Post and outing by one or two of the guys.

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image source: blackmarketbarbecue.com

If there is one thing that we can say that we know, it is barbecue. For years we have competed with our ribs and brisket – and hesitated buying meat from others as few compare to the level of care we give to the preparation, cooking and rest needed to create great meals. Chain BBQ joints and local favorites always seem to miss an element of what makes barbecue great: a feeling of friendship between the guests, the meat and the cook preparing it. The moment you walk up to the table where Black Market BBQ has parked you instantly feel like you are a member of the team and have been there all day with them and shared the experience.

The crew rolls up in the smoker trailer in the early morning and fills it with racks of ribs and slabs of brisket. Talking with the chef he says there is “no better time to be out, the birds are singing and the sun is just in the right spot”. I wish I could be that chipper that early in the morning. The smoker gets up to temp and the meat rotates away within the trailer, soaking up and absorbing all the flavors with it.

After hours of cooking their truck rolls up, and the meat is released from its vessel. Go ahead, ask them to look inside the smoker, he will bring you right up to the doors and show you the Narnia-esque land of meat inside, dark from the history of smoke brought through the trailer with the redolence only a pitmaster can bring. 

But all this does not build you up for the tastes you are going to get from this system. Note: If you are a person who needs a sauce to go along with your meat you will not find that here.  This is a dry-rubbed, brined type of place. Order a brisket and it comes in a asian take-out style container overfilled with meat and the juices that come with it. Ribs come in a coffee bag with about 4 bones in each. Nothing more, nothing less, and we like it that way.

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image source: blackmarketbarbecue.com

We will leave this review with some excerpts taken from their website, because it summarizes them so well: “This is Minnesota BBQ directly off the pit, with a dry rub that never needs sauce. This isn’t Memphis. This isn’t Texas. It’s not whatever you’ve had that was supposed to be the best barbecue ever. This is Minnesota BBQ, and it’s really, really good. Just like it’s supposed to be.”

Food: 5/5 If you are looking for smoked meats cooked slow, this is it.
Drink: -/5 Food only, although it is known to park at breweries.
Atmosphere: 5/5 The best people, doing what they love.
Overall: 4.5/5 Why the ding? They are not open more (but thats it)!

It was a Thursday night lull that brought us again to Mayslacks. One of those nights when you are sitting down after a day on the job and the thought of going to the fridge and concocting a delicious dinner sounded more like a marathon than a sprint. This night, we were guided to Mayslacks – no real reason why, just a compass guiding the steering wheel after we pulled out of the driveway to delicious meats.

The place was surprisingly bare. In previous trips to this joint it was either hard to find a table or hard to hear the people across the table because of the joviality of the patrons. Tonight had neither, and it was a wonderful spring night so we headed out to the patio to find the same concentration of people.

A few Summit Maibocks were ordered ($4 a pint this month!) and we looked at the same menu we have looked at over all the years logged since our first visit. Roast beef is, and deservedly so, their best menu item in whatever vessel you choose to eat it with. This time, I went with the Hot Italian Beef  (pictured here) that comes with shoestring fries, cup of au jus  and a generous helping of what I can only define as the spiciest relish I have ever tasted (that came with the resulting 4am wake up call).IMG_6346

The bun was soft, the fries were well cooked and the roast beef was amazing. Like I said before, anything that comes with the beef is worth trying at this place.

Stan Myslajek would still be proud of this place. Put his roast beef in the ring with any competitor an his would still come out on top.

Food: 4.5/5 Roast beef. Garlic, juicy and delicious
Drink: 3/5 impressive list, all beers came mostly flat
Atmosphere: 3/5 If dark and damaged is your thing, this is your place
Overall: 3.5/5 Great food and lots of character in its history

The idea is novel: pour your own local beer from a tap handle and eat some food from their kitchen that they make. The follow through with that idea in practice lost something in translation to the people who work there…

Credit: craftcouncil.org

Its a beautiful space in Grain Belt’s retired keg house in Northeast Minneapolis. The owners of the building turned the warehouse into smaller office-style spaces and Community Keg House occupies the first door upon entering from the parking lot. Traverse to the counter and you have found the pivotal point: the man with the clean glasses. Order your food their chalkboard menu and a pint with him and he hands the vessel over and directs you to the “taproom”.

Here comes the decision. All the taps are from local breweries and each one has as full description of the beer that would pour when you bring the handle towards you. The “taptender,” as they are called, will offer you a very small pour of the beers to try if you are fickle about the flavors your are looking to have. They will also direct your process on how to pour the correct way and fill the glass without the foam head so many would walk away with, uneducatedly.

