GA Pig, Brunswick, GA

GA Pig, Brunswick, GA

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rudolph's Minneapolis

Rudolph's Barbecue
1933 South Lyndale Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55403-3104

We know that barbecue isn't usually the first thing that people think of when we say Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes, lutefisk and fried walleye sandwiches. While searching restaurants for our current trip there, however, we stumbled upon lots of good reviews for Rudolph's, which is in Loring Park, a lovely neighborhood in the southwest corner of downtown Minneapolis. We almost always hesitate to eat barbecue while we're anywhere but in barbecue territory, as we're so often disappointed, but we're glad we did, as this turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
Rudolph's has been in business since 1975, when it was opened at its' present location by Jimmy Theros. The restaurant looks like an upscale Hollywood supper club, named for Rudolph Valentino and abounding with black and white movie stills of his films on every wall and servers dressed in butcher style jackets. Not your typical barbecue joint. There are no picnic tables nor mix and match furniture. The menu goes beyond barbecue into steak, pasta, burgers and the ubiquitous walleye territory, but still with plenty of barbecue offerings...brisket, baby back and spare ribs, pulled pork and chicken were all there. Doug went for the Bruce Wayne, a combo of baby back ribs and a quarter chicken with 2 sides; he chose the grilled corn on the cob and slaw. I got the Double Feature, a combo of 4 spare ribs and a quarter chicken, which I had with baked beans and slaw. The waiter brought out our iced teas and served the slaw first, like they do in some delis and diners we've been to. They sell their cole slaw dressing in 13.5 ounce bottles, as they do their barbecue sauces, and we liked both. The slaw dressing was light enough that we still tasted the cabbage and other ingredients, a quality that characterizes all of their food. The spare ribs come without sauce, and they tasted meaty and lightly smoked. Chris, our waiter, said they smoke the meats for 24 to 36 hours over hickory, and the smoke is subtle. Doug's baby backs were dry rubbed then sauced while they finished, so they had a slightly caramelized coating. He had almost finished them when he said, "I could eat alot of these". The chicken was perfectly cooked, moist and yummy, lightly brushed with their thick sauce, which was a nice blend of sweet and vinegar, and the baked beans struck a nice balance between slightly sweet and a little spicy. We also recommend the corn on the cob, grilled to perfection.

We returned to Rudolph's last night for dinner in the interest of trying a bit more of the menu before giving it two thumbs up. Doug ordered a combo of 3 meats, barbecue pork, beef brisket and Dracula wings, and I ordered the buttermilk fried chicken. We also decided to try their cornbread, which they serve with a generous scoop of honey-maple butter. The cornbread was delicious...dense and sweet enough to bring dessert to mind. We both liked the barbecue pork, which is pulled pork shoulder in their signature sauce. It was tender with plenty of smoke flavor, and we got a bit of the burnt end. We also liked the Dracula wings, which they coat in a dry rub and grill. The brisket had good flavor, but was dry and not tender enough, so we'd skip that next time. My fried chicken was a surprise. I expected to get Southern fried chicken on the bone, but this was chicken breast pounded thin, breaded and pan sauteed, served over smashed potatoes with asparagus. It was good, just not what I expected. The mashed potatoes were too heavy on the garlic, butter and cream, so I only had a little of those. I think they ought to better describe this dish on the menu, as I would have skipped it and had something else instead.
So the winners here are the ribs, both the spare ribs and the baby backs, the barbecue chicken and the barbecue pork, and their delightful cornbread, which you can order a whole skillet of if you're really hungry. We also liked the clever Dracula wings, and can recommend their creamy coleslaw, baked beans and grilled corn. We didn't try the gumbo, as there's only so much we can eat, but our waiter told us that the same guy has been making it since the place opened, and that he's now in his 80s and just comes in a couple of days a week to make it. Rudolph's gets a "very good" vote from us...not pilgrimage worthy, but definitley worth a trip if you're in The Twin Cities.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Pierce's Pit Barbecue
Williamsburg, VA
*this is not an endorsement

Sometimes in the search for The Real Dixie Barbecue, you are led astray. Shamelessly seduced, betrayed and then left hungry, wandering the lonely road crying, "Why? Why?" Your money ill spent, all hopes dashed, with only the dream of hickory smoke to sustain you. Yes, it was that bad. Here's Doug's scathing review, and then I'll say a few things, because I'm just getting warmed up here.

