Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Anchor Fish and Chips – Minneapolis, MN

An old friend from back in my band-playing days moved to Minneapolis. I’ve been remiss about hanging out with her, even though she’s awesome (I will divulge she has ditched me at numerous concerts we were both supposed to be going to, but that’s beside the point). She invited me to dinner at a place I’ve heard about from a number of my friends. Her boyfriend likes to eat there more than just about any other place, which is right in line with everything my friends told me about it.

I met them at The Anchor and we waited a bit for a table. The place isn’t very large and there are a ton of people wanting to eat there. I was about to find out why. Once we got a table, I scoured the menu. I had heard about the helicopter burger from people and kept looking at it, while trying to decide if I should try one of the other amazing sounding things they have. I couldn’t resist. I ordered the helicopter burger and a Strongbow. It was going to be a sleep-inducing meal, for sure.

The inside of the place is dark and warm, not stuffy or old-fashioned. There’s a bar, but you can’t stand at it – you have to sit next to it. An interesting layout, for sure. And you have to order food if you’re going to order drinks. This isn’t a stand-around-and-hang-out kind of bar. It’s a restaurant that serves food. Delicious food.

The food came out pretty quickly and I was really liking what I saw. The Helicopter burger is a delicious slab of hamburger, covered with Irish cheddar, ham, and a fried egg. It also comes with thick cut house fries which you can get either gravy or a curry dipping sauce for. I got to try both dipping sauces since we had them both on our table. They were both amazing. Neither one was better than the other and I was realllly pleased with both of them. Perfect.

The burger itself was juicy and moist, without being greasy and slathering the basket with all kinds of grease. The cheese really popped and the ham fell apart in your mouth, so you didn’t drag off the whole piece of ham with the first bite – something I’m concerned about with ham on my burgers. The meat of the burger was perfectly medium and really delicious. The egg made it a little sloppy to eat, but I was kind of surprised how well it stayed together and didn’t get all that messy.

No wonder people rave about this place so much. The food is comfort food – burgers, fish and chips (obviously, based on its name) and other British delights, and a couple of fun items thrown in just to keep you on your toes. I’m thrilled I got to eat here and am now looking for any excuse I can to come here again. It isn’t close to me, at all, but I’d be willing to make the drive there some night if someone wanted to. HINT HINT.

There’s not much to do a top 5 on, but suffice it to say, the burger and fry dipping sauces would be on the list.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Key’s Café at the Foshay Tower – Minneapolis, MN

When M.Giant invited me to lunch on my birthday, I didn’t realize it would be just he and I having a romantic lunch of breakfast foods man-to-man style. That being said, we had a blast. He had some sort of coupon he needed to use or lose, so we met downtown and made it happen. Key's is in the historic Foshay Tower downtown - which I know absolutely nothing about, other than it USED to be the tallest building downtown. I think that's hilarious they're still hanging on to that fact, since you can tell by all the skyscrapers dwarfing it, that it isn't even a blip on the map anymore. If you want to find out more about the Foshay, call your local library. They'll be glad to help.

If you’ve been to downtown Minneapolis, you know there’s no free parking anywhere. Thankfully there are hundred of parking ramps strewn about town that you can decide between. The issue with this is that you’ll never park in the same one twice and always be confused where the random fire escape staircases and creaky elevators will spit you out in the city. Think of it like a little adventure. I myself, got mixed up in the parking ramp and went straight to the top and then back down to the bottom to the cashier in under 120 seconds. The lady laughed at me and told me just go grab another ticket and actually park this time. Hilarious.

Once I got out of the elevator, I didn’t even know which building I was in, so I just walked in as straight a line as I could, hoping to be jettisoned out onto the street somewhere where I could GPS where the heck this place was. Thankfully, the gauntlet I was required to walk through spit me out at the entrance to Keys’ after walking through a bank and a hotel lobby (I’m not kidding).

The inside of Key’s is pretty nice. It caters to the fancy downtown crowd AND they have a full bar. Nicely done. I grabbed a table and waited for M.Giant to show up. I didn’t wait long, so I didn’t even have a chance to scour the menu for lunch items. IT was a good thing I didn’t since his coupon was for breakfast items only (and orange juice) – weird coupon, but valuable in many situations before noon, I suppose. There was an equally weird maximum on the coupon that coincided with the most expensive item on the menu – that’s what I was getting, obviously. You have to make it count. It also helped that it sounded delicious – A Cajun spiced pork chop, two eggs, hashbrowns and toast. Perfect. I asked the lady if I could substitute sweet potato tater tots for the hashbrowns and she told me she could talk to her people and try.