The business models looked like there was one person in the tap area and the other was the cashier/food runner. One stays around the taps and makes sure that the lines are running and the people have their glasses filled (only once). The other(s) are to work the register to send the ticket to the kitchen and then bring the food out when its done. Here was our biggest disappointment – Our food sat on the window for as long as it took us to drink a pint, and when we ordered the next one we asked if that was ours and he said “maybe, check the ticket next to the plates.” That type of service has not been beleaguered to us since the bartender at the Cedar Inn was drunk enough to have us pour our pitcher since he was drinking with others. Why give out table numbers if they do not signify where the food goes?

Overall the place was a wonderful space that could have been better utilized and hired/trained more effectively. Sad, since this was a bar that we were pumped to be regulars at and try all the beers!

Food: 1/5 the food was tasty but expensive and it took too long to get out.
Drink: 3/5 selection is limited in variety of styles, but not in companies.
Atmosphere: 4/5 open and warm
Overall: 2.5/5 A bit rocky now, with hopes of their improvement.

Edit: Permanently Closed [we called it!]

If you live in the Twin Cities you have heard of Surly Brewing Co., beer drinker or not. They are a powerhouse of both brewing and initiating movements – it was the Surly Bill that opened the door for the over 100 brewery/taprooms that are now open in Minnesota where there were less than 10 in early 2011. We have been to Surly’s taproom restaurant many times since it had opened but always for family gatherings or to meet old friends, so our focus was on who we were with and not our surroundings or even what we had. With the temperature dropping below 0 outside and the holidays over we ventured over with hopes that others were going to stay indoors.

The place is a spectacle even by the time your turn onto their street. Located in a field of abandoned grain silos Surly is a beacon of modern. Their sign is a concrete sculpture and right after you walk through the football field of a parking lot you can take a moment to warm up with their olympic style torch at their front door. The interior is an homage to cement and stainless steel with a wood accent poetically conveying the idea of their growth.  Within their vast space is also a sea of people waiting to get a table or just a horizontal plane to set their beer down on. Our wait time on this blustering night was an hour and ten minutes, the hostess informing us that it was a “very typical wait these days”. We would like to think of it as more time for sampling the beer… Looks like our plan to avoid the crowd did not work, even on this frigidly cold day.

Surly Brewing Co. Destination Brewery Beer Hall and Restaurant
View of the beer hall

The hall is alive with streams of employees picking up empty glassware and dishes, and it was an ebb and flow to the people standing on the outskirts waiting for the levee to open and be given a table in the center. The fault in their layout was that the bar had only a small section where those waiting could come up and grab a beer, causing confusion as to who was in line or just standing around. It did seem that there is no ‘Minnesota Nice’ when it comes to getting in front of someone waiting for a beer here, with many groups properly directioned to where they should queue.

The beer list that is served every day is impressive – breaking the choices down by malt-forward and hop-forward categories with a few other beers not being able to be defined as thus as well.  Being regulars of Surly’s section in the coolers around town we tried a few irregulars (Devil’s Work and Witches Tower) and had wished we ordered those as tasters since we were unimpressed with the styles, but happy to have tried them at the source instead of grabbing them in four packs at home (are they even available elsewhere?).

Given a German beer-hall style table we cozied up next to the party already sitting there and ordered right away as we had menus in our hands during the wait. This was a different feel from our recent visits to RAMEN KAZAMA. There were people standing around us waiting for a table, but with beers in hand and merriment all around there was no feeling that we were being rushed or onlookers glaring at the people who continued drinking at tables with empty plates.

The food list is mouthwatering, and their prices match the ingenuity. We got a burger and a cut of pork steak with some cauliflower on the side. The pork was extremely salty but cooked to the right temp and the  sauce almost made you not notice. While rabbit food is not a typical staple next to our meats, the greens were mixed with fruits and sauces that were a bit overloaded on the tart and tangy side, but mixed well with the meat sauce. The burger was a high class big mac (even they say they use ‘fancy’ sauce, a nod to McD’s special?) and the fries that came with it were smaller and crispier than run-of-the-mill ones and quite delicious. We also recommend the cauliflower but avoid dredging them through too much of the sauce, the flavoring at the bottom is hard to get rid of from you mouth.

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Our one wish was that our server had been able to direct our beer orders in a more harmonious direction with the food we were concurrently putting on our bill. Ordering the Smoke with our plates left some bad tastes, but easily erased as we switched to water for a while. It would be hard to avoid this place in the future as it is on the radar for all those who live in the Twin Cities – and even those who do not – but with the atmosphere that they provide and a ever-improving beer list, why would you?

Food: 3.5/5 Unique and delicious, but tasted untested and experimental.
Drink: 4/5 Their usuals are amazing, but order others and you might be disappointed.
Atmosphere: 5/5 Hard pressed to find another place full of people enjoying themselves.
Overall: 4/5 A wonderful place to be and to eat. What’s next for Surly?