My wife and I have eaten barbecue in dozens of states and appreciate all different styles. We love equally Memphis, St Louis, North and South Carolina, Georgia and Texas to name a few. This is by far the worst we have ever had. The ribs taste boiled and the sauce is insipid. The pulled pork was dry and saturated with their liquid smoke sauce. I have had better beans out of a can and these (replete with hot dogs) reminded me of grade school cafeteria beans. I hated the soggy slaw as well. I would like to say the service and ambiance make it worthwhile but it would be a lie. You are serenaded by high decibel number calling as people wander up to get their order. Everything is put in plastic and bagged. This is a shameful practice. I ordered pulled pork and ribs and they each came in separate plastic containers!!! The waste was incredible and these people should be stopped. There are no redeeming qualities to this restaurant and you should definitely not go.

O.K., back to the barbecues rules. You cannot bake, grill or saute a boneless, skinless chicken breast and slather it with sauce and call it barbecue. Not only will you be looked upon as a fool by those who know better, you'll be making fools of them when you then try to sell this to them as barbecue. It might be a perfectly servicable chicken breast, but it ain't barbecue. I'm still laughing about the hot dogs in the baked beans...they really were school cafeteria quality. Not only were we horrified at this lame excuse for a barbecue place, but we were stunned by the number of positive reviews it gets. Check it out on Google or Yahoo...lots of people like this place and think it's real barbecue. The only explanation that I can come up with for this baffling phenomenon is that these folks have never actaully had the real thing. We should have known when we got out of the car, our noses pointed hopefully skyward for the tell-tale scent of smoke and got...nothing. They call themselves pit barbecue, and there's no smoker, no pit, no nothing. Oh, the humanity.

Friday, July 9, 2010

So I want to talk about The Brick Pit in Mobile, AL. You may notice I have pictures of it here and no info about it, so I wanted to let you know why. The first time we visited this place was during our first visit to Mobile in 2009. Doug found it while searching on line for barbecue and we decided to give it a try for lunch one day. When we pulled up to the restaurant, we suspected we had hit the motherload. It's a small, unassuming looking place with an almost un-navigable dirt parking lot, and the smell of hickory is thick in the air. We pulled around back and got our first view of the smoke pouring out from the back of the place, coating the huge old trees with a layer of black soot. Once inside the first thing we noticed was the remarkable amount of writing covering the walls. Apparently, everyone who visits leaves their 2 cents with the aid of colored sharpies. It's a sight. There's a little window toward the back where you place your order, then you take a seat. On our first visit I had the half chicken with beans and slaw and Doug got the ribs. We grabbed our iced teas and took a seat and read the walls until our meals arrived, which was pretty fast. Everything was very good, great even, and we were in hog heaven. All of the elements we look for in great barbecue were there, from the perfect smoke to the tender meat and great sauce. The sides were on par with what we've come to expect from good barbecue, and we saved room for that ubiquitous Southern sweet, banana pudding, a mix of banana flavored pudding, fresh bananas and vanilla wafers. We left thinking that this place definitely made it to our Top10.
This past February we revisited The Brick Pit, and were a bit disappointed to find some seriously oversmoked barbecue. If we had been trying The Brick Pit for the first time on that visit, we would not have been real happy. Maybe they had a rookie back there in the kitchen, maybe it was a glitch that happened just that one day, I don't know. We left feeling like our dog had died. I don't know if we'll go back, as life is too short for so-so barbecue, but this place was a favorite that slipped off the list.

