A honey blonde ale and a mouth-watering Texas Tornado are high on the list for visitors passing through Rancho Mirage on their way to one of the annual music festivals. Find them at Babe’s Bar-B-Que & Brewhouse at The River complex in Rancho Mirage.
With the creative menu here, you can go for a sizzling plate of hot links sausage or cool off with a golden beet and goat cheese salad accompanied by a cider, while kicking back on the patio.
“Paris Hilton and her brother Baron stop by sometimes,” says Art Vasquez who, as chef and operations manager, oversees everything, including the brewing. Babe’s has provided brews for four years at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and Vasquez says they may offer food there in the future.
In the meantime, a stream of international festivalgoers returns to the brick-and-mortar brewery each year for its award-winning Blackfin Lager and Belgian Vanilla Blonde Ale, as well as the Honey Blonde Ale. The lager and vanilla blonde each won first place at the 2015 state fair while the restaurant captured the fair’s Best Brewery title; and the honey blonde took the gold at the L.A. International Commercial Beer Competition in 2012 and 2016.
You’ll find an ambiance of “gastropub meets barbecue,” Vasquez says. “We’re not claiming to be Texas barbecue or Memphis barbecue. Barbecue is from all over the world.”
PHOTO BY NEIL HUSVAR
Babe’s has earned awards for its brews at the 2015 California State Fair and the L.A. International Commercial Beer Competition.
He has been with the establishment since day one. Fifteen years ago Vasquez was hand-picked by the late Don Callender, the founder, whose mother’s pie recipes launched the Marie Callender’s chain. Babe’s visitors still come for the pies and cornbread, along with the popular baby back ribs and pulled pork, yet the eatery has forged its own path, adapting to the palates of both the desert’s retirees and its diverse range of tourists.
Vasquez likes to use local items as much as possible, including Coachella Valley honey and dates and Temecula sausages. He sources inspiration for pared down dishes from a familiar name. “I personally enjoy Anthony Bourdain’s show,” Vasquez says. “Many of his dishes are simple and indigenous.” Popular menu options include a barbecue salad, a flat iron steak salad, and a tomato salad made with heirloom varieties or whatever is seasonal.
PHOTO BY HENRY DOWNS
Art Vasquez (right) worked under the tutelage of Don Callender, who founded Babe’s and also launched the successful Marie Callender’s chain.
Among Babe’s specialty sandwiches, the Texas Tornado has layers of brisket, as well as hot links, jalapeño, and pickles. The Big Beef Tri Tip Po’ Boy comes with classic wood flavor. In the summer, Babe’s offers cold tri tip sandwiches and cold grilled sandwiches, without sauce.
Vasquez says Callender began brewing in 1998 at another operation and asked for his help before launching Babe’s in 2002. “I was excited. I’ve been involved daily ever since,” he says.
The Honey Blonde Ale is Babe’s biggest seller off site; it’s offered at 16 places throughout Coachella Valley. “It’s a gateway microbrew, meaning it’s the easiest to drink for people not used to microbrews,” Vasquz says. “It appeals to both men and women. It’s a simple, light, clean beer.”
Both beginners and experienced imbibers come together for Babe’s Beer Appreciation Day, every Monday from 3 p.m. to closing. All beer is half price. “We also sell four guest drafts from San Diego, Orange County, and L.A.,” Vasquez notes. “We like to support small breweries. We’ve been doing that for nine years. It’s kind of like [the TV show] Cheers. Everybody knows each other.”
PHOTO BY ART VASQUEZ
The exterior of Babe’s Bar-B-Que & Brewhouse when it first opened at The River complex in Rancho Mirage.
Babe’s staffers have known each other a long time too. Lead sous-chef Joel Estrada has been with the company since 2002. General manager Jason St. John has been on staff nine years. Vasquez’s daughter, Dominique Medina, learned Callender’s baking secrets years ago, studied at Le Cordon Bleu as a pastry chef in 2009, and stepped into that role at Babe’s the same year.
“People still call us every morning to see how many rhubarb pies we’re going to have later in the day because they’re coming in,” Vasquez says. “We still make it the way he taught us to. Don always cared about quality. He is still remembered in the valley. He was a big philanthropist and he loved to talk to people who came to the restaurant, especially entrepreneurs.”
Babe’s Barb-B-Que & Brewhouse, 71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-346-8738; www.babesbbqandbrewhouse.com