Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wakanda Park Disc Golf Course – Menomonie, WI

Since I still had some daylight left after playing the course in Chippewa Falls, I swung by Wakanda Park in Menomonie. I could see a handful of baskets from my car in the parking area, which is a good sign. I could also see a couple of groups here and there. I had a good feeling about this course.

The first hole is pretty straight forward throwing from a concrete tee to a basket in some tall mature trees. When I got the basket, I missed my put and then noticed concrete blocks set in the ground near the basket directing you to the next tee. Brilliant plan! I loved it. I was able to navigate this course super easily. The only exception was on multiple pin placements, there was only the directional block on one of them, which was still super helpful. Very smart and easy to execute when installing a course. Take note, future course designers.

I then headed into the woods for a few holes that were not necessarily easy. Some tricky placements of trees made you think about where you were going to throw – very smart. Another hole with a basket along the tree line led me to a really awesome throw-out-over-the-valley hole. This was really awesome and probably the best hole out here on the course.

Another open hole leads back to two or three along the tree line again. Then you get into the elevation part of the course. Large rolling hills and mature oak trees. Really a super fun design and a lot of reachable holes as long as you can pull some finesse out of your upper body. You throw down by the large lake and hope to avoid the breeze and whoever might be fishing on the lake shore. Then it’s back up the wooded hills and back to the car.

I really enjoyed playing this course. It isn’t easy, by any stretch and you may possibly lose a disc in the water on a hole, but I didn’t find myself cursing at the designers NOR my own performance, which is nice. I’m not a finesse player, normally, but I did myself proud navigating some of the trees at this course. I’ll be back here on my way in or out of the Twin Cities. Give this one a shot. It’s designed pretty well and is easy to navigate.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Chippewa Falls Junior High School Disc Golf Course – Chippewa Falls, WI

I was driving back from Green Bay and thought I’d pop by and play this course. It took some effort getting to it, since the directions on the GPS didn’t line up well with the directions in the 2007 printed course directory, but eventually, I found the course.

I parked in the parking lot where the sign was and couldn’t figure out where the first hole was. I spoke to some kids holding discs who told me the course had had a bunch of baskets pulled and the first whole started waaaaay across the street and another parking lot – not anywhere near the “Disc Golf Course” sign.

I followed the kid’s advice and got started. The first hole, you throw across the road and directly at the school. I wasn’t sure about concrete as out of bounds at this particular course, but you have a REALLY good shot of throwing it into the road/access road to the back of the school on the first shot. I’m not sure if this was the original design, but yikes. I’m glad I was playing on a Sunday when there were fewer cars.

After the first hole, you head behind the storage area of the school and down into the woods. And by down, I mean super treacherous drop shot down a cliff. I took my putter and putted it maybe 75 feet below me. Not even a throw, but a loft put – which blew by the basket and ended another 75+ feel BELOW the basket next to a creek. Not getting an awesome feeling about this course. I played a few more holes that were a little hodge-podge, flow-wise. It was fairly easy to navigate, since the tee for the next hole was generally dangerously close to the previous hole’s basket (like 10 feet away).

Here’s how the next few holes played out:
  • It wound through the woods, and after a 500 ft shot uphill through a double dogleg tunnel, I ended up in the open.
  • 85 ft hole
  • 250 ft hole right by the large scoreboard – which I DRILLED
  • A “J-shaped” hole, all of which seriously anger me. You throw forward and then are forced to come back, or just cut through the trees – DUR
  • 600+ ft hole literally across the football field where I nailed the scoreboard to a basket right next to the road
  • completely missed opportunity to use an amazing pine tree lined area as a super fun tree-tunnel hole, but instead opting for a 200 ft wide open hole to a basket next to the road
  • short hole throwing directly at a house right next to the school’s baseball diamond
  • final hole across the baseball diamond back to the original “disc golf course” sign where I had parked my car

I’m not sure if they pulled those baskets because some of the holes were actually more ridiculous than the ones they left, or if they needed the metal for something else. I’m not sure they would have helped though. It was a disappointing course, but there were a TON of people playing it. I say many groups there, including a group of four 7-8 year olds. Honestly, these kids were having a blast, despite the wind and odd layout. So good for them for taking advantage of what tools they have at their discretion. I however, won’t be back to this course.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cap’s Grille – Minneapolis, MN (Bar-B-Quest 2012!)

Another Bar-B-Quest adventure with LowVee and HotGirlsBrother was on the docket. Apparently, LowVee had taken a blow to the head that we didn’t know about, because she actually FORGOT today was the day BBQ was happening. So, HotGirlsBrother and I snacked on some steak fries while we waited for her to arrive. The fries here are actually quite good. We think they’re double-fried since they’re good and crispy and they have a very light seasoning on them which makes us fight over them.

