years ago!!!

  • David Hyman says:

    Today I was sending an email to my sister overseas mentioning I was going to the Cheesecake Factory in Beverly Hills next week. I then was mentioning a family restaurant our deceased Grandparents in the Miracle Mile used to take us to. We also visited the nearby Cannon Theater with out them. None of us could remember the name RJ’s until I found it on this site. Kudos!

  • Denise Madden says:

    Does anyone remember Al Penni’s restaurant in Culver City? It had a zillion page menu and there was always a long wait for a table. He had a huge ad campaign on KABC Radio and it really paid off! I don’t know what happened to it.

  • Greg says:

    Al Penny’s across the street from MGM studio on Washington Blvd, 24/7, 25o items on the menu. In the early 70′s went there after clubbing in Marnie Del Rey for a Monte Cristo sandwich. Anyone went to Asian American parties at the RJ’s in Torrance in the mid 80′s?

  • CARON says:

    I remember so many wonderful meals at RJ’s. The salad bar was the best and so was all of the delicious food. In the days of the 80′s, I would sit all day drinking margaritas and smoking ciggys before I ordered food galore. We need another RJ’s !!!

  • suze donn says:

    Responding to the Al Penni’s comment. I worked there for 4 years, it just closed one day, came into work and there were many people their taking inventory. Later found out it was due to back taxes. We had not warning, just out of a job, bingo. But I loved working there, met so many people, all types of actor/actresses, big name bands, tv stars, it was just a fun place to work. And the food was great as well. Giant plates of food all came with fries and fresh fruit. I would love to find some of the people I worked with, we didn’t have FB and Instagram and all of the other social media things back then, so I have lost track of so many people.

  • Jennifer Martin says:

    It was a great place. I used to see Michael Jackson (not the singer; the KABC radio host) there quite often.

  • tony escobedo says:

    The greatest place for ribs. Growing up eating food from this restaurant brings back good memories from when my father work there. My father worked there for about 15 years (70 ‘ and 80 ‘) as a cook, bus boy, and server. He was very well known and loved by coworkers, customers, friends, and family.

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