Tuesday, August 30, 2011

C.G. Hooks Eatery – White Bear Lake, MN

Please note, we are changing the name of Rib Quest 2011 to Bar-B-Quest 2011. So please don’t be confused by our nomenclature (yeah, nomenclature – I said it).

Bar-B-Quest 2011 Eastern Conference contender C.G. Hooks Eatery was where HotGirlsBrother and I needed to go. We decided to meet at C.G. Hooks on a Sunday since it’s waaaay too far for us to drive on our lunch break, and too far for a casual drive across town during the week. You need time to relax and leisurely drive yourself up to White Bear Lake for something like this. And of course, you’ll get to drive through Gem Lake, MN – population 441 – which is a bonus, I feel. We apparently reminded Low-Vee at too late an hour, since she freaked out when she realized she forgot we had planned on doing it this evening.

The first thing I’ll say is that this place is pretty easy to find, but terribly difficult to ACTUALLY find. You can see C.G. Hooks, but you get caught up in this maze of one-way roads and keep driving past it. In fact, HotGirlsBrother drove by the place twice and ended up driving the wrong way down the one way to get to the parking lot of this place. Hilarious.

The second thing I’ll say about this place is we were both irritated about the convoluted roads trying to get here and the GPS issues and all that. It put us in a slightly foul mood. In all honesty, we were hoping this place was going to be terrible so we’d never have to drive out here again. It wasn’t a good start and we hadn’t made it in the door yet.

Once inside, the girl at the counter asked us if we were there for ice cream or to eat? Odd question, but with all the ice cream cases at the counter, I guess it made sense now. We said we were eating. Next question: are you taking it with you, or eating it here? Eating it here. Next question: are you eating inside or outside? Inside. Are you eating it here, or over at Tally’s? Here. We think these girls are used to this line of questioning since they all remained super chipper (without being annoying) during the process. I’m assuming this happens a lot.

We grabbed a seat at one of the tables and scanned the menu she had given us. We usually get a half slab and some sides for each of us, but we noticed there was a “Sweetheart Special” which was a full slab and four sides for slightly less than two individual half slabs. Plus it sounded romantic - hahahaha. HotGirlsBrother was also excited he could drink an IPA while eating his ribs. His excitement level increased exponentially when they brought him an Odell’s IPA. Bonus for him. Also very amusing, since the girl ran across the street to the bar and had grabbed him a beer from there. Also, bonus for me, since they have 1919 Root Beer (and I clearly hadn’t had enough at the Minnesota State Fair).

The inside of the place is very oddly decorated. Almost like a former Jimmy Buffet fan had emptied out his garage. Some wooden deck chairs, a bar made out of a surfboard, lots of bright colors. There are also pictures of the owner’s kids, Gavin and Connar, on various things and a sign that says “Gavin & Connar’s Surf Shack”, so I’m thinking the confusing branding issue with the multiple locations is a little disconcerting for a first timer. We weren’t even sure we were in the right restaurant for part of the time. You’ll see the world’s skinniest Coca Cola refrigerator in the corner of the restaurant (it’s like a foot and a half wide), and then right next to it is a Coca Cola refrigerator missing one door and holding all of the tiny bottles of Barefoot wine (this may also double as an air conditioner when it gets warm outside). On top of all this is the VERY generous use of the word “Spagnanamous”. You’ll see what we’re talking about when you go there.

Look at me, I’m rambling and we haven’t even gotten our food yet. Sorry. I’m just trying to set the stage.

The place had a heavy stream of people coming in and picking up orders or standing around waiting to pick up orders. Some people seemed new and confused like we were, but the girls behind the counter made sure everyone was taken care of. VERY good customer service from these ladies. We actually didn’t wait too long to get our food, which was nice, since we were starving.

The girl had gotten our order mixed up with a to-go order, so she apologized when she brought our bag of food over to us. She immediately went back and grabbed forks and knives and some dishes for us to put our food in. She again apologized and we told her it wasn’t a problem at all. We would be just fine eating it like this.

It looked pretty good. The ribs weren’t cut into individual pieces, but we weren’t at all worried about that. HotGirlsBrother and I share very well. The ribs are a dry rub, so they bring out a small bucket of sauce if you need it. The other sides seemed a little small, but not enough to think we got ripped off.

Both HotGirlsBrother and I had commented how we were hoping it wasn’t going to be good so we didn’t have to trek al the way out here again. But when he took the first bite of the beans, I heard “Uh, oh.” He meant it in a good way, since these beans were really good. Amazingly good, in fact. Sadly, these were the best baked beans we’ve had since we started this challenge. They had all kinds of different sized and kinds of beans in there, as well. Giant beans and regular baked beans. Plus the sauce they were in was fantastic. They were awesome.

The coleslaw was the next one down. HotGirlsBrother is more of a coleslaw critic than I am, and he said the first bite was a little dry. He likes his saucy. I tried a bit and agreed with him, especially when we said the slaw was a tiny bit bland. Maybe could have used more vinegar or something. Once we got to the bottom of the small dish, there was more sauciness and more flavor, but the first few bites didn’t impress.

We were bummed to find out the place only has one BBQ sauce for the ribs. The website had us looking forward to four different crazy flavored sauces which had gotten great reviews. Super bummer. But thankfully, the sauce they brought us was really good. I always try the dry rub ribs without sauce at first to make sure the meat is good quality and tastes good. This was delicious. The meat had a good char on the outside, but was really tender on the inside and fell right off the bone. Great smoke flavor and good texture to the meat. Just a tiny bit of cartilage on a couple pieces and not much fat. Really good quality ribs. When coupled with the sauce, it was pretty amazing. Both HotGirlsBrother and I were pretty impressed – also mad because now we want to come back here with Low-Vee, just so she can try them. This place is actually VERY worth the drive out to White Bear Lake.

I had forgotten about the cornbread we ordered as a side. The menu said it was a “fishy” cornbread and I had no idea what that meant. I was also dreading it, since I'm not a huge fan of fish (aside from sushi). Once I opened up the aluminum foil the cornbread was wrapped in, I realized what they had meant. It’s SHAPED like a fish. Wurd.Oh, and by the way, it’s the best cornbread we’ve had since the challenge started, as well. Really sweet with some sugar crystallization and very moist. Fantastic cornbread and I’m glad HotGirlsBrother doesn’t eat cornbread, so I got most of it!

While we were finishing up our meal, the server girl came over to make sure everything was ok. We told her we are trying to find the best ribs in the twin Cities and this place just ranked REALLY well. In fact, we had just been cursing this place and complaining about how awesome our meal was and that now we’d have to come out here a bunch. Then a couple of tables who had overheard us say that struck up conversations with us. SUPER awesome people (regulars) eating here tonight and telling us all about this place. Tanya and her family (Tanya has already e-mailed me to tell me the open faced pulled sandwich is fantastic!) told us the place had recently expanded to include the dining room, where before you’d have to take it to go. And on Wednesdays, you can listen to live music across the street at Tally’s Dockside and they serve the ribs right there on the dock for you. That sounds AMAZING. I guess the guy had just recently gotten a liquor license to sell beer and wine, which was awesome for us, but they also told us he had to add a urinal in the restroom to be up to code enough to get the liquor license. I think it was worth it, but I know that kind of plumbing can be expensive. So if you go there, please drink a lot and make it worth his while.

The regulars told us about the photos with the owner’s kids and that’s how some of the decorations got in there. Another table told us all about the sauces they used to have and how bummed he was that they were gone. When we asked the server girls about the sauces, they said the cook had left and the owner decided not to continue the sauces. I think it’s a bummer, but totally understandable, especially if the sauces were that guy’s recipe or something. Thankfully, he picked a good sauce to stick with, so I won’t complain THAT much about it. We were very happy with it.

The regulars also told us this place needs lots of customers in the winter to keep it open. It sounds (and looks) like this place does great business in the summer (which we saw form the heavy traffic flow), but I think we’ll have to round up a ton of people to come out and eat here regularly in the winter months.

The ice cream portion of the building has some fun flavors (I stopped looking when I saw they had cookie dough ice cream), so make sure you get that, especially if you have room for a 1919 root beer float.

Well, HotGirlsBrother and I totally didn’t expect this place to be a contender, but based on this particular showing, it is going to do VERY well in this Bar-B-Quest Challenge. We were thrilled with it and are looking forward to coming back here. I also realize that D.Rough’s family lives very near this place, so I think we’ll have to ramp up our visits to their various homes.

Top 5 things about C.G. Hooks Eatery
1. Baked Beans
2. Corn Bread
3. Fantastic Ribs and sauces
4. Amazing people working there, and also dining there
5. 1919 Root Beer (for me). Odell’s IPA for HotGirlsBrother.

Bottom 5 things
1. The convoluted road trying to get to the place
2. I don’t think sitting at the end of the surfboard where it’s leaning pretty heavily would be the most comfortable seat in the house – just a hunch I have
3. Still a tiny bit bummed about the adventurous sauces (Still posted on their website) not being available
4. This place isn’t near the Twin Cities proper. But it’s worth it!
5. The inside is oddly decorated, but you warm up to it after a bit.


Rib Quest 2011

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