Cap’s is a place we’ve gone before and had mixed results. We like the restaurant feel of the place and it’s always filled with people. In the case today, it was filled with military personnel, since Fort Snelling is right down the road from Cap’s. We already know our usual order, so we got a full slab and half slab with baked beans and coleslaw for everyone.

The lunch rush is something Cap’s expects every day, so they make plenty of ribs that are ready to roll out quickly. The food comes out on plastic cafeteria trays with the sides and some buttered toast.

Sides first: The coleslaw is uh… odd. It’s VERY sweet and has a ton of celery salt in it. HotGirlsBrother couldn’t even eat his, it displeased him so much. I ate all of mine, but I was starving. Be ready for sweet if you order this as a side.

The baked beans were pretty standard. So standard in fact, that we all decided they were Bush’s baked beans. Which is fine, since we like Bush’s, but we have gotten some really awesome and homemade beans before at a lot of places so we know it possible to make your own version of baked beans, even if you started with Bush’s as the base. Kind of bummed about the beans, honestly.

The bread looks really awesome, but sadly just isn’t buttered enough. It looked yellow, but there was so little butter that it tasted like a really dry piece of toast without much flavor. All in all, we really were not thrilled with the sides.

The ribs were better. They had plenty of meat on them and not a lot of gristle or cartilage. The flavor of the meat was just fine, but they weren’t very tender. It seemed odd that you could get the meat off the bones pretty easily, but yet you still had a tough time chewing it when you did get the meat into your mouth. The BBQ sauce had some good flavor with it (especially for the steak fries), so we used that stuff generously. Again, it all came back to the meat being pretty tough. I was ripping off pieces of meat with my teeth and got food all over my shirt – not that this is anything new for me. Sad.

We’ll suggest this when you go to caps: they’re known for their pork chops and also for their pulled pork (probably because the sauce is really good there). Go with one of those options and the steak fries. Again, totally our opinions, but you’ll be much happier if you do that.

In the bracket system, Cap’s didn’t stack up to Rudolph’s BBQ. Rudolph’s had a lot going for it, so Rudolph’s wins this round. Which immediately puts Rudolph’s up against Q Fanatic in Champlin. Q Fanatic wins this particular head-to-head battle without much problem, moving Q Fanatic into the FINAL FOUR!!!! Q Fanatic will have to go up against Baldy’s to move into the championship round for the Western Conference. We’re very excited about this match-up. We have also determined that, as close as this battle for the Western division is, it can NOT be decided by the amazing cookie at Q Fanatic (which we will also be buying a truck-load of). Here's the updated bracket, for those following along or playing fantasy Bar-B-Quest at home:

Top 5 things about Cap’s Grille
1. Rib meat flavor
2. BBQ sauce
3. Steak fries
4. Wet naps on the table
5. I’ve never felt safer in a BBQ joint than I did here, surrounded by military folks. In case of zombie apocalypse, go to Cap’s and enjoy your lunch! (You’re welcome for your new advertising slogan!)

Bottom 5 things
1. Coleslaw
2. Tough meat
3. Baked beans weren’t very special
4. Buttered toast wasn’t buttered
5. Seeing their breakfast menu makes me want to come back every weekend for breakfast!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Black Sheep Coal Fired Pizza – St. Paul, MN

D.Rough and I didn’t feel up to making dinner and had been talking about pizza for some time. Actually, we were in the mood for sushi initially, but then got side tracked when pizza entered the conversation. We decided to go to Black Sheep since we had heard people talk about it, and also because they’re right next door to Camp – a bar that super supports the Minnesota RollerGirls. In fact, on Camp’s bar menu, you can order Black Sheep pizzas and they will bring it to you at Camp – really awesome idea!

We weren’t sure what to expect from the place since we hadn’t been there before, but we rolled in. You have to go down a couple of stairs to get into the restaurant, but it offers a unique high-altitude view of the kitchen and bar area. We could see the staff joking, cracking-wise, and actually looking like they were enjoying their work. They were throwing pizzas into the air and putting them in a giant coal fired oven. That sounded awesome.

We got seated at a large wooden booth and perused the menu. They have beer and wine here and a selection of local brews which changes from time to time. They also have 1919 root beer on tap, so I scored one of those, while D.Rough went with a Surly Furious (also a Minnesota RollerGirl sponsor – we’re just hitting all the bases in one night, as you can see).

The pizza was more difficult to decide uon. It looked to be what D.Rough described as a minimalist pizza place. Most of their pizzas have just a couple of toppings on it, unless you build your own. They all sounded good, but we knew we wanted some odd toppings tonight, for some reason. We got a Hot Salami and Dried Chili Pepper pizza, but we had them add meatballs and grilled artichoke hearts, as well. We also needed a salad of some sort and finally decided on the market salad after the waiter described it.

