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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)!

We noticed a rather large hole in our Restaurant Map that needed to be filled in St. Paul and the place that fit the bill for us was the Paddy Shack at the Halftime Rec in the South Como neighborhood.

They have a bar that stretches their entirety and open spaces for tables and booths throughout. This place could get lively during games and special events. The bartender was attentive and friendly, and the beers came out immediately. There was no mention of happy hour beer prices so we were a bit taken back that a local brew delivered to us was not on HH but our future rounds were properly directed. As we waited for all the crew there were multiple groups that would gather around pitchers and head downstairs to the Bocce Ball Court for what we found out was Thursday League Night at the Halftime Rec. The kitchen looked immaculately clean. The bar was in good order and we noticed that the staff were constantly washing their hands and bussing tables and glassware.

The service as we took our table was wonderful. Soon as we sat down, even though we had just been standing at the bar, she came over and gave us all the important info. Round one was a plate of buffalo wings – incomparable to any other wing we have had. They were juicy and crisp, and the sauce was a deliciously modified buffalo variation covering each nook and cranny and their blue cheese was definitely not poured out of a plastic container. Our mistake here was only ordering one plate for all of us.

We each took a variation of their burger – The Paddy Melt (at the recommendation of the server), a Guiness Cheeseburger, and a Paddy Shack Burger that was ordered with an extra ‘paddy’ on the top. The most impressive visually was the extra paddy, as the cook took the idea to the top and did not just add another meat slab in the middle, he added a whole extra burger and stabbed them both together!

Photo credit @trevolve on twitter

It was agreed around the table that for the flavors of the plates that were put in front of us could have been delivered in a white napkin and marble tabletop joint where each one cost over double. The meals here are a rare find for the facade that the tin tackers, pinball machine, pull tabs, and well worn bar curtain behind.

Food: 5/5 a rare breed, but worthy of the highest ranking.
Drinks: 3/5 small beer list for happy hour, but decent enough.
Atmosphere: 3.5/5 large space with sparse tables, meant more for events.
Overall: 4/5 amazing food, decent establishment.

What better way to celebrate National Lager Day and our first single beer review than to drink a hometown classic, Summit’s Pilsener. The beer is a family brew and we like that – the Summit’s founder has family in ND who grows all the grain for this brew.

It pours a crystal clear pale-gold in color with a frothy head. The beer is drinkable, and to quote the macro brew’s favorite word, the drinkability of this beer is immense. I brought this beer to a gathering recently and those present threw those back quicker than any other collection that was available in the coolers (which at this point in December, was the outdoors). The beer has a light aroma to it, like driving past a grain field right before the harvest and there has been no rain. After setting down the glass there was a light buttered caramel and spice from the hops that lingered in the mouth.

Overall, Summit’s Bohemian Style Pilsener is a 4/5. Light in body, and and a beer that is safe to order anywhere its offered.

Happy Hour at the Red Cow is great, unless you get there too late… I walked in around 5 pm to get a feel for the place and grab a beer to find the joint packed with over an hour on the waiting list. I turned on my heels and stopped next door at the Salt Cellar to sit at the bar (Pork Cracklins were amazing!) to send messages around to mancuisine to decide what to do. Little did I know that Doug had already put his name on the list – and they were going to call his cell phone when a table opened up! An amazing feature for a packed place. We all met first at Fabulous Ferns to grab a couple drinks, and in so doing added another onto our list of places to visit in the future – phone call was received, and we went back to Red Cow.

The staff was polite and helpful, giving great beer advice and even brought over a few samples, helping us out with explaining their extensive list. The ‘Ring of Onion’ came out quickly but tasted like they had been removed too early. The onion inside still had a bite of the acid flavor and a healthy crunch as if we were biting directly into the plant. Some found it appealingly different, others did not appreciate the style – but Red Cow’s homemade ketchup covered the difference.

Burgers are what they specialize in and that is what we all ordered. It wonderful to find a place that asks how you want your burgers to be cooked and cooks it as ordered. Its our opinion that if you ask how you would like it, cook it that way and not just keep cooking everyone’s the same. While the portions were minimal, each of ours was a dream-state delicious. Out of the burger joints we have been to, this one is at the top for flavor and consistency. I had the french onion burger, and it will be hard for me to order anything different due to fears the others could not stand up to the flavors I experienced between those buns.

Red Cow's French Onion Burger
Red Cow’s French Onion Burger

Throughout the meal the patrons were moving in and out, and the staff were attentive and sincere. It is a well run establishment, with the customers leaving happy and content – smiles of conversation and merriment abound.

Food: 5/5 Solid menu
Drinks: 4/5 Diverse, but expensive
Atmosphere: 4/5 Too packed for its space, even after happy hour
Overall: 4.5/5 Needs to be checked out.

Red Cow St. Paul’s Website

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

There have been multiple attempts to make it to the Gopher Bar, all met with locked doors and taped signs informing us that they were closed for the day. After having now sat at the bar and talked with the patrons, that might have been best to delay this first encounter.

