You might expect Cathy and Rob Lippincott, co-owners of Güero’s Taco Bar, to make Mexican food if they had you over for dinner. Instead, they choose a decidedly American menu: Baby back pork ribs, bacon-wrapped Lockhart quail legs, potato salad, broccoli slaw and baked beans. To Cathy, this meal is “just the way we are; the Lippincott comfort zone.” And Rob concurs. “It’s what I do for the family more than any other dish,” he says. The whole spread is “the thing we love to do for us and our kids.”
The kids include two grown daughters that Cathy and Rob say are “helping us retire” by shifting into leadership at Güero’s, an institution that’s been described by some as the restaurant that defined SoCo. The South Congress staple, known for its salsa bar and hand-shaken margaritas, gets a lot of cred for being an early occupant (they bought the building in 1995) of the now-famed tourist stretch.
But, tonight, they’re at home. Rob, wearing a lavender guayabera and a gray braid, shows off his Big Green Egg on the back patio and explains what he likes about it. “They hold the heat real well and they don’t break,” he says. Apparently, they’re made of material initially developed by NASA. “You can make it as hot or as cool as you want,” he says. The thermometer he uses for the grill is currently broken, but he knows from experience that it’s a nice, low heat for his ribs, which he grills over a combo of charcoal and wood.
Inside, Cathy goes over her classic, “nothing fancy” side dishes, like the potato salad and its main ingredient. “I don’t mash ’em or chop ’em,” she says. “I smash ’em with the end of a mason jar. They just taste better that way.” She admits that her broccoli slaw, which is made with raw florets rather than matchsticks, is similar to Central Market’s, but she likes hers better. “This is all I want to eat tonight,” she says, sprinkling grated sharp cheddar on top. Her beans feature the tried-and-true add-ins of brown sugar and mustard with a topping of partially cooked bacon that finishes in the oven. “What do you do?” she asks. “You buy a can of baked beans but then you add stuff to it.” Simple but true. “And they’re so good.”
The main attraction, though, is Rob’s baby back ribs. “I learned those mostly [through] a friend of mine,” he explains. His friend’s dad and uncles had a couple of ranches, and they’d host a barbecue twice a year—cooking brisket, ribs and chicken. “I just got in on the deal and watched ’em,” he says with a slow, subtle drawl. “It came out fabulous every time.”
What he learned was to dust the ribs in seasoning first, then cook them over very low heat for a long time (three to four hours, preferably), and sop them every so often to keep them moist. He admits that he forgot about the sop tonight, usually a blend of chicken stock and spices, in all the excitement of entertaining. But he also didn’t cook these ribs quite as long, so he isn’t worried.
The barbecue sauce he did not forget. He calls it “salsa,” an understandable slip for the owner of a Mexican restaurant (“salsa” means “sauce,” after all). He credits the base recipe to his mom—his Yankee mom, he adds with a laugh. “No, seriously,” he says, “it’s my mom’s Indiana barbecue sauce. I like it pretty good.” The only consistent ingredients are chili sauce, onion and vinegar. “There’s no recipe,” says Cathy, noting that Rob will sometimes just open the refrigerator and start throwing in random condiments like soy sauce, maple syrup, capers, “whatever he can find.”
Despite all this Texas ranch and Midwestern “salsa” talk, Cathy and Rob’s kitchen is adorned with other influences, such as talavera plates and an alebrije mask (a style of Mexican art reminiscent of another local standby, Fonda San Miguel), and the spreaders on the cheese plate have handles of stacked skulls à la Día de los Muertos. It’s only later in the evening that Rob chuckles and says, “Wow, we didn’t do any Mexican food. We love Mexican food like crazy,” he says, “but this is more traditional for us.”
Finally around the dinner table are Cathy and Rob and a handful of work associates. It’s a full dining room, the food is incredible and the conversation flows freely. Cathy tells a funny story about being stung (repeatedly) in the butt by a scorpion while working at Güero’s; Philadelphia and Chicago connections are discovered among the group; and one attendee is revealed to be an award-winning homebrewer—which ties into fond memories of drinking beer on Güero’s front porch. With Mae, the Lippincotts’ black Labrador, making rounds at the edge of the table hoping to score a scrap or two, it really does feel like a family meal in a well-established comfort zone (if your family has an amazing cook).
By Amy McCullough • Photography by Nathan Beel