The salad showed up quickly. It was actually, quite good. Frisee lettuce, blue cheese crumbles, walnuts, apples, and lots of pickled beets. The beets were just barely pickled, so D.Rough was able to eat them, the blue cheese and the walnuts were an awesome flavor with the rest of the lettuce and apples. I really liked this salad a lot.

The pizza didn’t take long to arrive. I’m guessing the coal fired pizza cooks fast. We weren’t sure if this was fork pizza or and pizza, so we started with forks. It’s not a dive-y place, but it’s not a super upscale place, so I think anything goes here. The pizza is really good here. Thin crust and minimal cheese, but delicious sauce and toppings. The artichoke hearts were NOT from a can and were roasted perfectly – not watery nor mushy. The meatballs had a great flavor to them and there were plenty of them on the pizza. The salami wasn’t spicy at all, but it did have great flavor and we like how the distribution of toppings was pretty much how we would have done it. No skimping of toppings, but still room for some cheese and sauce to show through.

While it may not rank tops in the Twin Cities, Black Sheep is really good pizza. I’d get food from here again (and plan on it). Whether I’m at Camp or just going to Black Sheep itself, I don’t think you’re going to get bad food here. It’s got a good vibe to it and they don’t use the “usual” pizza toppings. Give this place a shot!

Top 5 things about Black Sheep Coal Fired Pizza
1. Great pizza with unique toppings
2. Great beer and wine selection
3. They have 1919 root beer
4. Nicer environment to have some great pizza
5. They have an awesome logo that makes you smile

Bottom 5 things
1. The benches are a little hard after you’ve been there an hour (that may be intentional, for all I know)
2. I’m not sure if the place is handicap-accessible
3. IF you don’t like minimalist pizza, this may not be your place
4. When you use your hands to eat it, they get black from the crust pretty quickly (from the coal-firing, I'm assuming)
5. Nothing

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Pizza Shop – West St. Paul, MN

There are a couple of mom and pop pizza places near the house that D.Rough and I have been meaning to try. We figured we’d better try the Pizza Shop. It’s a call-in-only kind of place that does car shows in the parking lot on Thursdays during the summer. It always looks like a fun place.

We called in our order and headed down the road to pick it up. They don’t do delivery, but we’re honestly not THAT lazy that we can’t drive down there to pick it up. We ordered a pepperoni and banana pepper pizza and an order of their pizza fries – like cheesy bread.

We rolled in and said our name and they handed over our order. The inside of the place reminded me of some of the pizza places where I grew up. There’s a giant mixer in the back for making their own dough – which rules – and areas where they actually MAKE the pizza, instead of just heating it up. I had a feeling this was going to be good.

We headed back home to eat. I’ll start with the pizza fries. These sound like such a simple thing to make – throw some cheese and garlic on some pizza dough, forget to put the sauce on and bake it. I’m not sure what the Pizza Shop has put in their Pizza Fries, but they’re the best I think I’ve had up here in the Twin Cities. Amazing tasting crust and the cheese is cooked to perfection. It comes with a couple of marinara dipping sauces, which is pretty common. But seriously, these pizza fries are really good.

The pizza was also good, but not mind-blowing like the pizza fries. The pizza is thin crust and has a healthy layer of cheese on it. The pepperoni flavor was awesome and the peppers were just the right amount of zip to make this pizza pop a little bit. We were pretty happy with this pizza.

I assure you we’ll be going back to the Pizza Shop. We’re already coming up with daily excuses to go get those pizza fries. It gets more and more difficult each day talking ourselves OUT of going to get them every time one of us mentions food.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lai Inn – Bloomington, MN

I do a lot of searching for local food places on the Internet, in case you were wondering. I kept coming across this place in Eden Prairie called the Grand Steak and Fry Co. It looked like it was in a weird place in Eden Prairie I hadn’t been before, but was a reasonable drive for me. When FireRetarded called me and invited me to lunch, Grand Steak was the first place I thought of. I told him about it and we both got the address on our own. When we turned up, the place doesn’t exist and the address is actually in the middle of a VERY nice neighborhood. While bummed, we still had Plan B (not the morning-after pill that you see commercials for on the television). Right up the road was a Chinese place called Lai Inn. Within five minutes we had drive and were seated at the small Chinese food lunch buffet place. It’s in a strip mall, so I already had my hopes up.

On our way to our seat, we checked out the buffet. It looked small. Seriously, it’s a 6-footer. Didn’t matter, we were both hungry. When we got up to the buffet we noticed the buffet wasn’t filled with big pans of food. It was filled with small pans of food and a LOT of them. In fact, there were more things on this buffet than a lot of buffets we’ve been to. We were quite impressed with this little set up. The smaller sized pans allowed the place to have a lot of items, more quickly made and replaced with fresh items, and nothing tasted like it had been there too long. Really a great idea. They had hot and sour soup, crab rangoons, egg rolls, fried dumplings, fried and plain rice, and maybe 12 entrees.