I will give the Gopher Bar this: they have cheap beer. Our couple rounds of drinks here totaled our first round at the previous bar we were at. They also have a good-looking bar that looks fitting for the space. Their food is more than edible and their Coneys have a good taste to them.

If you read other reviews about the Gopher they talk about its no-holds-bar idea of practicing their freedom of speech. This is completely true – the confederate flag hangs above the bar and there are countless bumper stickers exclaiming ideas like: “If you think healthcare is expensive now wait until it’s free!”, “Guns are carried on these premises”, “Better an imperfect Republican than a perfect Socialist”, and “If you don’t like my confederate flag you can kiss my ass”. While its fair game to practice your rights, I wonder how much they lose each year to people leaving due to conflicting ideals of the bar:IMG_4662

We went before a night game of the Saints, in which the Gopher is just up the street from CHS field, because the other establishments were packed and we would not have been able to get service. Opening the door of the Gopher was met with an elderly couple at a table and two people residing the bar. Stark difference from one block down the road.

Sitting at the bar got quick service and a couple beers right away, and I liked that. After having made a stop before here, the quick venture to the bathroom filled the nostrils with Ammonia and left me wondering how grandfathered permits work in St. Paul. The doors to the field were opening soon so we finished a second round and took off to further down the hill in Lowertown.

  • Food: 3/5
  • Atmosphere: 1/5
  • Drinks: 4/5
  • Overall: 2.5/5

joestan

With 10-14” of snow fresh on our yards, little did we know that going into this night of the third largest 24 hour snowfall in Minnesota history would have us travelling to three locations in one night. After all, it has been awhile since the men have gathered!

gophercorkThe roadways brought about a staggered and partial arrival to our only planned location for the night, the Gopher Bar in St. Paul. An irreverent place famous for its coneys.Two of the men walked up to the door to find it… locked. All the lights were off, no note on the door and no notice on the web. With a wind chill in the single digits a quick decision was made to hike a few blocks  north to Cork’s Irish Pub.

Cork’s is a hotel restaurant, to begin with. The atmosphere was welcoming and many groups of friends gathered, decided to defer the cold until warm in the stomach and imbibed the liquid courage to brave the bitterness outside. This place has an Irish bar feel – the dark wood, wall hangings and a good number of people-pleasing taps, all within the mainstream producers. Happy hour goes until 6, and as the waiter put it when asked, “pretty much everything is half off”. A round of beers, and orders of scotch eggs, chicken wings and walleye fingers were made as more members trickled in from there extended snow-delayed commute, fingers numb from the cold. The food was worth staying for, but as we had more members still traversing the roadways we decided to go to a place closer to them and with more character for us.

We moved quickly back to our vehicles and caravanned south on West 7th to Joe and Stan’s Bar. One of our members was brought to a halt on a bridge by the car ahead of him and got stuck on the ice! Before his delayed entrance we could only guess what happened to make him pause in our gastronomical journey.

Joe and Stan’s is quite the place. There are locals, stragglers and a helpful bar staff that occupy the room. It had the rural bar feel with a city bar comfort for freshman groups to the bar such as we.  We took over the area next to the pull-tabs and ordered a round, more wings, and the necessary onion rings. Everyone at the table ordered something different, an unusual occurrence for a Guys Night Out. Broasted chicken, multiple types of burgers and a rack of ribs occupied our table as we gorged ourselves on the plethoral variety. The broasted chicken was glorious, the type that when belches happen later in the evening, as they often do, the reoccurring taste does not come as a deterrent for more, but a beckoning to return to its origin. They have nightly food specials and decently cheap beer that made our wallets happy after the bill arrived.

It was a journey from start to finish and I do believe that we ended in the right place. As stated during the night, the Gopher Bar is our Sasquatch – we believe it exists but have yet to experience the Coney because of its elusiveness, and judging by their web site, they prefer it that way. -Isaac

We were ready to head out for some amazing pizza in the northwest ‘burbs when two of the group had to cancel. Rather than travel to the “Here be Dragons” part of the map without the entire sailing crew we opted to find something closer to home. St. Paul had been the site of the amazing pizza and atmosphere at Red’s Savoy so when Isaac jumped in with the suggestion to try Skinner’s Pub and Eatery on Randolph in St. Paul we were quick to sign up.

A small lot out back but plenty of on-street parking made the end of the drive easy. On entry we were greeted by the classic neighborhood bar. Long and with a handful of people that fit the seats like a 1970’s bicycle tourer fits his leather saddle at the end of a long tour. Several people smiled and nodded a welcome. Just as we crossed the threshold we got a text to “go to the patio”. We hung a right at booth six, walked through the dinning area and into the patio. It was shaded and mostly empty at the early hour of six.

We are told that the place is busy on the nights that the sponsored softball team is in action, and, we are also told by inside sources that a Princess of the South Wind from the Winter Carnival plays on that same team. Fortunately Wednesday (correction) was Wing Night instead of game night. We ordered a dozen, splitting the bill: 8 Buffalo, 8 Jerk. all were good and sized well. Beer of the evening was the Boulevard Maibock- pints for $2.00. Remarkable. It only got better.

Neil Armstrong

The menu was full but we came for the pizza and soon we had two on the way. A classic pizza called Top of the Line with sausage, green peppers and the rest but with sauerkraut under the heavy blanket of cheese. The other was an amalgam of amazing meat products dubbed the Factory. Also with lots of cheese. One sign of a good pizza is when the surface of the pizza looks like the surface of the moon. The cheese sinks between the remarkable lumps of food allowing it to brown unevenly and look like even a martian rover would have difficulty navigating the Sea of Edibility. Wonder if Neil Armstrong’s first thoughts after setting down the Lunar Lander were about where his next pizza would come from? Further note- I have been to Iceland where the Apollo Astronauts trained to walk on the moon’s uneven surface. I have yet to have a good Icelandic Pizza. Thought you should know. Suggestions are welcome.

Lunar Training Surfaces

In all seriousness, why would we EVER go for pizza to any place but St. Paul?

Red, Randy and Skinner- all were winners.

It had been way too long since we ventured across the stream to St. Paul. Fortunately one of our members was flying down Seventh Street recently and proclaimed that some building had a burger painted on the chimney and that we ought to stop. Enjoying a good proclamation from  time to time we decided to meet at Burger Moes on Seventh near downtown.

We have been on string of hits lately but had been noticing that most of the beer and burger places were starting to look the same. Nonetheless we crossed the threshold and took up seats near the back. The barkeep/ waiter was story-filled and with a great knowledge of local brews. His command of small Wisconsin breweries was surprisingly solid. Anyone who can list the hits and misses from New Glarus is god-like in our book.

The place was about half-full on a Monday night at 6:00. But then, none of the local places looked too packed as we walked by. Parking out back was nice. The small lot next to the pub was a good thought at one time. A great beer list with plenty of local representation and priced fairly. Wonderful burger list. Not as silly-long as Lucky’s was and with a better range than most.

The Denny was a remarkable pile of goodness from the tasty beef to the fried egg.  This is the kind of food you eat just before the diagnosis of clogged arteries, hypertension, cholesterol overshoot or oncoming diabetes. It is a wonder to hold and a treasure to consume. Well done Moe, well done.

The other burgers were similarly well received. The Black and Blue was true to its genetics and had a decidedly tastier grind of beef than we have been eating. We did sample the appetizers as well. Happy to report that the ring of onion was well above average. Onion rings have been so disappointing lately that we were not going to order them again. But then we remembered, we always order onion rings. Say La Vee.

So the final analysis says look for a good evening out at a place with tasty brew, intelligent staff, and good bar food on the menu. Seemed like a hit all around. We like the St. Paul stop so much that we walked over to Cossetta’s and had some desert. Mighty nice. We should also mention that the original plan had us spending some time at the remarkable Seven Corners Hardware before eating. Sadly, we ran out of time and somehow they closed for the day. We’ll check it out some other time.


Our curiosity got the better of us as we ventured up to Mendota to check out the relatively new Lucky’s 13 Pub.  On the only main corner in town this location used to house an establishment that found at least one of us playing pool in younger years and having a cool tasteless brew in a ten ounce glass not more than a few years back. The reconstruction is great and the warehouse look works well.

A long bar on one half and restaurant on the other greet you as you enter. The bar was busy at 6:00 and looked to be a mixture of suits on the way home from work and stiffs doing about the same. The staff was upbeat and seemed to like working the crowd. We opted for the restaurant and a large table. Many tables of 3-4 friends, one family, some couples and some that looked like they might have just landed at Pig’s Eye. Good music and background sounds.

But let’s get to the task. We were told that this place was somehow related to the Axel’s restaurants (nice places) and the Bonfire’s (still haven’t figured out the bar seating) in the twin cities. We think not. Might be just a rumor. Nonetheless, this place had easily the most awesome hamburger selection in the Cites. Not some silly sixty-hamburger list but a good selection of offerings that covered the ground. AND ALL were great. Not a miss on the order. The beers were varied and met all our needs from the hop-dependent Ike to the British Bitter fan that is Brad. Appetizers were creative and tasty with plenty of spice. The wait staff was upbeat and around enough that no plate nor glass stayed empty for long. Seriously- a good night of food and fun.

The downside was the cost. We usually can spend an evening eating, drinking, and talking smart – when the check arrives it is easy to dig in the pocket and toss out what is due. When this one arrived we had to swallow hard, and it wasn’t just the after-burn of the great buffalo sauce. The cost rivaled the Buffalo Tap in Savage and I still cringe when I drive by that place. I checked back on the Luckys 13 website to see if the menu had been altered to adjust things down a bit but at this time the menu is no longer on the site. Just some dead links. Looks like another version of the place may be open in Bloomington. Maybe things will change- check the site to see.

Often we have stories about the bathrooms that we use at the places we visit. There was the bathroom in Richfield where the lines of something white on the counter lead us to wonder about the giddy feeling we had after eating and the place in Minneapolis where the bathroom floor had a 10 degree angle as measured by the iPod Level app. No such issues here. the Head is upscale. An old-guy mannequin holding a towel would be a fitting addition.