Don't wear light colors if you're going to Royce Farms; barbecue is the food of choice every day. It could get messy. But it's worth it.
The tasty ribs, which are smoked for 10 hours a day, are smothered in a mildly tangy, flavorful sauce. You can taste the smokiness in each bite.
"We smoke our ribs old school," said Dave Royce, owner of Royce Farms.
The restaurant has been in its current location off Eight Mile Road on the Highway 99 frontage road for eight years. But the history goes back many more years. The Royce family began farming in the area in 1939. Fifty years later, Sandy Royce and his son Dave farmed and owned a fruit stand and had a booth at the Farmer's Market.
The fruit stand on Highway 12 became a popular spot for a car show and barbecue on Friday nights, Dave Royce said. They used to have a concession at 99 Speedway, which is now closed. Royce's father Sandy, who died earlier this year, was into racing and had a hot rod.
The car show has been going on for 17 seasons with 60 to 70 cars each week from April to October. Although the season is over this year, the Corvettes of Lodi club meets at Royce Farms with their corvettes the first Thursday of each month.
Inside the restaurant, there are model tractors and racing memorabilia on display. The wooden walls are a light green. It's kind of like a barn.
"What a better place to be than in a barn," Royce said. "It just fits."
While the restaurant's three staples are grilled tri-tip, barbecue chicken and smoked ribs, Royce Farms has won awards for best chili and best chicken wings. All of the sauces and soups are family recipes made from scratch. The pesto recipe is 90 years old, Royce said. In addition, vegetables in season are used. They currently offer a squash and mushroom frittata.
"We've got some good eats," he added.
I tried the starters. After all, because they have prize-winning chicken wings, I had to see for myself why they won. The chicken wings were tender with a spicy, tangy sauce. Royce said it's a hickory horseradish sauce. The deep-fried mozzarella pesto was a treat. The deep-fried cheese-stuffed olives had a crunchy breading giving way to gooey cheese, which was quite tasty.
Then came the main course: smoked ribs. The slab of ribs on a bed of lettuce was so big it hung off the edge of the plate next to a heaping amount of pesto and half of a cob of corn. The ribs were smoky, and the sauce had a zing to it. The pesto was a leaf-green color and was creamy with the right amount of basil and garlic.
If customers want to take some barbecue sauce home (along with their take-home boxes), it won't be long before they can; Royce said they plan to bottle sauce.
Other than ribs, chicken and tri-tip, the menu includes barbecued burgers, sandwiches, alfredo pasta, spaghetti, homemade lasagna, Italian wedding soup, chili and more. And if there's any room left, they have dessert.
Restaurant At A GlanceWhat: Royce Farms
Where: 10880 N. Hwy. 99 off Eight Mile Road.
House specialties: Smoked ribs, grilled tri-tip, barbecued chicken.
Price range: Appetizers $5.95 to $8; $6.99 for a burger to $16.99 for smoked ribs.
Hours of operation: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday.