Animales Barbeque Co.
Back story: Chef/owner Jon Wipfli, a Bachelor Farmer vet, opened this gold-standard barbecue experience last August. The trailer setup operates a few steps from Able Seedhouse + Brewery, which opens its comfortable taproom and roomy, well-appointed patio to Animales diners. A permanent brick-and-mortar location is Wipfli’s eventual goal. “We’re trying to figure out the best way to expand, and ultimately that’s probably going to be the best way to go,” he said. “What I’d really like to figure out is a seasonal, outdoor, live-fire cooking thing. But that’s probably a pipe dream.”
The basics: Close cooking quarters keeps the menu tightly focused. Wipfli specializes in pork ribs, and they’re sensational. The ribs are generously rubbed in an equal-parts blend of coarsely ground black pepper, finely ground black pepper and kosher salt, and cooked in a humid, moderately hot smoker for three hours. After that, they’re wrapped in foil and rested for 30 minutes, a step that steams the meat, retaining that peppery, salt exterior crust but loosening the pork so that it’s easily nudged off the bone — it has a marvelous creaminess — without limply falling apart. Other highlights include melt-in-your-mouth beef cheeks (“My favorite thing to smoke,” said Wipfli) and fat-laced beef ribs.
Woods burned: Minnesota red oak.
Don’t overlook: Chicken birria — juicy chicken thighs, pulled and doused in an earthy, slow-burn sauce composed with three varieties of roasted chile peppers — is not to be missed. The robust half-pork/half-beef Cheddar sausages (produced to Wipfli’s specifications by Lowry Hill Meats) have a snappy bite and ooze plenty of cheese, Juicy Lucy-style. Another game-changer is a sandwich that layers fatty, expertly smoked pork belly (oh, that pork belly!) with peppery watercress and swipes of cool peach ketchup and slightly sweet ricotta. By comparison, the beloved BLT feels awfully ordinary.
Favorite side dish: The tender, crumbly biscuits.
Nice touch: The tacos stand up to those served down the street at first-rate Centro.
Pitfalls: Wipfli doesn’t sell beverages, but that’s where Able also (admirably) takes charge. “I think that their beer pairs well with our barbecue,” he said. “I drink their First Light [American IPA] in the summer, and their Blk Wlf [stout] in the winter.” Also, no brisket, at least as a regular menu item, due to the cramped kitchen’s capacity.
Helpful tip: Arrive early. “I hate it when people come, and we’re sold out,” said Wipfli. “We smoke fresh, every single day, and once the product is out, it’s gone.”
Service: Friendly (it’s obvious that Wipfli loves to engage with his customers), with food that follows a five-minutes-and-under framework.
Location: 1121 NE. Quincy St., Mpls., 347-661-5608, animalesbarbeque.com
Hours: 4-9 p.m. Thu., 11:30 a.m.- 1:30 p.m. and 4-9 p.m. Fri., noon-2 p.m. and 2-9 p.m. Sat., noon-2 p.m. and 2-6 p.m. Sun.
Back story: Jeff Weber must have a keen sense of history. He’s the owner of Eli’s Food & Cocktails, and the northeast Minneapolis outlet of Eli’s occupies a building that was once home to a branch of Rudolphs Bar-B-Que. When an adjacent building — the longtime home of Legends bar — became available, Weber converted it into a barbecue joint, returning the scent of burning wood to the neighborhood.
The basics: Weber opts for long (and lean) St. Louis cuts, and gets that appealing contrast between crusty exterior and tender interior. Rather than brisket, Weber opts for New York strip, and it’s a compelling alternative: beefier, and more tender. The kitchen turns out a handful of salads and sandwiches (including a meat-free variation with smoked portobello mushrooms and pickled jalapeños) and a small selection of starters that range from pimento cheese-filled deviled eggs to peel-and-eat shrimp cocktail.
Woods burned: Minnesota oak.
Don’t overlook: Our server enthusiastically recommended the chicken, and she was right; the flavorful bird (raised by the skilled practitioners at Wild Acres in Pequot Lakes, Minn.), was an abundance of succulent, well-seasoned meat that was teased with (rather than overwhelmed by) smoke. There’s a chopped version, too, and it’s better than its chopped pork counterparts. Another happy surprise is the delicately smoked whitefish, a welcome alternative to barbecue’s pork- and beef-heavy focus. It also makes its way into a cream cheese spread that’s served with crackers.
Favorite side dish: The sweet (but not-too-sweet) baked beans, which put toothy gigantes to tasty use. They’re vegetarian, yet each forkful managed to bear the heft of a pork backbite.
Beverages: The full bar focuses on locally produced spirits. Additionally, there’s a long list of local beers — including a lively lager brewed for Beast by neighboring HeadFlyer Brewing — and a half-dozen affordable ($8 to $10) tap wines.
Nice touch: Pulltabs! It’s a fundraiser for the Lions Club.
Pitfalls: Dessert sounds appealing — chocolate-pecan pie, an intriguing-sounding pineapple-corn bread upside-down cake — but the execution didn’t live up to the hype.
Service: Welcoming and accommodating.
Location: 825 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls., 612-584-3657, beastbarbecue.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily. Kudos for nurturing a late-night scene in this early-to-bed town.