Mim & Doug’s Top 8 Barbecue Places

A disclaimer before we get started: This list is subject to change, as, well, we’re not done yet. Every time we travel south of the Mason Dixon line we discover new and more wonderful barbecue places to enjoy. We do, however, have our requirements down for just what constitutes great barbecue. To clarify, when we’re talking about barbecue, we’re talking about pork. In the Carolinas it’ll be pulled or chopped pork, because that’s what they do best there. Everywhere else in Dixie the meat of choice is pork ribs. These must be awesome for a restaurant to qualify. Sometimes one of us will have the chicken if it’s available, and, if that’s good too, we’ll let you know. Those of you who know a little bit about barbecue will already be having a problem with this list, as we just left Texas barbecue off the list, with the Texan’s love of beef brisket. We like brisket too, and we’ll go get some when we’re in Texas, but in the interest of staying focused, we’ll stick to pork barbecue. We’re talking about Dixie barbecue…North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, and the parts of Florida that feel more like you’re still in Georgia. We’ve been assured that there’s good barbecue to be had in Virginia, but that’s not been our experience and we don’t really believe it.
Everyone who’s had great barbecue knows that a key component to getting the best out of ribs, pork shoulder and chicken is smoke. Barbecuing is actually just that…smoking. Low and slow, as they say. Pit masters argue over what type of wood makes the best barbecue, but hickory seems to be the most popular one we encountered all over the South. So criteria number one is GREAT SMOKE FLAVOR. Without it you don’t have barbecue, which is why Virginia hasn’t made the list. You can’t slather some sauce on a baked skinless, boneless chicken breast and call it barbecue, you got that Pierce’s-so–called Pit-Barbecue?! If you can’t smell the smoke when you get out of your car, just get back in and keep driving. Sauce, and wet/dry rubs are another important component, although sauce is optional in some restaurants, and some pit masters do away with it altogether. This will be surprising to some of you who are only familiar with the sweet mountain of sauce that comes on Kansas City style barbecue, but in the Deep South, they’re all about the smoke and rub, wet or dry. Many places will have sauce but put it one the side, or ask you if you want your ribs wet or dry. The other criteria are tenderness of the meat, overall meaty flavor, and the quality of the sides that were offered. I’ll almost always get slaw and baked beans, unless they have collard greens, and then we both have to try those.
So here’s our list, subject to change, as I’ve already mentioned. If any of you have favorites of your own, let us know. We’re always interested in finding more barbecue places, and as long as your faves follow the BBQ rules, we’ll check them out.

Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Q
1715 6th Ave. Southeast
Decatur, Alabama

This place is the standard bearer for truly great barbecue, and has won numerous awards to prove it. Their ribs are simply the best…perfectly smoked, served with a sauce that’s not too sweet (we hate a sauce that’s too sweet) and very tender. The chicken was perfectly cooked too, and the mustard slaw, yum. They put green bell pepper in the baked beans, which we were of split opinions on, but it’s a small issue. Next time I’ll just have something else, and there will be a next time. Decatur is the site of the original location, but they just opened up a place in Monroe, N.C. for those of you who don’t get that far south. Another issue with Big Bob Gibson’s is that the portion sizes aren’t all that generous. From the chatter out there I understand that the 6th Ave. location is the most consistent. People love their white sauce, which has won numerous awards along with their more traditional red barbecue sauce. I tasted it and it was good, but it’s a little far out there for me. Maybe it’s that white sauce isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I think of barbecue. I’m happy sticking to the red.

Archibald & Woodrow’s Barbecue
4419 Highway 43 North
Northport, Alabama

This little place is just outside Tuscaloosa, and they take their barbecue very seriously here. This is a hole in the wall, and nothing much to look at, which is usually a very good sign in the search for the real Dixie barbecue. The restaurants looks like it was kind of thrown together with whatever tables and chairs they could find, and it’s a little dark inside, which, as I said, is just fine with us. We don’t care about ambience in the search for great barbecue; we just want to know how good the food is. These ribs are great, again, perfectly smoked and spiced, with an amazing sauce, I mean amazing. Sauces don’t usually stump me, we can both almost always identify what we taste, but this sauce is incredible in it’s depth of flavor and alluring vinegar notes. Don’t even get me started on the collard greens; I’ll just say we ordered more. In fact, everything we ate here was among the best we’ve had…great baked beans, slaw,
the works. The only reason Big Bob’s beat this place out is that Doug says the ribs there are the best ever. But it’s a close second. Roll Tide!