I loaded up plate one and headed back to gorge myself and get back to work on time. The appetizer items were all cooked really well. Perfect fry on each of the things. The egg roll wasn’t very greasy nor was it packed with cinnamon. The dumpling had a great flavor with a good fried outside to meaty inside ratio. The lo mein was really good, as was the kung pao beef. They had a BBQ pork that was fantastic and the beef and green beans were also delicious. We were both pretty impressed with this buffet. No complaints at all.

There seemed to be a lot of regulars eating here and the owners/servers appeared to know a lot of them. Good customer service and good food means people are going to keep coming back. Couple that with really reasonable pricing on the buffet and you’ll understand why they’ve been there like 16 years (I overheard a conversation, so I may have gotten the number of years wrong, but it’s a LOT).

The second plate was a little more of the first pass and then a couple of other items that I can’t recall what they were. Unfortunately, I had buried them under the other things in the photo. But there were a couple more chicken dishes (sesame chicken was awesome) and another pork dish that was wonderful. I wish the entrees were labeled. So as it is you kind of have to guess… or just get it all like we did. hahahaha

The place is really a pretty good place for lunch. And now that I know how close it is, I’ll be heading there a lot more. Lai Inn is right off of highway 169, just south of I-494, so it’s really easy to get to from a lot of places. It’s worth a stop in, I assure you.

Top 5 things about Lai Inn
1. BBQ Pork
2. Sesame chicken
3. Beef and green beans
4. Dumplings
5. Egg rolls

Bottom 5 things
1. None of the food items on the buffet are labeled
2. They only take cash (which we found out the hard way)
3. With the smaller pan sizes, some of the dishes in the back of the buffet were a little difficult to get to
4. The restaurant is set behind a gas station, so you won’t see it when you get off the highway right away
5. Nothing else was bad!

Lai Inn
9350 Ensign Ave S.
Bloomington, MN 55438

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rudolph’s BBQ – Minneapolis, MN (Bar-B-Quest 2012!)

It was that time of the week when we had to hit the Bar-B-Quest bracket. I say “had”, but it’s much more like “rejoiced in”, in our case. LowVee, HotGirlsBrother, and I were all busy at night, so we decided to do another lunch outing – this time at Rudolph’s. HotGirlsBrother had only been here once before and sat in the bar area, which is ridiculous since he lived a block away for a number of years. However, LowVee and I HAD been here and liked it a lot, a while back.

Once in side, they seated us in the limbo area between the fancy restaurant and the front-of-house bar area. No worries at all. You can get all the food wherever you’re at. The menu is really fun to look at since most of the dishes are named after movie stars, young and old. Classy and goes along with the Rudolph Valentino theme they have going on. I assure you it isn’t a red nosed reindeer theme here. We knew we wanted a cast iron skillet full of corn bread, without question, so we got that. We also ordered a full slab of ribs (the Bogie) and a half slab (the Rudy).Those both came with sides, so we got two coleslaws, some baked beans, and some fries. They have coke products, so I ordered a root beer and the other two ordered Arnold Palmers. I was bummed to find out they switched from 1919 rootbeer to MiniSoda rootbeer. Sadface, but MiniSoda is still just fine.

The food came out pretty quickly, which rules, since it was lunch time and I was on a schedule. The first thing the server brought us was the cornbread. I love how they serve it here. They bring it out to you in the cast iron pan with a serious scoop of butter on top of it. The cornbread is super hot so it melts the butter right on top of it. It’s fantastic and probably the best cornbread in the Twin Cities (please don’t make us do a cornbread bracket!!!). LowVee moved the butter scoop around the top of the cornbread until it was almost dissolved and soaked into the sweet and moist bread. Awww yeah. It was a great appetizer and allowed us to save a piece for eating with out meals.

Sides first: The coleslaw is really good. Not just regular good, but really good. Seasoned really well, great texture, great ratio of mayo-to-vinegar, and some nice bites of carrot thrown in. Really great stuff. I think they sell the mayo mix as well if you want to make your own (why the heck wouldn’t you just buy the coleslaw already made here!?!?!?!), if that’s your thing.

The beans were a little meh and they didn’t appeal to any of us. They were a little bit of a flavor black hole – they sucked the flavor away from whatever you were already eating, which is always sad. We left the small container almost untouched this time. The last time we were here, the beans were pretty darn good, which is disappointing.

And this photo is very strong evidence that HotGirlsBrother DOES, in fact, take relationship-crippling-sized bites. Seriously, that coleslaw is just heaped on the fork. I'm glad we got two of those large dishes of coleslaw to share amongst the three of us. (There was an incident at a previous BBQ place where LowVee accused HotGirlsBrother of taking too large a bite and it turned into an "incident". I just like to poke the bear...hahahaha)(Love you, man!)

The fries were also really good. They looked like ordinary fries, but were deceptively crispy. Really good job on the fries. Those didn’t last long.

The buttered bread they brought out was toasted just the way I like it. I thought it would detract from the awesomeness of the cornbread, but I liked them both on their own merits. That being said, the cornbread was mind-blowing.

Now, for the ribs! The flavor of the ribs here at Rudolph’s is really good. This is how a dry rub should be done. Not overly salty, not fake smoke flavor, not spice-heat. Just fantastic flavor rubbed into the meat before cooking. Really awesome job on this aspect. The sauce is also really awesome. We ended up using a huge amount of the sauce (great for fries, as well) on all of our ribs. I think I’m going to switch to this sauce, since you can buy it in local grocery stores now. It’s that good. This is a huge change for me, since I didn’t really care for the sauce the last time I was here (until I combined two different sauces).

The meat itself was pretty good. Not amazing, but still had to some good flavor. You just had to work at some of the pieces. Some fell off the bone and some you had to really wrestle with. This was demonstrated by my taking long enough to get all the meat off my first rib bone as it took for LowVee and HotGirlsBrother to get through two ribs each. Bastards. The bones still came away pretty clean though (and they give you a nice bowl just for your rib bones, which rules). Pretty good showing for Rudolph’s BBQ.

We did like that they brought us wetnaps at the end of our meal, as well. This is always useful, since we get absolutely covered in BBQ sauce when we eat ribs. Hahaha. Classy, Rudolph. Classy.

Ruolph’s is going up against Capp’s in this bracket, so we’ll have to see how they fare. For now, here’s the bracket, as up to date as we can get, at this point.

Top 5 things about Rudolph’s BBQ
1. Cornbread with butter scoop – it even made HotGirlsBrother a believer!
2. Coleslaw
3. Dry rub on the ribs
4. French fries
5. Amazingly nice server and host – they appear to like what they do

Bottom 5 things
1. It’s a little bit pricier than other rib places – keep in mind, this is an ACTUAL full-service restaurant and you get what you pay for. Just warning you – those that are cheap-skates
2. Baked beans were really flavorless
3. Rib meat was a little tough in spots
4. Bummed they switched from 1919 rootbeer
5. I couldn’t get drinks from the full bar, since I had to race back to work for meetings

Monday, March 19, 2012

Taco Bell’s New Dorito Loco Taco – Eden Prairie, MN

I have heard some mixed reviews on the new taco at Taco Bell, so I thought I’d better go check it out. Luckily, there’s a location close to work and I had some errands to run on my lunch hour. The things aren’t very expensive, so it already has that going for it.

I wasn’t sure how much different the taco shell made out of a Dorito would change the flavor of the taco, so I was mainly unbiased going into the whole thing. I’d heard people complain about the cheese dust getting on their hands while eating the Dorito Loco Taco, but that didn’t seem like a big deal, especially since Taco Bell appears to have minimized this in the packaging. The taco comes in a Dorito-bag-shaped sleeve, so you actually don’t even have to touch the thing to eat it. Otherwise, it’s a standard taco.

There was a noticeable difference in the flavor of the taco. I definitely tasted Doritos after the first bite. Not in a bad way, or anything. In fact, it was kind of an interesting change. I didn’t mind it at all. I don’t think these are game-changing or anything, but it’s a nice change of pace. If I was blindfolded, they would definitely taste different than the standard taco. I’m not sure they’re BETTER than a standard taco, just a different shell. The texture is a little bit different as well – not as much crunch, but not soggy or anything.

Once again, Taco Bell delivers a delicious new menu item. I have a lot of respect for the people in R&D at Taco Bell and even more respect for the marketing folks at Taco Bell. I didn’t even know I WANTED to try a taco made out of a Dorito. Turns out I DID want to. It’s weird how they knew that.

I’d get this again, even though it’s a little bit more than the regular taco, but sadly, I’d probably pair it with a regular taco, just so I could have a little variety. Maybe I’ll even order one “fresco” just to throw another combination in the mix. It’s worth a try for the extra 30 cents, in my opinion. Take that for what it’s worth (probably much less than 30 cents, I’m guessing…)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mr. Pig Stuff – Shakopee, MN (Bar-B-Quest 2012!)

We knew it was another long drive to the next contender in the Bar-B-Quest, but LowVee, HotGirlsBrother, and I booked a day to have lunch in Shakopee. Mr. Pig Stuff is only open from 11-3, so this was our best bet for knocking this one off our list. I had been to this place before, and knew they only had picnic tables outside in the summer, so we came prepared. I give you… Mobile Rib Picnic!!!!