Maple TavernStopped by the Maple Tavern after a day with the in-laws. Parked a large group of 14 for some burgers and beer. Parking lot was packed but plenty of room inside. I was a bit curious about the place – both because a long-lost high school friend who lives in Osseo and that this might be a place I would find him because of some irregularities involving a few kegs from New Glarus making it across the border.

The menu had a good selection of burgers and entrees with a fairly pedestrian appetizer list. Be advised that the onion rings are serious rings of onion, very tasty and very filling. The signature burger is pictured here. A basic burger, well made and tasty at just under $10. Our table ordered everything from a juicy to a pot pie and nobody had a complaint. The only criticism across the long table was that the ‘homemade’ chips and the fries were actually pretty common. Still, with that being the only one, its overall worth the food stop.

The beer list was reasonable but happy hour only covered the watery brews. Nonetheless a pint of Summit or Surly was reasonable and the selections of additional good brews was plenty long. The long service bar and entertainment area sports a variety of games and it looks like quite a crowd plays volleyball here in warmer weather.

Overall, not a bad place to stop. Perhaps we’ll get the Macuisine crowd up that way for a formal eval in the future. Until then, Dan, if you’re still hanging out in Osseo send me a note. I’ll meet you at the Maple!

I recently found myself 1200 miles from home in Atlanta with a completely free evening and made it my quest to scope out the local brewery scene. As any 21st century person would I took to the web to assist in determining how to spend this serendipitous moment.

SweetWater

SweetWater Brewing Company continued to pop-up in searches, news articles, and reviews. This place has clearly brought craft brewing into the mainstream in the southeast and promotes itself as one of the highest production craft breweries in the country (according to the Brewers Association they were #18 in 2014 – Summit Brewing was #28 in comparison).

The brewery is located in an industrial park north of the midtown area of Atlanta. The “tours” run from 5:30 to 7:30 and the charge when I attended was $10 for a souvenir pint glass, tour, and 6 half glass pours of whatever beers they had on tap – This is how they get around not being able to sell their beer, they sell tours and serve you beer! While they do run their tours throughout the night, chatting with the crowd and servers I found that many people use the brewery as a gathering place to drink a decent amount of quality craft beer for a decent price without ever taking the opportunity to go back into the production area. Fortunately for me this meant that I was able to get my own private tour of the brewery!

Dank TankHaving visited a fair share of microbreweries I was awestruck by the shear scale of this place.  Upon entering, there are racks upon racks of barrels (whiskey, bourbon, gin, tequila) where all kinds of miraculous brews are waiting for just the right time to be tapped.  In the entry area I also came across the “dank tank“, which is basically the pilot vessel for the brewery with an interesting character immortalized on the front.  According to an employee this is an homage to the ambiguously gendered prostitute who would hang around the brewery’s old location and would occasionally complete odd jobs around the brewery for beer.

The rest of the tour covered the usual equipment.  In passing they were emptying one of the fermenters and the remnants from the dry hopping were drained all over the floor.  I have had many exposures to wonderful hop aromas from both home brewing and drinking various high IBU brews, but having pounds upon pounds of hop sediment drained right before you is definitely a sensory experience my olfactories will remember.

Now to the important part, the beers! Like many popular craft breweries, a majority of SweetWater’s beer offerings had higher IBUs (EPA, IPA, double IPA). One beer that I did not try that was popular with many at the brewery (predominantly female or self proclaimed “regular beer” haters) was a blueberry infused pale. Here are notes from what I was able to sample:

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Georgia Brown: Knowing the hop onslaught was coming I went for the brown first. Malty, slight biscuit and nut. Pretty decent brown and a good way to start the evening.

Hop Hash: A “hop hash” infused double IPA.  While I admit I was first apprehensive that the “hop hash” was just a gimmick I was a believer after trying this brew. Strong hop aroma (piney and subtle fruit) well balanced with the malt.

420: This is their flagship brew.  Being an EPA I went in knowing full well that Summit EPA is a standard at home and that the bar was high. Body was a bit lighter than the Summit, distinct hop difference.  Overall I would drink this again but not unique enough to be a “go to” instead of the Summit (if they actually distributed in MN).

IPA: At this point I will admit my palate was pretty blown and my senses were recently rocked by the dumping of hop sediment from a fermenter. Overall it was a solid IPA with a good amount of citrus and medium-light malt profile.

Final Recommendation: If you happen to be in an area where SweetWater distributes, pick some up, and if you find yourself in the Atlanta area, I highly recommend a visit to the brewery. You will not be disappointed!