Community Q BBQ1361 Clairmont Road
Decatur, Georgia  30033

We stopped for lunch in Decatur today, which is just outside of Atlanta, to try a place that's been getting a lot of love on Yelp, Community Q BBQ.  The restaurant is housed in a better looking strip mall than most, and parking is plentiful.  We entered and ordered at the counter.  The staff was friendly, service was prompt and tables were bussed constantly.  The menu is straight forward, with more than your average amounts of sides, and some specials of the day to choose from, too. Anytime we're trying a new barbecue place we both typically opt for the rib and pulled pork combo, and we were true to form today.  For sides Mim went with baked beans and a smoked sweet potato-kale combo, and Doug had black eyed peas with the same veggie. The ribs here are nearly perfect; tender and juicy with a noticeable (but not overly assertive) smoke level, great pork flavor and a wonderful tangy flavorful rub.  They offer two sauces on the table, a mustard-vinegar and a tomato-vinegar, and they worked well with both the ribs and pulled pork, which also was delicious...meaty and tender, pulled into large pieces, with enough fat and bark to keep it interesting.  The sides rate two thumbs up, too.  The black eyed peas were simple and tasty, the sweet potato-kale combo was good, although it could have used a little more cooking time and additional spices...we both added salt, pepper and hot sauce, but we prefer a little under-seasoned to its opposite.  We didn't detect the smoke on the potatoes.  The baked beans were very interesting...full flavored and meaty with the addition of good sized pieces of brisket. Our one complaint is that the black pepper was overly assertive, but this only bothered us toward the end of the dish, when it became a little overpowering.  We understand their mac and cheese is a winner, but we passed that up today, so we'll have to go back and give that a try. Doug was loath to leave after our feast, so went back up for an order of blueberry bread pudding, which was served with a dollop of whipped cream.  The flavor of this dessert was good, although it could have used a bit more moistness, either in the pudding itself or in the form of an additional sauce. Mim returned to childhood with a rice krispie treat, updated from the classic with a nice layer of chocolate ganache and caramel in the center. Yum.  Community is among some of the best barbecue we've had, and will definitely go onto our top 20 list.  Georgia is blessed with a wealth of  great barbecue, and this place is a stand out.

Duke’s Barbecue
949 Robertson Boulevard
Walterboro, S.C.

Of all the barbecue restaurants we keep returning to, this is the place we look forward to visiting the most. We’ll be home in Pennsylvania and I’ll ask Doug what he wants for dinner, and he’ll say, “Duke’s”. I’ve stopped asking. Duke’s is more than great barbecue; it’s a grand buffet in the traditional Southern style. This is South Carolina, so the meat is pulled pork and the sauce is mustard/vinegar based. We discovered this style of barbecue on one of our trips south. We were driving through Columbia and it was nearing dinnertime, and we saw a billboard for Maurice’s BBQ, so we stopped, and got something that changed the way we thought about barbecue. There were ribs, yes, and chicken too, but the meat of choice was pulled pork and the sauce was mustard based and yellow. That was new. And then there was the “gravy” a delicious and artery clogging porcine concoction served over white rice. That was different too. Now we’ve been back to Maurice’s a few times, and it’s just not that good. Sometimes the ribs were tough and overcooked, and sometimes that sausage gravy was just an oil slick, so it quickly became a place we used to go to. But it did serve to introduce us to this style of BBQ which you’ll only find in South Carolina, and which we really like. Duke’s does this type of BBQ the best; succulent, juicy and tender chopped pork and a great sauce that’s got both a nice vinegar and mustard bite. Since it’s a good sized buffet, you get a wide assortment of sides to choose from. If you’re going through the drive-thru you get your choice of meat & three, so I suggest taking the key out of the ignition and staying awhile, as you get the complete buffet. There’s mac-n-cheese, as well as hush puppies (the best we’ve ever had), pickled beets, black eyed peas, collard greens, white rice, mashed potatoes, lima beans, green beans, baked beans, green peas, corn, usually some kind of squash…I know I’m missing a few, but you get the idea. It’s like eating at your Grandma’s house if your Grandma happens to be a really great Southern cook. They also do really good fried chicken, and we always get some of that too. Doug loves it with their red barbecue sauce. Didn’t save room for dessert? That’s O.K., it just means more peach cobbler and banana pudding for us!

Central Barbecue
2249 Central Ave.
Memphis, TN

We’ll head on up to Memphis now, for a style of barbecue most of us are more familiar with. Central Barbecue calls itself “the keepers of the flame of Memphis-style barbecue”, and we could not have put it better. You go in and stand in line and place your order with the guy at the register. The day we went in one of the guys who co-owns the place was working the cash register, and he was highly entertaining as well as helpful. If you go to their website and view the video on it, he’s the guy in the pink fuzzy hat. Like I said, entertaining. The menu is big, so you’ll need all that time in line to figure out what you want. They do slow smoked ribs, half chicken, pulled pork and smoked turkey sandwiches, as well as stuff you don’t usually find at a barbecue place, like jerk wings and barbecue nachos. We stuck with the more traditional offerings…I think I had the pulled pork sandwich and Doug had ribs. They also make their own potato chips, and we got a free bag, as it was our first time there…nice people. After you order go grab a seat if you can find one and they’ll bring your food out when it’s ready. Like most places we visit, they offer an assortment of sauces, from mild to spicy and one that’s mostly vinegar and cayenne…they’re all very good. I had the baked beans for one of my sides, and these are the best I’ve had, a nice balance between sweet and spicy. Generally, I’ve found, if I like the sauce at a restaurant, I’ll like the beans, as that’s how they flavor them. If the sauce is too sweet or has liquid smoke added (a sin against barbecue, really, a crime), well, that’s usually the kiss of death for the baked beans. I can’t remember if the slaw was vinegar or mayo based. Guess we’ll have to go back.

Carolina Bar-B-Q
213 Salisbury Rd
Statesville, NC

If you’re heading down I-77 around Statesville at lunchtime, take exit 49B for some great North Carolina barbecue. They have a hickory smoker, and the sauce is one we love, kind of a hybrid between the eastern and western NC styles, with lots of vinegar, chilies and tomato. I’ll stop here and say that, for those of you who have not yet tried eastern NC style barbecue, you’re really missing something. The sauce is a thin vinegar base with chile pepper, black pepper and salt...that’s it. They do have this sitting on the table at Carolina Bar-B-Q, and we both use it liberally. This place is very homey with knotty pine walls and a very friendly staff. Actually, we haven’t been to many restaurants in the South that didn’t have super friendly service. The hospitality all over the South is exactly what it’s cracked up to be, and if your server isn’t too busy, he or she will usually spend some time talking to you. We love this, being taciturn Northerners and all. Anyone in the restaurant business who is not from the South or has never been to the South needs to go and experience this first hand, as we could all use a little more of this quality. So back to Carolina Bar-B-Q. I love the chicken at this place…it’s super tender and cooked just right, and the sauce rocks. In fact, I’ll go ahead and say this is my favorite barbecue chicken ever. They do hickory smoked chopped or sliced pork, pork ribs, barbecue beef and barbecue chicken. You can get a rib/chicken combo, and you get two sides with any dinner plus hushpuppies. The hushpuppies here are great, maybe as good as the ones we get at Duke’s. They also have sandwiches here, as well as fried chicken, flounder and shrimp dinners, country ham dinner, Buffalo wings, Brunswick stew and salads, and more, so it’s a complete restaurant menu. They put the pies right up front where you can’t miss them, just in case you’re thinking of maybe not saving some room.

Pearl Country Store & Barbecue
106 Northeast Highway 441
Micanopy, FL

Remember earlier when I wrote about parts of Florida that still feel like Georgia? Folks in the area refer to this as “Old Florida”, meaning how Florida was before it became everyone’s part time home. Parts of the state, especially in the North and inland, still tick by the more leisurely, friendlier Southern clock, and Micanopy is one such place. Pearl Country Store is combination general store, gas station and barbecue restaurant. On our first visit there we had just driven down through a snow storm in West Virginia, so the van was just covered in road salt. There were a couple of guys hanging out on the bench out front and they offered to wash it…had all the stuff they needed right there like they were waiting for us to come along, so I guess more than a few people get off the interstate to stop here. It’s been busy on both of our visits, so it’s a popular local spot as well. The restaurant is in the back, so just keep walking past the cash register and you’ll find it. If you’re ordering to go, walk up to the counter, but if you’ll be dining in, as we do, then sit yourself down and you’ll get table service.
This is the review that Doug posted after our second visit:

Great BBQ - Made Our Top 10 List - Feb 4, 2010
This was our 2nd trip to this country store in Micanopy FL. We had the 1/4 chicken dark with beans and slaw. We also ordered 1 pound of ribs to share. They have a very unusual sauce that complements their perfectly smoked meats. The chicken and the ribs are cooked to fall off the bone perfection while still juicy and tender. The sauce is well balanced without being too sweet. This is a must stop when in the Gainesville FL area!

That about says it all. I really like this place, it’s got a relaxed, comfortable vibe and the food is great. Don’t forget to grab a sack of the local stone ground grits on your way out. I usually run out well before our next scheduled visit.

Whole Hog Cafe & Catering Company
2516 Cantrell Rd.
Little Rock, Arkansas

These guys compete at numerous circuits, including the famous Memphis-in-May competition, The Barbecue Championship Circuit, the Kansas City Barbecue Society and the Southern Gentlemen's Culinary Society. Two of the three owners are judges at a couple of those competitions, and their awards fill a page. They've gotten 2nd place for their ribs 2 years at Memphis-in-May, and they've made Grand Champion at a couple of other throw downs, so these guys have some cred.

Here's the review Doug wrote right after our visit:

One of the top 10 BBQ restaurants my wife and I have been to on our travels throughout the U.S. We had the pulled chicken, 1/2 chicken and ribs. Loved the slaw and bbq. The beans had too much molasses for our taste. They had great flavor and would be really very good if someone decided on a lighter hand with the blackstrap. It's all you can taste and there are some very good flavors underneath.We liked the choice of 6 sauces. They were all very tasty. The mustard sauce was really good with the pulled chicken. The prices were low and value very high. This is a must stop in Arkansas.

My first recollection is that I just wasn't all that hungry when we went out to eat at Whole Hog. This is a reality we sometimes face while on the road, which is that we eat out ALOT, and sometimes we eat more than we would if we were eating at home, and sometimes we max out. I was a bit maxed out at this point in our road trip, which seems like a real shame to me sitting here in front of my computer with no great barbecue within 300 miles, but there it is. I did, however, order some food. I might not have been all that hungry, but I'm not stupid. I also had my wits about me enough to really think about what I was eating, because we both are constantly critiquing while we eat when we're on the road, deciding whether a place is good enough to return to. Whole Hog is most definitely good enough to go back to. Except for the beans, everything was great... really flavorful, tender chicken and ribs, with perfect smoke and lots of fun sauces to try. I like the places where they put their sauces in squeeze bottles on the table and label them for you...Whole Hog does that. It allows you to decide which sauce goes with which meat and mix it up a little. Whole Hog has a complete restaurant menu, with dinner combo plates, sandwiches, salads, loaded barbecue baked potatoes (those are fun), and even barbecue nachos. They do ribs, pulled pork and chicken, half chickens, beef brisket and pork loin. They offer 6 sauces, including our favorite, mustard and vinegar. So 2thumbs up on this one, and we'll definitley go back, and this time I'll be really hungry.

So that’s it for now. We had originally intended on making this a top 10 list, but we feel the many, many other barbecues places we’ve tried just didn’t make the cut. We loved The Brick Pit in Mobile the first time we went there, but when we returned this past February, we found the hickory smoke just too aggressive. We were very much saddened by this, as we both love the place, but we can’t wholeheartedly endorse it. Maybe we’ll go back and give it another try one of these days. I’ll update this list after our next trip South, when we continue our search for the best Dixie barbecue.