The menu at Mr. Pig Stuff is pretty straight forward. Ribs, pulled pork, chicken, and a bunch of sides to choose from. We ordered our half slab, but we all got different styles. LowVee ordered Memphis Dry Rub, HotGirlsBrother ordered Kentucky Bourbon, and I ordered the Original style. That way, we could try a bunch and compare and contrast. We all go the baked beans and coleslaw (though I was feeling adventurous and got the jalapeno coleslaw). And we all got sides of the spicy mac and cheese. It already came with cornbread, so we didn’t have to order extra of that. We were so excited about the impending picnic in the car that we forgot to order drinks until we were all situated in our positions. I went back and ordered them. They guy told us he’d bring out the ribs to our car when they were ready. Perfect.

We set up everything, including a small table and got cozy while waiting. We didn’t feel like eating at the Rib Bar on the side of the building, since it was still a little chilly, but maybe next time.
Then, LowVee blurted out, “I never thought I’d have a rib picnic in my back end!” … which is when I started emailing everyone I know.

The food took a little longer than they told us it would, but we were very impressed with how many cars came into and out of the parking lot for lunch. Not sure if they were call-aheads or non-rib orders, but this place honestly does pretty good business for being just outside of Shakopee. Crazy. They brought it out in shifts and laughed when they saw us set up in the back of LowVee’s SUV. In fact, a lot of people that walked past to get into line laughed at our set up. Clearly they were jealous of it all.

We got out the food and started to eat. This is how we should eat every rib meal (provided there is only window service and no seating)!

I’ll do the sides first, as usual.
The spicy mac and cheese was a little soupy. I think the general consensus was the parts of the mac and cheese that didn’t have the chili powder on them were the best parts. The salt and pepper and seasoning on the non-chili-infused parts were quite tasty, in fact. The chili flakes sort of ruined it for us. We’d all recommend the plain mac and cheese – knowing full well (from last time here) the plain really has a great seasoning.

The coleslaw was decent. Nothing to rave about (which is good, since we don’t carry glow-sticks with us). A little soupy, but had good flavor, especially when paired with the ribs. The Jalapeno coleslaw was a little like the spicy mac and cheese: the chili powder used to spice it up (as if the jalapenos weren’t enough) just gave it an odd flavor. I was actually more of a fan of the regular coleslaw than the spicy. Odd for me.

The baked beans were a little meh. They had decent flavor and there was a generous portion of them, but they didn’t taste that much different than baked beans in a can with a little BBQ and ketchup in it. Decent but not groundbreaking.

The cornbread was pretty good. Moist and sweet little muffins that were great for sopping up the left over BBQ sauce. Nothing amazing, but good little muffins.

The ribs themselves were not what we were expecting. I’ll start with the Kentucky Bourbon ribs. The meat absolutely falls off the bones. We think these ribs were cooked really well. However, the sauce that is cooked on the ribs wasn’t really doing it for us. We didn’t get a bourbon flavor at all – and we KNOW bourbon, if you know what I mean (wink wink). In fact, HotGirlsBrother said he would have liked to get his without any sauce at all, and then dip it in the side of sauce that he got. And that was weird because that’s when we realized he was the only one that actually got a side of sauce. The meat was pretty fatty – something we’ll see in all the ribs – and we think that may have helped with the meat falling off the bone. The re was a lot of cartilage in the meat and they were the greasiest ribs we’ve had the whole quest. Not overwhelmed by these ribs at all.

The Memphis Dry Rub ribs were again falling off the bones like they WANTED to be eaten. However, the amount of salt on these ribs made them borderline inedible. LowVee and I are both salt fiends, so we don’t mind when you crank up the salt a bit. However, these both caused and then immediately cauterized canker sores in your mouth instantaneously. They were painful to eat. I kept putting pieces of my ribs onto LowVee’s plate, so she could have a reprieve from the salt lick she was eating. Again, the flavor of the meat was good, but you really had to scrape off the top layer of meat to get something you could actually finish chewing. And again, they were incredibly greasy and left major pools of grease in the container. LowVee seems to get the shaft the most in some of these Rib Quest adventures, so I feel bad for her. But don’t think she’s a wuss at all. She powers through and shows fortitude. It’s just she gets stuck with whatever crappy ribs the place has that day – repeatedly.

Now, the original ribs were likely the best of the bunch. The sauce was decent and seemed to go with the flavor of the meat very well. Again, the meat fell off the bones, but again, the meat was really fatty and left pools of grease in the bottom of the containers. There was a major amount of cartilage in my ribs, so I was left with a hilarious looking pile of white soft bendy things (make your jokes here) in my container when I was done.

And, we were all surprised how flat the sodas were that they gave us. It’s like the whole restaurant was having a sad day. No bubbly fun in anything, despite the fact that we were having a MOBILE RIB PICNIC!!!! Incredibly, I didn’t spill a single drop of BBQ sauce (or grease) on my work shirt or pants, so I call that a win. Despite a few ill-timed leg cramps, we had a fun time picnicking. We had a moon roof and plenty of head room. But now it’s judgment time…

We didn’t see any way that Mr. Pig Stuff beat Q Fanatic in this particular bracket of the competition. Sorry to say it, MPS, it wasn’t your day. (That’s alright, since it is – according to the GPS – the furthest drive from LowVee’s house – the center of her universe.) Which puts up Q Fanatic against Ted Cook’s 19th Hole BBQ. Ted Cooks is good, and I really like Ted Cook’s. In fact, Ted Cook’s is the number TWO seed in the Western Division. But based on the incredible meal we had at Q Fanatic last week, Ted Cook’s didn’t have what it takes to win this one. Another upset in the bracket! This moves Q Fanatic into the Elite Eight of the competition. Can you feel the excitement in the air? It’s blended in with hickory smoke and black pepper. Just take it all in…

Top 5 things about Mr. Pig Stuff
1. Plenty of really tender meat on the ribs
2. Mobile Rib Picnic!!!
3. Cornbread
4. We totally Tetris-ed our to-go containers to make them fit on the tiny table
5. Came with wetnaps (always a bonus)

Bottom 5 things
1. Really greasy ribs
2. Super salty dry rub
3. Spicy mac and cheese
4. Jalapeno coleslaw
5. Flat sodas, oddly enough

Friday, March 2, 2012

Q Fanatic – Champlin, MN (Bar-B-Quest 2012)

I’ve heard about this place in Champlin from a few people who have raved about the food. But, to be honest, it’s a little out of the way for me – it’s just before you hit Montana, if you’re coming from St. Paul (that MIGHT be an exaggeration). But since they’re on the Bar-B-Quest 2012 list, we have to go there. LowVee, HotGirlsBrother, and I hit the road after work one day for the long drive. It was my birthday, so we were all really looking forward to birthday ribs. I think it should be a new tradition and requirement for everyone.

We arrived and saw there was a huge smoker outside the place with smoke and delicious smells coming out of it. That’s always a good sign. Also, it’s at the end of a strip mall – another good sign. Also, once we got through the door, we saw the most people eating that we’ve seen since we’ve started this Rib Quest – an amazingly good sign. Just inside the door is a huge menu on the wall for you to stare at and change your mind 529 times. Thankfully, Q Fanatic is very helpful and gives you an explanation of the menu and how to go about ordering, which is super thoughtful. Thank you for dumbing it down for the first-timers!
It shouldn’t be this difficult, but they do have like 15 different delicious-sounding sides. Wow. Then, you have to decide which sauces you’re going to get – they have like 8 more of those! When we finally decided and headed to the counter, we saw an additional board behind the register with specials on it. AAAGGHHH!!!

We all got our usual half slab of baby backs (we got ours dry, but you can get them with sauce on them), which comes with a side and a roll. We all ordered coleslaw as our side, so we didn’t have to share. Then we all got different sides to share. I got mac and cheese, LowVee got spicy potato wedges, and HotGirlsBrother got baked beans. And since I’m a sucker for bacon, I totally caved when I saw the Grilled Slab Bacon Sandwich (which also came with a side – I got corn fritters). Seriously, this was going to stuff our guts to bursting.

We grabbed our plasticware and wetnaps (bonus!) and straws and napkins and REAL butter and found a table in the main dining room. Q Fanatic has Coke products, so you won’t find Dew here. Sadface, but I’ll get over it. We were amazed at how awesome everyone’s food looked. People were genuinely happy with their food from the comments we heard. We were also amazed by the handwashing station they had setup in the corner of the dining room. Sometimes wetnaps aren’t enough. Well played, Q Fanatic.

The food came out and absolutely filled our table. I’ll try to hit all the high points. Sides first.Arial Shot (thanks, HotGirlsBrother!)

The corn fritters were balls of deep fried dough with corn niblets in them. They weren’t bad, or anything, but you could tell right away they would take up valuable rib real estate in your guts, so we all just ate one. Deliciously fried flavor though.

The spicy potato wedges were awesome, actually. They came with a chipotle sour cream dipping sauce, which was really nice, since these things were actually spicy. And delicious. Seriously, we ended up fighting over these things.

The mac and cheese was also the best we’ve had since we started this rib quest. Very good cheese to noodle ratio and the right amount of salt and pepper in it. Really top notch stuff (turns out it was even better reheated the next day).

The coleslaw we THOUGHT was plain, and it was (basically shredded cabbage and mayo with no pepper or carrots or anything). However, it was the perfect accompaniment to the spicy sauces we all ordered for the ribs. Really, we stopped complaining right after we tried the coleslaw with the ribs, since it was perfect.

The best side of all were the baked beans. These not only had amazing flavor in them, but also had huge chunks of meat in them. I’m not even sure what kind of meat this was, and that’s the way I like it. Meat and beans – the best we’ve had on this adventure. I didn’t think anyone would be able to beat C&G Smoking BBQ’s beans, but this actually pulled ahead in the bean category.

Moving to the Grilled Slab Bacon Sandwich – it came with three half-inch-thick pieces of pork belly, so we all divvied them up and put them on our own buttered garlic rolls (which were also worth fighting over). The bacon was incredible. It melted in your mouth and had us shocked with how good it was. Killer bacon, it was. Pair amazing bread with amazing bacon, and yo’ve got yourself a winner.

On to the ribs themselves, which is what this is all about. They were REALLY tender and falling off the bones, like they should be. Perfect flavor, even without the sauce. Excellent meat with no gristle at all. Very thick meat sections and even the end pieces were tender and juicy and not burned up. The rub I can’t say enough about – sometimes the rub is an afterthought, but not here – they took time to nail this rub. Awesome. There were at least six bones in each half slab, and we even think we had more than six in a couple. They don’t skimp on anything here. Including flavor – these ribs are going to put up much more of a battle than we expected. The hype people threw at me was actually not hyped enough. I told HotGirlsBrother and LowVee that I was going to find the people who raved about it and then yell at them for not making me come out here sooner. That’s just rude.

You didn’t need the sauce, but we got so many different kinds, we had to try them all. The honey BBQ was mild, but had a great flavor, so I ended up eating most of that, even though I like the spicy stuff. The chipotle BBQ sauce was a medium heat, but also had a great flavor to it. A little smoky, without the overwhelming flavor of chipotle. Just about perfect. The pepper vodka BBQ sauce was the best though. Very hot and had some tang to it, as well. Really, this was fantastic BBQ sauce. They do have a ghost pepper sauce behind the counter if that’s your thing, but none of us went for it.

We thought we were done. Everything worked out really well, though we did have the most number of to-go boxes we’ve ever had. We all left with like three containers. Thankfully, they have a self-serve to-go area, so you don’t have to keep asking for more containers and lids. Very well thought out, if I do say so.

And of course, we had to hit the hand washing station. You know, because it’s THERE.

And on the way out, you can check out the blueprints of the place, in case you're planning a break-in or think you'd like to suggest a new addition or seating configuration. Helpful!

As we went to leave, we passed a small OTHER counter that had a couple of really large cookies behind the glass. They looked awesome. So awesome that LowVee couldn’t help herself. She went and asked the girl at the counter about them. The girl nonchalant-ly commented that her mother calls her at work every day begging her to bring home some of those cookies. Well, that’s a pretty good endorsement. LowVee got one. It was a chocolate chip, white chocolate chip, and butterscotch chip oatmeal cookie. And, it smelled amazing. We got out to the car and she broke off a piece for each of us. All of us went insane for a second. I’m not kidding you. These were life-changing cookies. We started to drive away and then made HotGirlsBrother stop the car and go back, so we could buy the remaining two cookies behind the counter. LowVee and I ran inside, and the guy at the counter had JUST bought the last two cookies of the night. Seriously, our life was over THAT fast. It was such a spirit crusher. Which made it even more hilarious when we went back out to the car empty handed and LowVee discovered HotGirlsBrother had eaten a much larger bite of her cookie than she expected. Like, a relationship-crippling size bite of this glorious cookie. I’ll quit going on and on about this cookie, but I’m not kidding you – you HAVE to have a cookie when you leave here. And you can’t take it home and eat it. You need to eat it right away. Best cookie I’ve ever had (sorry, Mom).

Q Fanatic is a fantastic restaurant. There are very fun people working there. Very delicious food. Great variety of sides and sauces and rib combinations. If you’re impatient while waiting for ribs, they sell the pig dice game at the counter – the one where you drop pigs onto a table and depending on how they land, you win or lose. It’s like some sort of pork necromancer game of the devil, clearly.

And you also have the beauty of an incredibly long drive home so you get to hash and over-hash every detail of your meal and compare it to the rest of the ribs you’ve eaten over the past year. This little excursion fared VERY well on the rib-delicio-meter. Mr. Pig Stuff in Shakopee has its work cut out for it next week…

Here is the bracket so you can keep track of who’s still in the game and who’s out!

Top 5 things about Q Fanatic
1. Amazing ribs
2. Baked Beans
3. Grilled Slab Bacon Sandwich
4. Spicy Potato Wedges
5. Mac and Cheese

Bottom 5 things
1. It’s quite a drive from the Twin Cities
2. I only have 3 stomachs, this place requires 8
3. We didn’t get enough of the life-changing cookies
4. You WILL change your mind a ton of times while trying to decide what to order
5. Honestly, there was not a single thing bad about the food or experience. We loved every second of it!