Back story: What a legacy! Because this third-generation family business has been around since 1946, the Market has served as the introduction to barbecue for countless Twin Citians. When co-owner Anthony Polski and his father, Steve Polski, decided to relocate their restaurant from its longtime Eat Street home to new digs in northeast Minneapolis, they made sure that they replicated the place down to the tiniest detail. Most significantly, they rebuilt the heart of a kitchen, a hearth-like, brick-lined barbecue pit, to its exact specifications.
The basics: While this old-school format may lack the nuance of its contemporary competitors, it also boasts a wide-ranging menu, from dense, chewy ribs to pit-smoked brisket to smoke-infused half chickens, all at moderate prices. The pulled pork sandwich, a pile of tender pork doused in a sweet (but not sugary) sauce, is a keeper. The pit’s top product? The well-seasoned chicken wings.
Woods burned: Oak.
Don’t overlook: In their new setup, the Polskis are showing a playful side. Witness the pork rinds dusted in Doritos-like coating. Drop by on Tuesday evenings for beef ribs, available until they sell out.
Favorite side dish: The French fries — long, golden, nicely crisp — more than cover all the requisites.
Beverages: A full bar prepares specialty cocktails and pulls from a list of local beers. Happy hour (3-6 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun., 10 p.m.-midnight Mon.-Thu.) features several deals.
Nice touch: The walls of the nostalgia-soaked dining room are lined with hundreds of framed photos that depict the full range of showbiz types that have congregated at this 73-year-old Minneapolis institution.
Pitfalls: Upon exiting the building, every molecule of hair, skin and clothing will smell of smoke.
Helpful tip: Don’t skip dessert. The lovely single-serving pies are from Sarah Jane’s Bakery, a beloved northeast Minneapolis landmark.
Service: The nicest people.
Location: 220 Lowry Av. NE., Mpls., 612-872-1111, marketbbq.com
Hours: open 11 a.m. daily; kitchen open to midnight Sun.-Thu. and to 2 a.m. Fri.-Sat. Again, a big thank-you for those late-night hours.
Minnesota Barbecue Co.
Back story: Chef/owner Kale Thome, a Kansas native, grew up around barbecue. “But I never paid much attention to it,” he said. After spending the first dozen years of his professional life — including an influential stint at Travail Kitchen & Amusements — he decided it was time for a change. Armed with all of that valuable know-how (and some help from his Travail buddies), Thome returned to his roots. He’s discovered that barbecue suits him, and his skill set. “That’s the thing about barbecue,” he said. “It’s simple, but at the same time it’s complex, so it allows my brain to work on the details and continually hone the craft.”
The basics: It’s no shocker that a well-trained chef would turn out superior barbecue. The tightly edited menu is a reflection of both the modest cooking facilities and Thome’s interests. “I just want to concentrate on a few really great meats and sides,” he said. The brisket is sublime. The premium beef (from Revier Cattle Co. in Olivia, Minn.) is an ideal vehicle for capturing a just-right amount of smoke, and it cuts like a dream. The ribs — they’re meaty baby backs, a switch from the St. Louis cuts that Thome was originally using — are hung inside a custom-made smoker and cooked, low and slow, with gravity allowing fat to render into the lean side of the meat. Thome’s spice blend relies heavily on salt and pepper, but he sneaks in a few seasonings (clove, juniper) for balance, and the results create a delectable crust that covers rich, ultra-tender pork.
Woods burned: Minnesota oak. “Hickory and mesquite, they’re so harsh,” said Thome. “They put off way too much flavor. Oak is such a simple, clean burn. It’s efficient. It burns hot, and it burns long.”
Don’t overlook: The well-dressed housemade hot links, a zesty blend of chicken and beef seasoned with gochujang (the Korean fermented chili-bean paste), thyme and garlic. That brisket makes for a fine sandwich. And of the kitchen’s three standard (and well-devised) sauces, the bracing aged vinegar version is the one that really stands out. Even the pickles demonstrate the kitchen’s commitment to detail.
Favorite side dish: A superb buttermilk-fueled cornbread (it’s Thome’s wife’s recipe), served in a diminutive loaf pan. Thome dropped mac-and-cheese (it doesn’t travel well) in favor of a brightly flavored pesto pasta salad, an ideal summer-picnic idea.
Nice touch: It’s a smart move to stock the grab-and-go cooler with cans of Northern Soda Company’s craft sodas (love the grape “Sunday Purple” and super-refreshing Cherry Citrus flavors), made in Arden Hills.
Pitfalls: The strictly takeout operation has no on-the-premises seating, although the infectiously enthusiastic counter staffer was able to rattle off the location — and the pros and cons — of every nearby park.
Helpful tip: Want to take a seat? Head over to the taproom at nearby Fair State Brewing Cooperative (“It’s basically our dining room,” said Thome), and Thome & Co. will deliver. As for dessert, consider picking up frozen custard at nearby Dipped & Debris.
Service: Fleet and friendly. Packaging is thoughtfully designed to not only preserve the foods’ qualities but also act as primo leftover containers.
Location: 816 Lowry Av. NE., Mpls., 612-315-4967, minnesotabbqco.com
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 5-8 p.m. Sun.
Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib