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BBQ, Minnesota Monthly, Q Fanatic

I eagerly devoured Dara Moskowitz's article in MM on BBQ in MN. I really enjoy her writing and have found many of her recommendations to be right on the mark.

Based on that, I tried Q Fanatic. She's right to talk up the vodka-based (or infused) BBQ sauce. It was both good and different from anything I've tasted on BBQ. However, I was not thrilled with the brisket sandwich, pulled pork sandwich or spare ribs. The beans, mashed potatos, fries and slaw on the side were also nothing particularly good. In my view, Q Fanatic's meal last night was only marginally better than Famous Dave's. In other words, not bad, but nothing I'd drive to 30 minutes to Champlin for a 2nd time.

Since she raved about this and John Hardy's, another place I don't think is all that great, and I'm hearing from friends in and around Stillwater that Smalley's isn't worth the drive, I question the rest of the recommendations.

What do you think?

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  1. Personally, I think Smalley's is well worth the drive. It's one of those things where the difference is in the details and is less in-your-face. It sort of equates to the idiots (my very pointed opinion) who gush on and on about Dunkin' Donuts/Starbucks/McDonald's/etc. coffee and wouldn't know an actual decent cup of coffee if it smashed them in the face. There are probably a lot of people that don't appreciate the quality, complexity, and makeup of Smalley's BBQ. Beyond that, I do think it shows up in the most basic sense as well -- the taste.

    I agree that John Hardy's isn't out of this world. It's fine if you're down that way.

    1 Reply
    1. re: MSPD

      You can certainly argue with the John Hardy sauce(s) and I think the ribs are ok, but I'll still stop for a plate of pulled pork and jojos when I'm down that way. I think it is fab.

    2. Q Fanatic blows Famous Daves out of the water. It is not close. I put this in the same category as those who compare Al Vento to Olive Garden.

      Whether it floats your boat is, I suppose, a matter of opinion. I found the brisket to be moist, but perhaps a tad under-seasoned, but was very impressed with the pulled pork. As far as sides go, the Mac & Cheese and onion straws are stand-outs.

      Smalley's is worth the drive if you are into the chicken, which was quite good. The beef has gotten (deservedly) mixed reviews. The mac and cheese, however, was the best I've had. Worth the drive? In a vacuum, maybe not.

      5 Replies
      1. re: kevin47

        How would you describe the Smalley's chicken? Fried? Barbeque sauced?

        What's good about it? May need to check it out..

        1. re: karykat

          Jamaican Jerk grilled over pimiento wood.

        2. re: kevin47

          went to smalley's shortly after it opened and while i loved the pimiento wood smoke, and the food was technically proficient, i don't think the place has "heart." the meat (pork) was okay, as were the wings we did try, but owed much of their appeal to the higher than average ingredient quality (nothing wrong with that, mind). but there was no real pitmaster flair.

          my major gripe? housemade jamaican bbq sauces. no dig. 4 were presented--tasted like a jug of french's commercial worcestershire sauce, whizzed in a blender with a little, then some, then a handful, and finally 2 handfuls of dried chiles and spice, and labeled as if they were 4 different individually crafted sauces which did not use a commercial restaurant supply sauce base. the food was okay but i did feel the sauces bordered on insulting toward the customer. not often i feel angry toward a sauce, but i would have much preferred a crushed scotch bonnet and a couple of allspice berries shaken around inside a half-empty red stripe bottle and sloshed around on my plate, or. . . er, in the horrid basket things they use, whatever. would have been a much more cohesive flavor profile, because imho some of the spicing of the sauce took it out into the pacific, rather than the atlantic. source your wood directly from jamaica and make a big deal about it, guys, and then go and use mexican and chinese spices? does not come across as cutting-edge fusion-y, comes across as sloppy.

          yes, i should probably go back and see what's improved at the restaurant, but i am still angry at that sauce and it should apologize first.

          1. re: soupkitten

            That's a good point about sauces. I recall being underwhelmed by the sauces at Smalleys, but thinking it was no big deal... like the selection of hot sauces at a Mexican restaurant.

            But when it comes to BBQ, it's actually a pretty big deal, and Q is a great example of why and how this is so. It's a primary driver of flavor, not just an enhancer.

            1. re: soupkitten

              Hubby and I went to Smalley's tonight. We've been there several times before and been happy with our food, but tonight was a real letdown. We got the corn fritters app, which were overcooked almost to the point of being burned. I ordered the coal roasted pork shoulder; hubby the beef brisket. Both the meets were filled with fat and gristle. Pretty disgusting, actually. That said, my sweet potatoes were excellent and hubby really like his beans side. All in all we won't be back any time soon. When you can't get the meat right, the sides just aren't enough to bring us back again. :(

          2. I have had Q Fanatic and thought it was better than Dave's. And I like Dave's for what they provide...
            As for the rest of her recommendations, I made it to Bob's Smoke Stack in Elgin after spending a day at Lake Pepin and I can tell you without equivocation that they got the real deal pork ribs down there. They were swamped due to Dara's article, but the quality of the ribs was not diminshed. I haven't been to Rendevous in Memphis in awhile (my fave) but these ribs certainly stacked up.

            6 Replies
            1. re: eastlakovore

              I thought the pulled pork and rib tips were excellent, along with the mac and cheese. I know the potato gratinee sounded great, too, but they were out when I was there. I wasn't impressed with the brisket (or the cole slaw), but I tend to think a lot of these mom-n-pop bbq joints specialize in a couple of things, and do the rest for the variety. As for the sauce, fantastic. The vodka is actually to bring out some of the alcohol-soluble flavors that don't normally come out, or so Google tells me. I did find a vodka bbq sauce on Youtube that was close, but not quite.

              1. re: mech_e

                I judge a BBQ place by how much smoke you can smell when you arrive. And I think to really rate a BBQ place there should be pork, beef and a chicken meat to be judged - not only a pulled meat. While I liked Q-Fanatic's ribs, there was only pulled chicken (all they had was grilled when I was there - booo)

                What about C & G's Smoking Barbeque? I went there when it first opened and was not impressed. Same with John Hardy's. Dara, why?

                I love Big Daddy's. Love them. I think they're the best.

                1. re: drower

                  q-fanatic's brisket was far from anything you would find in texas. there is more to good restaurant 'que then hanging your proverbial apron on "must not be dry" at the cost of smokehouse bbq integrity. mine tasted like a french dip sandwich complete with garlic butter on the french bread roll (bread was great, btw)
                  His product is "steamed" of all its inherent briskety beauty in an attempt to be moist and tender. no bark, no smoke no good. Sorry charley...

                  1. re: infamousdavid

                    We went the other night at about 7:45 on a whim. The guy was the rudest person I've ever dealt with. He had an issue with us ordering food because they close at 8. He should have just said were closed. We asked if we could get a pulled pork sandwich and a chicken sandwich. I asked for the vinegar sauce. He asked me if I had ever had it before (not sure why). Then when we didn't order something to drink he had another issue. We said forget it and walked out. Just say your closed if you don't want to sell your food. What a joke.

                    1. re: tda

                      My guess is that there is some defensiveness based on previous customers who come in expecting chain-style teriyaki beef jerky. He's probably had customers return their meals, having doused them with a sauce that is beyond their ken.

                      I understand where he's coming from, but that's part of doing business. And, yeah, if you don't have a liquor license, and your kitchen is closed, just close.

                    2. re: infamousdavid

                      I agree infamousdave. I lived in Austin for a decade. There's nothing in MN that rivals good Texas BBQ. Q fanatic is "OK" but that's it. I'll also say that BBQ in TX is a heck of alot cheaper than it is here. A full rack of baby backs is always under $20.00. Not here!

              2. In my quest to find great BBQ in Minnesota, I went to Mr. BBQ on Central for lunch the other day.

                No apparent smoking going on. By not apparent, I mean I couldn't taste it in the ribs, pulled pork, or beef ribs. And I couldn't see any wood pile or smoke stack. The beef ribs were tender, the pulled pork was flavorless, the pork ribs were not bad. I won't be going back.

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