Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. Prices: Dinner for two costs $20 to $25. Cards: MasterCard, Visa, Choice

Pepper's should know a good thing when they have it. Someone in the kitchen is cooking good ribs, really good ribs in fact, with the light, sweet smoke of mesquite -- big long spareribs and stubby beef shortribs, with plenty of meat and not too much fat, and mounds of chopped, tender-lean pork. But then the kitchen murders them -- drowns them just before serving, in that slippery and thick, heavy-handed, bottled-tasting barbecue sauce you've tasted way too many times before. Sweet mesquite memories turn into sour ones.

What's the attraction of this awful goo?

But there's a way to get around it and enjoy Pepper's: Tell the waitress to hold the sauce. Although the menu doesn't mention or suggest this -- and it should -- you can get the ribs on their own, plain and simple.

They'd be even better if the kitchen would coddle them a bit and baste them slowly with a little good sauce while they cook.

The best way to enjoy Pepper's, in fact, may be to avoid eating there at all and to order ribs takeout -- which, judging by a steady stream of white boxes leaving the front counter, is what a lot of people do. That way you can gnaw on the ribs on your own turf, adding anything good you already have in your own refrigerator.

For there's not that much likable about Pepper's itself. The atmosphere's sort of nondescript -- nothing particularly pleasant about it. Aside from the ribs -- and good, heaping sandwich versions of the sliced beef and pork barbecue -- there's nothing memorable on the menu.

Nachos and french fried potatoes, which should be terrific at a place like this, are just okay. The chili's only decent. The onion rings are bad (we would bet a dinner that they come straight from a freezer box).

You can help yourself to a taco salad bar, which is pleasant enough if you like bean salads and chili. Forget the corn dog.

There isn't much else on the menu. Pepper's serves homemade pecan pie and a Texas cake specialty, chocolate sheet cake covered with a thick layer of nutty frosting -- good but not great. But the desserts really are homemade.

On a recent night the waitress told us she had to call the owner's mother-in-law, who lives in back of the restaurant, to ask her to bring over another piece of cake.