Bodacious Boneyards

John Hardy's Bar-B-Q
929 Frontage Road W., Rochester; (507) 288-3936
1940 Broadway S., Rochester; (507) 281-1727
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.; Sunday 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.

 

Roscoe's Barbeque
4180 18th Ave. NW, Rochester; (507) 281-4622
603 Fourth St. SE, Rochester; (507) 285-0501
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.

Teddy Maki

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Roscoe's Barbeque

4180 18th Ave. NW
Rochester, MN 55901

Category: Restaurant > Barbecue

Region: Outstate

It's no good to start a story with two beginnings, but I've got to do it anyway. The first thing you need to know is that I've been receiving shit on the subject of John Hardy's for the better part of two years. John Hardy's Bar-B-Q is a pair of barbecue joints in Rochester, Minnesota, and a lot of aficionados consider it beyond outrageous that I've neglected the place thus far.

An old e-mail from a reader named Kip, rebutting a review I wrote on a Minneapolis barbecue spot, nicely illustrates the point: "John Hardy's barbecue makes [the Minneapolis restaurant's] seem like dog food--that goes for the entire menu of both places," wrote Kip. "The baked beans at Hardy's make the beans [elsewhere] seem unfit to feed to animals," and, additionally, "better try the sauces before you order cuz the medium has been known to drop Yankees to their knees," etc., etc.

Why did I never make it down to John Hardy's? I don't know. Busy, I guess. Suspicious, too. I've gotten enough bum tips over the years that I don't jump in the car with every e-mail or letter. A lot of time people tell me about the "best" this or "best" that, but most of the time they mean the one nearest to their home, the one they grew up with, or the one their brother owns. So I got a lot of shit about John Hardy's, enough to make me feel guilty and derelict in my duties, but not enough to actually get me in the car.

The other beginning to this story is that if I am startled from sleep, I am certifiably insane for a few moments: I will give nonsensical answers to direct questions, I will agree to impossible things. I was on my way to southeast Minnesota for a camping trip, fast asleep in the passenger seat, head supported by nothing but a seat belt and dreams of s'mores. The car was speeding down Highway 52 when a billboard appeared advertising Roscoe's Barbeque. My companion in the driver's seat asked: "Hey, isn't that the place?" At which point I raised my head and said, "Absolutely, let's go there right now," heedless of the fact that first, we were due at dinner in two hours, and second, I've never heard of Roscoe's in my life. So we went to Roscoe's, and ordered a ton of food.

We got enormous mugs of homemade root beer ($1 for 16 ounces, $1.50 for 32 ounces), a plate of five ribs ($7.99) with jojo potatoes, coleslaw, garlic toast, and beans; half a chicken ($6.99) with French fries; and a couple of barbecue sandwiches ($5.49) stuffed with sliced beef and shredded pork shoulder. The food came heaped on colorful plates, and I marveled at it: If you can imagine candied pork ribs, Roscoe's serves them. They're bright pink and dense and have a texture almost like a flourless chocolate cake--nothing but sweet and rich. The shredded pork was, if possible, even sweeter; chunks of meat in a stew of sauce, and, with the slightly vinegared barbecue sauce, the pork reminded me of papaya chutney. The beef was forgettable, the chicken perfectly good, potato salad was a classic American composition of mayonnaise, mustard, and small potato cubes. But the beans and the root beer kicked ass: The beans, made with thin-sliced pickled peppers, were strong with vinegar and absolutely delicious, and the root beer had all kinds of notes of pie spice and old-fashioned candy fragrance.

Mostly, though, while I was at Roscoe's I was marveling at the many, many barbecue trophies that fill the room. Particularly impressive was one from 1993's Great American Rib Cook Off, a four-level, yard-high thing with a silvery cow and pig at the ground level, heraldic eagles on the next level, and, at the top, a cup bearing winged Victory, in all her curvy glory. What levels of cultural information do you need in order to know that the trophy means that you eat the pig and the cow--and not the heraldic eagles? And not winged Victory? Right about then was when I actually woke up, and realized I wasn't in John Hardy's at all.

A few days later, I made it to John Hardy's for real (the Broadway location). I managed to drive past twice without noticing, and this despite an enormous orange and yellow sign out front. The place is basically a shack at the back of a broken-looking parking lot, and none of your restaurant instincts will tell you it's a restaurant--your eyes read Bar-B-Q, but your head tells you muffler shop. Inside, the room is all fake wood paneling, low, sprayed ceilings, windows with the blinds half closed, cheap metal chairs, sticky booths, and vinyl tablecloths. It just screams joint--specifically manly, utilitarian joint; it seems like the perfect place to go between digging out an old stump and buying a used car.

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