 

An event at work gave a few of us the option to venture out around lunchtime. After a short discussion we came to J R Mac’s for a [thankfully] quick bite. We found a spot right in front of their door in the tiny parking lot and came into a bar space filled with one table of 6+ people and sporadic chairs filled thereafter. No head turns or quieted tones upon entry – unique for us.

Taking a couple chairs at the bar we were greeted by the one bartender/server who placed the laminated menus down and explained to us that Saturdays were ‘Taco-Days’ and that she recommended going that route as specials go all day. Obliging to the lady we ordered some tacos and some beers.

The pull tab booth in the back had a line of regulars and we joined the movement. The big surprise with this visit was that the taco shells were deep fried and then filled, like a crunchy enchilada. Although this provided for some ideal taco flavorings the insides were the style that you may find at any run-of-the-mill fast food taco joint.

Before we left and discarded all the empty pull tabs [no big winners here] a look around gave a nice summary of what this place tries to be, and quite frankly is: a neighborhood bar with an atmosphere that welcomes and indulges, but lacks the backbone to bring in anyone outside of ‘dropping in’ distance.

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J R Mac’s Tacos
  1. Food: 3/5 Classic bar fair
  2. Drinks: 2.5/5 Limited beer list and drink specials. Spotty glassware.
  3. Atmosphere: 3/5 Quiet atmosphere centered around the bar and pull tabs.
  4. Overall: 3/5 Worth a stop, but would be hard to be a regular.

J R Mac’s website

After calling in sick to work two days in a row I had to get out of the house and have someone make me more than the ramen broth and chicken I concocted on my own. Going to Hazel’s was the best move since laying on the couch a few days before in recovery (and quite possibly long before that).

Walking into Hazel’s at 11 on a Thursday ushered us into businesspeople in suits, grandpas taking their granddaughters out to eat, friends hugging as they come and as they go, and a loner watching over all of the above. We came right at the change of menus and the crowd was sparse but picked up as lunch came into full swing. This was apparent by our waitress being fast when unexpected and slow when needed – really the only setback in a great establishment.

The menu is ‘standard’ with its fares at lunch – sandwiches/burgers, salads, meals and sides. We ordered the Buffalo Chicken sandwich (4/5) and the Reuben (4.5/5). There were many items that we would go back for to try, like their burgers and bbq pork sandwich.

What we were greatly appreciative of was the variety of choices with the sides that come with the meal. More than just fries and salad, there was an abundance of options like the “chorizo, bean and potato chili” that would have been an honest competitor in our chilifest competitions.

Overall, this diner has what you look for – quaint atmosphere, good menu, and a variety of regulars.

Hazels

  1. Food: 4.5/5
  2. Drinks: In absentia this trip – although they do have local beers on tap
  3. Atmosphere: 3/5 – family atmosphere with lots of art, but lacks character
  4. Overall: 4/5 – great food, good assortment of people, lousy service

Hazel’s Website

It was a series of unfortunate events that brought me to Steve O’s this time around. The first could have been labelled in a similar way, but that night was brought about through a beer-fueled celebration of the end of a school year. It is important to note here that I work at a school a ways down the street from Steve O’s and had it not been for the teachers there I would have never heard of the place…

It was 10 AM that day and the school was shut down due to a police presence across the street. The students had been turned around in the buses and the staff was told that we could leave for the day (everything turned out fine). A group of teachers gathered in my room as we began looking for a place to grab a drink after the stressful morning. A google search could find no such places as they all opened at 11. Someone asked the question “What about Steve O’s?”, “You remember what happened there last time”, “Yeah but I think they are open”, “They open at 8 AM! We found a place!” What luck!

Walking into Steve O’s at 10 with a group of people attracts a few stares from the regulars as the tables are moved around but their eyes turn back to their bottles on the bar without complaint. The bartender waitress came out as we looked over their breakfast menu and we ordered a round. Beers came in clean glasses with a good variety available and the mixed drinks came strong. Odell’s St. Lupulin the waitress affectionately called “the one I cannot name”.

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Breakfast here is a stop worth making if you are in the area. They have pizza with hollandaise as the sauce, plates that are cheap that come with a free bloody mary, and a good variety of meals off the griddle. It is not a large kitchen however, so anticipate that any large orders will take time. The list that was handed to the cook actually enticed him enough to come out and give us a wave to see how many people were actually eating it. And don’t ask if you can get poached eggs, the response will be a scripted “alright, how do you want your eggs fried then?”

We stayed until well after the lunch hour, tried our luck at pull tabs, and paid our surprisingly minimal bill before opening the doors to the great blinding light called the outside world. I will be coming back to try their wings.

  • Food: 3.5/5
  • Atmosphere: 3/5
  • Drinks: 4/5
  • Overall: 3.5/5