The food arrived in a reasonable amount of time, so no complaints there, even as busy as the place was (and it was busy). If you don’t like pulp in your orange juice, don’t order it here. They’re serious about fresh squeezed and it’s pretty thick – which I love, so suck on THAT, Tropicana. The toast was really delicious and came with home made strawberry jam. Also top notch and fun for my mouth. The eggs were perfectly cooked over medium and worked out well with the toast dipping activity. The Cajun pork chop had great flavor. I thought it would be a little spicier, but it was just seasoned. Not much kick to it, but a delicious cut of meat and a pretty good seasoning.

The best part, which I’m embarrassed to admit, was the sweet potato tater tots. Wow, they were like state fair candy. I thought they’d be good, but there were REALLY good. I need to figure out how to make there or where to buy them. I loved them.

And I got to try a bite or two of M.Giant’s breakfast – he had some sort of omelet with cream cheese, garlic and spinach in it. One of the best omelet flavors I’ve ever had. I might start making this at home. I was really impressed.

The whole experience was awesome. Yes, partly because M.Giant paid for brunch-fast, but also because I don’t get enough quality time with him – TOTALLY my fault, not his. I’m sure I talked his ear off and mostly about food, which makes me sound like a fat kid, but not being in school or three bands, all I can talk about is wedding stuff – which he’s been done with for hundreds of years and likely doesn’t care. So I’ve got food conversations bottled up inside of me to bore him with. Thankfully, he’s a trooper and puts up with it. Plus I gave him a huge slice of D.Rough’s limoncello raspberry cake to take home. I’m a good briber!

Thanks for birthday brunch-fast, M.Giant!!!!

Top 5 things about Key’s Café
1. Sweet potato tater tots
2. Omelet with spinach, cream cheese, and garlic
3. Cajun pork chop
4. Real orange juice
5. Homemade strawberry jam

Bottom 5 things
1. The place fills up fast around lunch
2. It’s really hard to leave the place without an entire cake shoved under your arm as a snack
3. The café has at LEAST three entrances that I picked up on. Some of which are unmarked
4. The orange juice tasted funny… oh wait, that’s because I didn’t put vodka in it. hahahaha
5. Parking fiasco – totally my own fault, but it was still a little ridiculous


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hibachi Grill & Supreme Buffet – West St. Paul, MN

D.Rough and I have driven by this place a ton of times since it opened a couple of months back. Ever since, we’ve seen a lot of cars in the parking lot – a LOT. It has to be good right? We looked online to see what people were saying about. Some didn’t have great things to say about much else, aside from the sushi. Word on the street was that the amount you pay is absolutely worth the amount and quality of the sushi you will get at the buffet there. D.Rough and I were not in a cooing mood, so we thought we’d give it a shot.

The inside of the place is very bright and welcoming. And surprisingly, there were a ton of people inside – more than we even expected, since we didn’t realize how expansive the inside of the place really is. And a very diverse crowd of people. All types of ethnicities, party sizes, body types, social class, and every other combination of characteristics you can think of are here. That bodes well in our book.

We got seated and immediately set out for the appetizers and the sushi. I started with some cream cheese puffs, bacon-wrapped crab sticks, fried egg roll, fried spring roll, and a bunch of sushi. You have to get your wasabi and ginger at the end of the sushi bar and bring it back to your table, so don’t forget to do that. I think I did pretty well this first pass. Actually everything on the plate was better than edible. I wasn’t expecting much going into this whole event, but I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of sushi and the quality of the appetizers. Nicely done.

I was sort of surprised most of the dishes appear to have some Asian influence. I say this because the last giant chi-buff I went to had all kinds of American dishes on it. Of course, this place does have pizza, cheese sticks, roast beef, and a couple of other things, it didn’t’ appear to be the main emphasis of it all. We opted not to try the Mongolian style area where you pick your ingredients and have the cooks stir fry it. Maybe next time.

Now… time to try some entrée-style dishes. Sesame chicken, black pepper beef, orange pork, green beans, champagne chicken, lo mein, rice noodles, a pan fried dumpling, and a cheese stick, just to say I ate one. The cheese stick was pretty …uh… not good (trying to be nice). I immediately warned D.Rough she shouldn’t even try it. She was sorry she didn’t listen to me this time around. The chicken dishes were just alright. Nothing jumped out at me as awesome and the same went for the other things on this plate. The orange pork had a weird after taste and the beef was a little stringy for my liking. The noodles ended up being dry, somehow, but had a decent flavor to them. The dumpling was slightly better than average and I thought about going back to get more. The green beans were the best thing on this plate this time around. Very flavorful without being greasy or heavy. I really liked these.

I went back for round three and loaded back up on sushi – sadly, I was excited about sushi and forgot to take the photo, so all I got was a few random left-overs at the end of it all when I remembered. I did get a couple vegetarian dishes, since the green beans were good. I thought maybe they excelled in vegetable cooking and they surprisingly did alright. The broccoli dish I got was quite good, as I recall. And of course, more sushi. Hahahahaha.

I needed to wind down my eating, so I went up for some desserts. I got a small slice of cheesecake, which wasn’t the greatest – might just not have been cold enough in the container to make it firm. And of course, the soft serve ice cream machine always finished a chi-buff experience on a good note for me. Especially when they have sprinkles! I got a giant oreo, as well, but that wasn’t for me – I’m not an oreo guy.

Overall, I was really impressed with the sushi, especially for buffet-style sushi. It’s definitely worth the money to eat a bunch of sushi there, I assure you. The appetizers were good and also the vegetable items were pretty good. The meat entrée dishes were a little bland and didn’t seem to be top quality. That being said, I think D.Rough and I both agreed we’d go back here when we needed a sushi fix close to our house and didn’t want to go any place fancy. Again, totally worth it and the people working there are really nice.

Top 5 things about the Hibachi Grill & Supreme Buffet
1. Sushi
2. Cream cheese puffs
3. Bacon-wrapped crab
4. Green beans
5. Brocolli dish

Bottom 5 things
1. Cheese stick
2. Orange pork
3. Black pepper beef
4. Dry noodles (twss)
5. Sadface on the cheesecake

1201 S. Robert Street
West. St. Paul, MN 55118

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Rooster’s BBQ Deli & Catering – St. Paul, MN (Bar-B-Quest 2011)

The Rib Quest continues… Next on the list was Rooster’s.
We’d been to this place before and had decent luck here, so we had a good feeling about it. LowVee and HotGirlsBrother were stuck in traffic when I arrived, so I ordered them a surprise batch of deep fried cheese curds. Just as they came out of the fryer, LowVee and HotGirlsBrother walked in the door. Perfect timing. The cheese curds are delicious, by the way. Just order them while you’re spending time trying to decide what to order. All the menus are on the wall (they’re in print form, as well, but it’s not as much fun as staring at the wall is), so you get a good idea how many things this place offers.

We all got a half slab of ribs (spicy), which comes with French fries and coleslaw. We also got a pint of baked beans to split. There were really nice people working the counter were cracking up that LowVee couldn’t decide on her drink choice (she really did make it harder than she needed to – twss). We had already finished the cheese curds, so we made sure we knew the standings of the rib quest and who was going to be the next on the chopping block.

The food arrived in multiple waves, sides first. We dug into the fries and were fairly happy with them. Nothing special on these fries, no magic dust, just a tiny bit of salt, and done, but not crispy or anything. These were pretty standard fries. The coleslaw was also decent. I was amused to see the cabbage cut into very very very tiny pieces, so it was more cabbage shrapnel, than slaw. The flavor was decent, though it could have had more flavor, as opposed to just the mayo it was in. The roll was just a standard roll. Nothing too fancy, although it did come with a little container of something buttery tasting – not exactly butter – but buttery tasting, as indicated on the packaging.

The ribs arrived and we were impressed with how they looked. These large slabs of meat were sitting in a pool of delicious looking BBQ sauce. The sign on the wall talks about how the ribs were a Memphis style rib – dry rubbed and smoked, and THEN you add the sauce after they’re cooked (and then apparently the sauce is also poured into the bottom of the dish used to serve the ribs). Apparently, this was a pretty rare occurrence back in the day. We started in on the ribs. They were much more tough than we expected them to be. Not sure if they were cooked to short at a high temperature or just some tough meat, but I won’t pretend to know, either. They were pretty tough to get through. It took a lot of work to get most of the meat off the bone.

You can tell how much meat was left on the bone by this amazing rib bone-quet I created with my leftover coleslaw bowl. Yeah, I’m creative like that. There was a lot of meat on the bone and not much gristle, but you really had to put in some significant minutes to get the meat. Sad but true. The BBQ sauce in the bottom of the paper boats these things arrived in was good for dipping French fries into, but that was about all the use we got out of the sauce at this place. We were a little disappointed with the ribs here, to be honest. We remember them being a lot better tasting last time, with much less effort, and having more kick to them.

We were discussing this, in fact, when we realized we hadn’t even cracked open the container of baked beans. I scooped some out first and reported back to the other two: wowwwwwwww, these beans are sweet. Not a little bit sweet, but like they dumped a ton of sugar in them. And not delicious brown sugar. Like the white sweet kind. HotGirlsBrother couldn’t even eat them (he tried a bite and didn’t finish it) and LowVee didn’t even try after our raving reviews. Not a fan.

We were more than a little disappointed with Rooster’s showing. They had won some awards for heir food back in 2010 and many years before that, but tonight they weren’t “on”. Bummer for us. But it made our decision to move Rack Shack up in the bracket. Rack Shack would have won anyway, unless Rooster’s put up a game changing performance. But alas, Rack Shack moves ahead.

Here’s the updated bracket:

Top 5 things about Roosters BBQ Deli and Catering
1. Deep fried cheese curds
2. Super friendly folks working
3. Very diverse menu
4. Sauce in the bottom of the boat was excellent match for the fries
5. They had Dew

Bottom 5 things
1. Tough rib meat
2. Painfully sweet baked beans (we’ll henceforth refer to them as Wonka Beans)
3. Boring unseasoned coleslaw
4. French fries were underwhelming
5. The sit down Galaga game was unplugged… sigh.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Scott Ja-Mama’s BBQ – Minneapolis, MN

Our next adventure for the Bar-B-Quest 2012 took us to Scott Ja-Mama’s. If you recall, in a few previous posts, our little group had trouble even acquiring ribs here. But they were on the list and we were determined to make it happen this time.

When we got there, we were informed someone had reserved the one table they have in the place. Totally not a big deal to us, since HotGirlsBrother lives close. We told the super nice lady we’d just get them to go and head home to eat them (even though this means watching American Idol while eating ribs… uggggghhhh). We ordered up our usual items (half slabs for all of us and coleslaw). Instead of fries, this thing comes with a twice baked potato and a dinner roll. Awesome.

While we were waiting, the lady told us to grab a soda out of the fridge and relax. They had Super Chill soda, made by the company that laid me off a while back, which I actually love. Super Chill? Supper Sweet. Done. Cream Soda… in my mouth. The inside of the restaurant is covered wall-to-wall with memorabilia and just… well… stuff. There’s not really a theme, but if there were, it might be golf, wrestling, and hoarders. Just saying. You could stare at the walls for the entire time you’re waiting for food and never see the same thing twice. Crazy and disconcerting, but a little bit awesome.

We kept ourselves amused by playing various games they have laying around. There’s a snow globe with a golf ball inside. The object is to get the golf ball to sit back up on the tee that’s inside. Not an easy feat, however HotGirlsBrother got all Tiger Woods on it and managed to get the ball back on the tee. Then, the lady broke out this swinging hook game where you try to loop the hook. It’s easier to explain when you see it. Swing the hoop on the string and try to catch it on the hook. The lady nailed it – first try. She’s apparently done this a few times. HotGirlsBrother steps up and nails it on the second try. Then, LowVee killed the better part of 10-minutes making it look terribly difficult. When she finally hooked it, there was much celebrating.

As we were getting our food, the whole family showed up (they were the ones who had reserved the table) for one of the family’s birthday party. Seriously, this family is super nice and just good folks. Reminds me of my Alabama relatives.

We took our food and headed back to HotGirlsBrother’s place to dine. I snapped a quick photo before digging in.
The twice baked potato was actually really awesome. If you’re going to replace French fries with something, go with this. It was awesome. The coleslaw was also pretty good. Better than a lot of places. HotGirlsBrother complained that it was too black peppery for his taste, but both Low-Vee and I liked it for that very reason. We thought it was delicious. The roll was ust a plain dinner roll – nothing fancy. We moved on to the ribs.

The ribs had a decent flavor to them, but they were a little tough. You really had to work to get them off the bones. There wasn’t a lot of gristle or anything like that, so that worked out well, but they weren’t tender at all. Again, the flavor of them was really quite good, but we all got a little frustrated when the ribs turned into higher labor foods than we care to eat (that being said, we ate every single bit of them). There wasn’t any spice to mine, like the other two mentioned, so I’m not sure if I got a mild batch or if I’m just more intolerant to spice than the other two.

All in all, a decent rib experience, but nothing groundbreaking. We love the people there. They’re super nice and there’s all kinds of things to keep you busy while you wait for your ribs. In the grand scheme of the brackets system, unfortunately, there can only be one winner and one loser. Scott Ja-Mama’s was going up against C&G Smoking BBQ. I think it was pretty unanimous that C&G’s gave a better rib experience. Which means C&G went up against Baldy’s BBQ. Baldy’s blows C&G out of the water in this case. Baldy’s, despite their location closing in Minneapolis has really upped the game for ribs for us. Both ribs and sides. They’re going to be a contender.

Here’s the updated bracket for your viewing pleasure. I think next on the slate is Rooster’s!!! We’ll keep you posted.

Top 5 things about Scott Ja-Mama’s
1. The super amazing people that work there
2. Twice Baked Potato
3. Rib meat flavor
4. Coleslaw was peppery and delicious
5. Super Chill soda

Bottom 5 things
1. The ribs were tough to chew
2. Disappointed with the heat level. I remember it being much spicier
3. The place is REALLY small inside, so if there’s more than three or four people inside, you won’t be able to move
4. You could search all day on the walls and not find an inch more to put something else up
5. Again, I was forced to watch American Idol (though I did get to see the girl pass out and fall face first off the stage – bonus)


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

El Meson – Minneapolis, MN

D.Rough and I like to celebrate things with nice food. It was our anniversary, so I planned a nice evening of fun for us. She has been talking about trying paella for months now (she’s never had it), so I thought it might be nice to eat at El Meson – they have amazing paella. She was totally down for a nice night on the town.

We arrived at our reservation time and got seated right away. The place is dark inside, and there was a decent crowd of people inside – not packed, but there was a nice buzz in the room. D.Rough had looked at the website before we left and noticed it was happy hour. There were all kinds of specials on appetizers and cheap wines. And we had made it to the restaurant just in time to capitalize on the happy hour deals.

We started with a bottle of Pacific Peak Cab-Sav (not something we usually get, but sounded good for some reason), and some delicious sounding appetizers. We got the Aceitunas (a Spanish olive sampler) and the Cantapalitos (grilled mini chorizo sausages with artichoke hearts and onions in a sherry vinaigrette). It took us a little bit longer to decide on the food, so we just took our time and waited for that food to come out.

Thankfully, they bring out a really nice toasted bread with butter on it for you to snack on. By the way, this bread is super addictive. We tried to stop eating it a few times and ended up going through multiple baskets of it… whoops.

I’m not an olive person – I never have been. That being said, I’ve found that if I don’t get the traditional olives, I can eat them and enjoy eating them, for the most part. I think of it like Budweiser – lots of people drink it, but the snooty people with taste think it’s terrible. Fancy beers make cultured people happy. Maybe it’s the same way with olives for me. The olive plate was delicious. Yes, there were pits in the olives you have to eat around, but the flavors of the different varieties of olives were really awesome. They were served in a sort of vinegar-y celery bed which may have also included lemon rinds. We aren’t even sure, but we ate it right up. The balsamic reduction they had put over the top of it all just made the things taste even better.

The Cantapalitos weren’t at all what we had expected. It’s basically a sort of sautéed onion salad. Onions do bad things to me, so I eat around them. Fortunately, the sausages themselves were awesome. These things aren’t cocktail weenies, they’re quality chorizo sausages, just tiny versions of them. The artichoke hearts were sautéed in the sherry vinaigrette and D.Rough and I ended up fighting over them. They were also great. So aside from the huge amount of onions (which D.Rough didn’t mind), the dish was fantastic.

We had finally decided what we wanted to eat. I was determined to get the paella, but so many other things on the menu sounded too delicious. We decided to save the paella night for when we go out with TheDoctor and HB for our double date night. I opted for the Carne a la Brava and D. Rough got the Pescado Caribe. Again, we turned to the bread to carry us through to the entrees. Eventually we just had to push it away from us – it is really quite good.

The food arrived just as the place got REALLY busy – not much of a wait time, which was nice since we were starving. The Pescado Caribe is explained like this: A pan-seared filet of grouper encrusted in Jamaican seasonings, served with a mofongo of yucca with Chicaron (smoked bacon) in a lemon butter sauce, topped with mango salsa. It was a really nice piece of fish. Not hugely flavorful on its own, but when combined with the mango salsa and the lemon butter sauce that was very simply poured into the middle of the plate, it really popped. Nice and light and the pan-searing gave it some nice crunch. The mofongo on the side of the plate was also brilliant. Sort of like mashed potatoes with much more texture (mashed fried plantains, actually) with brilliant pieces of bacon in it. I could eat this all day. The greens were simply prepared and good, so nothing to complain about on this plate at all.

The Carne a la Brava is explained like this on the menu: Piementon crusted beef medallions serves with a Valencia saffron rice, braised fingerling potatoes, sautéed artichoke hearts and chorizo, in a tempranillo demi glaze. The rice was this really creamy and almost cheesy side dish. If you could turn the best fancy macaroni and cheese into a rice dish, you would create this. Really rich and heavy and rib-sticking. Perfect, in other words. I assumed this would be the best thing I ate this evening. I was wrong. The fingerling potatoes were perfectly sautéed with artichoke hearts and chorizo sausage. Again, D.Rough and I fought over this dish. I will make the prediction that she and I will have many years of fighting over sausages. This moved slightly above the saffron rice, but both were stellar.

The meat I had on this plate was some of the best meat I’ve ever had. I didn’t know you could make meat this soft and still not chewy. It was … uh… luscious. I can’t even explain how melty this beef was. It was like someone had soaked the meat in butter and it was dissolving the meat in your mouth before you even chewed it. Even D.Rough thought this was a game-changing piece of beef. It was perfectly cooked medium, so you could see the pink insides without it being bloody and the outside has a nice sear on it without being charred at all. I would recommend this to anyone who loves steak or chops. It’s fantastic.

Overall, this was an amazing meal. We commented on the old-school presentation of the food. We’ve been to a lot of places with flashy modern plating techniques, which are nice, but this rustic feel works well with the ambience and the food. I sound super snooty talking about plating, but it’s true – we did discuss it like a couple of d-bags. You should really go here as soon as you can. They have happy hour every day and also flamenco music and dancers on Saturday nights. If you come for the paella, be prepared to wait while they cook it (about 45 minutes). But if you get there in time for happy hour, you’ll be able to much on delicious appetizers and drink cheap wine.

We wanted dessert, but we were in the mood to move around a bit. So we hopped in the car and headed to another destination. It’s our anniversary – time to live a little.

Top 5 things about El Meson
1. Pork medallions
2. Fingerling potatoes, artichoke hearts, and chorizo
3. Pan-seared grouper
4. Saffron rice
5. Happy hour specials are REALLY amazing

Bottom 5 things
1. Aside from my own personal issues with onions, this place doesn’t have a single thing wrong with it. Truly.


Monday, February 6, 2012

I'm not killing myself, mom

I know it LOOKS like I've been on an all BBQ diet the past few posts, but I assure you, I'm eating other things. Green things (and red and orange and brown things). Just wanted to ease my mother's terror at the past few posts...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Rack Shack BBQ – Burnsville, MN (Bar-B-Quest 2012)

HotGirlsBrother sent me a panicky message about his coupon for Rack Shack expiring in a day and we had to go immediately – which I had no problem with. In our haste, we forgot to contact Low-Vee and verify she could come. Our mistake, but we went anyway to check out this place that a friend of ours said was quite good. It’s in a strip mall in a suburb, which is always a good sign in Minnesota, for some reason.

The inside is pretty spacious and there is a huge menu on the wall with tons of delicious-sounding items. We scoped it out, but since we generally stick with what’s good, we knew we were getting a slab of ribs. So the only thing we needed to haggle over were the sides. The beans and coleslaw are pretty standard at most places, so we ordered those with our meal. The new also threw in a side of cornbread and a side of potato salad. The ribs come dry, but Rack Shack has an awesome display of BBQ sauces along one wall for you to choose from. When I first walked in, I caught HotGirlsBrother sampling each of them on the end of a fork while waiting for me. They also have a ghost pepper sauce for those people who have no regard for their own taste buds. I’m sure it’s a draw for some people, but I can’t handle THAT kind of heat. I’ll stick to the other hot BBQ sauces they have. The guy behind the counter was really helpful and explained all of thise to us. He knows his ribs and his sauces.

We grabbed our drinks (they have Dew) and checked out the sauces. There is a large sign right above the table of sauces that explains what each one is. VERY brilliant idea. The food showed up pretty quickly on a plastic cafeteria tray – my favorite rib presentation ever. The guy then came back with some plates, so we didn’t have to eat off the same tray – he could tell we weren’t savages or anything.

The sides first: The baked beans were good. Actually very colorful with a variety of bean types, but the flavor wasn’t overly awesome. They were just good beans. No complaints but nothing to rave about. The coleslaw was a little mayo-y for me. I know there’s a fine line between mayo-y and creamy, but it was about all you could taste in it. It could have used a kick more vinegar or seasoning or something. Again, good, but not stellar. The corn bread had good flavor, but was pretty dry. It was so dry, it was difficult to sop up the left over BBQ sauce on my plate, which is a sad thing. The redeeming factor was the potato salad. Huge chunks of red potatoes and lots of creamy-ness. This was top notch stuff. We both really liked the potato salad, and it might be slightly better than Baldy’s, which we didn’t think possible. But it is awesome, to say the least.

The ribs: These ribs are pretty darn good. Much better than we expected. Lots of meat on the bones and really good flavor. They meat came right off the bones when you bit into them, so it was easy to use the variety of sauces on hand to experiment with which ones you liked the best (or which combinations, as the case might be for HotGirlsBrother – he’s like a BBQ chemical engineer – no offense, EJens). There was a good smoke flavor, without being fake or overwhelming and there was almost no cartilage to work around. We both said even the end pieces were really delicious and those are usually pretty worthless. I ended up liking the Kans City Spice and the Savannah Heat the most, although the St. Paulie Sauce has a great flavor. Try them all!

While eating, I kept staring at the small menu they have on the table. Based on the food items alone, I will come back here. There’s a bacon melt that looks amazing and some sort of mac and cheese with meat concoction that looks mind-blowing. I can’t wait to come back here for lunch sometime. Luckily, it’s REALLY close to my house, so I will get to rub it in to HotGirlsBrother when I come back here and try everything we saw pictures of on the menu. They also have what’s called the Original Hobo – it’s a baked potato with almost everything no the menu included on/in it. Seriously. They top it off with mac and cheese, more meat, a scoop of coleslaw, and then cover the whole thing in cheese sauce. It looks incredible and I can’t wait to eat it. IF you eat three of them in half hour, you win a $100 gift certificate and a t-shirt. I can’t even imagine eating two. They look enormous.

This place put up a solid fight in the Bar-B-Quest. They’re up against Rooster’s this round, so we will keep you posted how Rack Shack does. This place is delicious. Here’s the bracket, as it stands today:

Top 5 things about Rack Shack
1. Potato Salad
2. Ribs were delicious
3. Lots of sauces to choose from AND explanations of what each tastes like
4. Tons of other delicious-sounding menu items
5. They serve beer, wine, and Pepsi products

Bottom 5 things
1. Corn bread was dry
2. Beans looked pretty but were just alright
3. Coleslaw needed some zip
4. No wet-naps, sorry Low-Vee
5. I wish I could eat more than I already do


Saturday, February 4, 2012

C&G Smoking BBQ – Minneapolis, MN (Bar-B-Quest 2012)

HotGirlsBrother and I have both been to this BBQ place before, and both of us were considerate enough to NOT get ribs while we were here. We save those things for group outings, of course. I did a quick and dirty review of it when I went there with my dad, but I was realllly looking forward to trying the ribs here. In fact, Minneapolis Magazine ranked them one of the top 10 BBQ places in the state. That’s quite an honor.

HotGirlsBrother picked up a couple of slabs for us on his way home from work and Low-Vee was able to meet us at the house for dinner. I’m glad she’s back in action! HotGirlsBrother also got some fries, baked beans, and coleslaw for all of us. C&G also has what’s called hot water bread. You don’t ask how it’s made, you just eat it.

We all arrived at the house and started divvy-ing things up. It’s difficult to split three things four ways, but we made due with it all. HotGirlsBrother was also awesome enough to score some Dew for him and I, so it made the experience even better.

I’ll start with the sides. The baked beans are the best I think I’ve ever had anywhere. There are crazy pieces of meat in the sauce they’re in and they just taste amazing. I really love the beans they have here and I will put them up against anyone you suggest. I think they’ll win every time. The coleslaw is pretty good. It’s got some tang to it – not necessarily bite from vinegar, just tang. Hard to explain, but it is kind of good. The fries were really soggy, but still managed to taste delicious. I wonder if they’d be crispier if you ate inside the restaurant (there are a handful of tables inside C&G’s). If they were crispy, they’d be exponentially better, but they’re pretty good the way they are. And I mentioned the hot water bread. Just eat it – it tastes fried. I don’t mean it has a flavor – it just tastes fried. It looks a little like a corn meal fritter or corn bread, but it doesn’t taste like those things. Just fried. You’ll know what I mean when you have your first bite – I think you’ll agree with the “fried” part.

The ribs were good. Really good. I don’t think they’re the best I’ve had, since the meat took a little work to get it off the bone, but the flavor was there, even without the sauce. They were pretty meaty ad not over done, but still, just not falling off the bone like a lot of places. As I said, the flavor was quite good in them, so I won’t knock the place. I think I had them already put on a pedestal from reading about them in the magazine. The ribs are good, but they’re not game-changing.

I think C&G Smoking BBQ is good. In fact, I’m looking forward to going back. The folks working there, I remember being really nice and they have a couple of other things there Id’ like to try. They’re going up against Scott Ja Mamma’s BBQ, so I’ll be curious to see how they fare. The winner of that heat goes on to battle Baldy’s. I’m not going to make any predictions here, but I think based on my ranting and ravings, we all know what the outcome is likely to be…

Here is the Bar-B-Quest bracket, so you can see what’s coming up:

Top 5 things about C&G Smoking BBQ
1. Baked Beans, without question
2. The flavor of the fries
3. The coleslaw
4. There is a lot of meat on the ribs
5. I really want to give a second honorable mention to the baked beans

Bottom 5 things
1. The sogginess of the fries
2. Hot water bread – I really do want to like it, it just isn’t my favorite
3. The ribs, I expected to be better
4. I have heard people say they have been known to run out of ribs before the dinner hour. Call ahead, maybe?
5. I had to watch American Idol while eating ribs. THAT will leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth

C&G Smoking BBQ
4743 Nicollet Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55419
(612) 825-3400

Friday, February 3, 2012

Dickey’s BBQ Pit – Eden Prairie, MN

I work near this Dickey’s BBQ Pit location and had no idea they were a chain until I went back home to visit the family in Illinois. That’s the reason these guys aren’t competing in the Bar-B-Quest 2012 rib challenge – otherwise, HotGirlsBrother and I would have thrown them in the mix. We’re not including national chains like Famous Dave’s and Tony Roma’s, even though those places are just fine. No offense, Dave and Tony.

I met a friend at the Eden Prairie location for lunch. Funny story: he recommended we eat here, but when he said “Dickey’s”, he meant “Baker’s” and had no idea where Dickey’s was located. It involved a lot of phone calls and waiting, but it was worth it when he fessed up to what he had done. The inside of the place is pretty spacious and bright, and there are huge menus hanging up above the counter where you order, so that’s helpful.

I knew I wanted a multi-meat platter for lunch (which is pretty reasonably priced, I might add), but I wasn’t sure which kinds of meat I wanted. I wanted ALL of them, but that isn’t how the deal works. I saw they had a sign pasted over one of the regular meats and on the sign, it read “Spicy Cheesy Sausage”. I knew I wanted ribs, so I told the guy I wanted ribs, but was curious about the sausage (twss). He immediately sliced off a chunk of the sausage for me to sample. I then immediately ordered that. It was awesome. I ordered the sides I wanted – baked beans and the spicy green beans and bacon – because why wouldn’t you?? I asked the girl behind the counter which sides were good. She told me the mac and cheese was her favorite, and then she put a small amount in a dish and told the register girl that it was no charge. Wow, this place was doing everything they could to get people to try their food. I was already becoming a big fan.

We sat down. You have to get your silverware at one counter near the door and then get your drinks from the fountain, as well. Not a big hassle, but it took some doing to figure out where everything was at. I dug into the spicy green beans with bacon. They weren’t all that spicy, sadly, and even more sadly – the bacon wasn’t really bacon – it was ham. Same animal, yet different animal. Bummer. It also had a ton of onions in with the beans, so I wasn’t thrilled. But I powered through. The mac and cheese however, was really really good. The girl was right. When I go back here, I’ll be getting the mac and cheese, for sure. The baked beans were just alright. I wasn’t blown away, but they were decent. No complaints on them.

The ribs were about average. Nothing flashy, but it took some doing to get off the bones and the meat wasn’t all that tender. There wasn’t a ton of flavor, but thankfully, there were three sauces on the table to choose from. I liked the original best, but the hot and the sweet weren’t awful. I was glad I had them, though.
The spicy sausage was the winner of the day, though. Really a delicious sausage and it had a tiny bit of zip to it. I guess in Minnesota, this is spicy. It could have been kicked up four or five more notches, but I understand, they have to cater to the lowest common denominator palette.

The restaurant has two things they’re trying to push – one is weird, one is not. The first thing: They have a big yellow cup club. All their soft drinks come in a big yellow cup. I’m not sure why this is even a “thing”. It really shouldn’t be. Just give me a vessel to put liquid in – I don’t care what color and I don’t care how big it is, if there are free refills. Weird. What’s not weird is the second claim to fame they have – free soft serve ice cream.
Now that’s what I’m talking about. I really enjoyed this mini dessert after my meal. They have minimal toppings, but all I wanted was the ice cream. It made me leave with a smile.

I’m pretty sure my friend liked his food a lot as well, so I’m hoping it’s a place we can go to more often for lunch. It didn’t have mind blowing ribs, but the prices were reasonable and the other meats and sides were worth eating again. It probably wouldn’t have fared well against some of the local BBQ players, but it did alright for a once-in-a-while lunch place.

Top 5 things about Dickey’s BBQ Pit
1. Spicy Cheesy Sausage
2. Mac and Cheese
3. Free ice cream
4. Generous with samples
5. Pretty good prices for what you get

Bottom 5 things
1. Ribs weren’t much to talk about
2. Bacon was actually ham and not spicy at all
3. Beans were meh
4. The layout was confusing, with the drinks in one place and the silverware in another
5. Big Yellow Cup Club was lost on me