A fish shack. A gas station. A truck.
Dennis Ofsthun has operated his barbecue restaurant Rib Ticklers in the funkiest places.
You’ll have to back way up to 1988 for the fish stand story. He and two restaurant partners were looking for convenience and low overhead when they converted a Gig Harbor fish shack into a barbecue hut. Later that year, they moved the restaurant to a space that currently holds El Pueblito. The barbecue joint closed in 1995.
He then took his barbecue on the road to California, but wound up back here.
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In 2013, he opened a barbecue counter at the Valero gas station in Gig Harbor.
His current version of Rib Ticklers is entirely on wheels. He parked his truck in mid-August at the shopping center at the Purdy Spit, right next door to a taco truck.
The site comes with the best view for any food truck in the region. In fact, it rivals the view of some of the priciest restaurant real estate in the area. He set up his truck waterside. A covered area protects a few seats that fetch a coveted view of the water.
In September, he lost his gas station location, which doubled as the commissary kitchen he needed to prep his food. It took a month to find a new commercial kitchen for his food prep. He reopened Wednesday.
I asked him why this version of his restaurant was all mobile.
“I was sick of carting everything around,” said Ofsthun, who noted that when he used to cater, he’d have to carry tents, broilers, steam tables, counters, cooking utensils and coolers. “It’s a couple hours of setup and a couple hours of tear down. All that stuff is pretty heavy. That’s what motivated this. Now I just roll up and start serving.”
He serves with his stepson Jake Herron, who worked with him at the gas station, along with longtime family friend Laurel Duffin. Ofsthun has a new helper: his 16-year-old son, Garrett, a junior at Peninsula High School.
Ofsthun’s truck serves a similar menu to what he offered at the gas station. Here’s a first-bite report.
It’s this paper’s policy to avoid criticism of food and service during a restaurant’s first month, which is why the focus here is on descriptions:
The menu: Sandwiches, ribs, combo dinners with a choice of meat.
The wood: Hickory.
Sandwiches: Pulled pork ($6), pulled chicken ($6), sliced tri-tip ($8) or hot link ($6). A slider sandwich meal comes with two sides ($6).
Combos: Baby back rib dinners (three for $11/four for $14/six for $17) with two sides and cornbread. Diners can create larger combos by adding chicken, pulled pork, tri-tip and more. Other combo plates with sides include a four-piece chicken ($13), a pulled pork plate ($14) and a half-pound sliced tri-tip plate ($16).
The ribs: Slow cooked baby backs over hickory pellets in a smoker. In keeping with good rib practice, ribs are not sauced when served. They clung to the bone, but barely, and held permeating smoky flavor deep to the bone.
The sauces: Mild, spicy, turbo or Nytro. I stuck with “spicy” and it came with a tame smoky heat and a vinegar tang. This is not a sweet barbecue sauce, which I appreciate.
Sides: Snappy slaw made with green cabbage with a tangy, sweet creamy dressing. Potato salad with egg in the dressing and a touch of vinegar for tang, plus crunchy celery and pickles. He also serves baked beans.
Seating: A handful at a dine-in counter, plus room for your own camp chair. The seating will be improved soon, said Ofsthun.
Seasonal?: He’s not sure when he’ll close due to rainy, cold weather. To be safe, check the truck’s Facebook page or call the truck before heading over. As is true of all mobile restaurants, schedules change frequently.