Bodacious Boneyards

Fittingly, the menu is all about the meat, available in dozens of combinations with or without potato and vegetable side dishes. Pork ribs can cost anywhere from $5.39 for a small plate with two sides to $24.99 for a full rack with four potato sides and four vegetable sides. Spice-rubbed chicken is priced similarly, from $6.50 to $21.19, and boneless meats like smoked turkey, sliced beef, double-smoked ham, and shredded pork, are available starting at $3.50 for a sandwich and ranging up to $9.25 for a large combo with two sides. Lucky for me, there is one gargantuan plate with nearly everything on it; the sampler, for $33.95, showcasing all six meats, along with a dozen side-dish portions, half potato, half vegetable.

I ordered it, and the miracles poured forth: A pile of double-smoked ham as dewy and tender as custard, with a deep, smoky taste I've never encountered before. It had none of the chemical taste that dominates so many hams today. Turkey breast, evocatively smoked, was also amazingly tender and tasted of turkey. Plied with the vinegar-touched bottles of sauce that sit on the tables, it came alive in a way that I've never known barbecued turkey to do before: creamy, smoky, mellow, tart. Remarkable. The shredded pork shoulder was understated, the crumbled meat radiating the taste of smoke. Dash some of the house barbecue sauce upon it and you've got the best pulled pork in Minnesota; hot, smoky, meaty, as big and various as the moments in a thunderstorm. The beef was unlike any I'd ever had before. Thin-cut, pale, bearing no visible fat, it reminded me most of an Italian deli roast beef.

And then, of course, there were the ribs. There were three on the sampler, big, six-inch-long bones bearing tons of meat, smoked at a low temperature so there was still fat in there, the meat having that gorgeous, gelatinous texture of duck confit or osso buco. Dress that pork with sauce, and the richness is cut perfectly. Indeed, these are the best pork ribs I've had in Minnesota.

And that sauce! All of John Hardy's sauces are doctored versions of Open Pit. I bought a jar of the medium, for $3.75 a pint, and from the label it looks like the additions were mayonnaise, Tabasco sauce, pickle juice, cayenne pepper, and lemon juice. But the unforgettable results belie the humble origins. The sauces, which run through six gradations, from mild to "bad-boy hot," seem to take on different character when paired with each meat. They make the pulled pork seem smokier, the moist ribs sweeter. There is genius in these sauces. (Doctoring Open Pit is a proud American tradition. When I used to work in an upscale, American-bistro restaurant, we used to doctor Open Pit with whole, smashed and roasted tangerines, cloves, and espresso.)

At John Hardy's the side dishes do everything they can to glorify the barbecue experience. Jo-jos here are irregular discs of deep-fried skin-on potatoes. But the various thicknesses of the discs result in some being crisp as potato chips, while others have the sweet fruitiness of home fries. Fried okra were crisp nuggets in a cornmeal crust; black-eyed peas were smoky and loaded with black pepper; baked beans were a must-have: Sweet and kissed by molasses, swimming with visible shreds of pork, they're nothing but great. Some of the other sides were indifferent. Stewed okra with tomatoes was very plain, macaroni salad tasted like nothing but pasta elbows and mayonnaise, the coleslaw was average, and the garlic bread that accompanies nearly every meal tasted like margarine.

But sometimes with barbecue I'm particularly glad for those strange, unsophisticated notes, the awful garlic bread, the 1973 basement-workshop interior design, the bottomless glass of pink Country Time lemonade--which John Hardy's sells for 99 cents. Why? For the same reason I'm glad I blundered into Roscoe's Barbeque first: Because it clarifies the point that no matter how much sugar, gloss, or popular appeal you infuse barbecue with, it will remain essentially agrarian and rural. It will stay essentially what you can do when you've got very little, when you've got nothing but a lot of time on your hands, and some beans and some sticks and some animals. Real barbecue is when things are hardscrabble and bony and fatty and somehow someone makes them great. And so, as sometimes happens in a shaggy tale with two heads, a story that started out as the receiving of shit and guff, and devolved into confusion and disorientation, ended up in insight and delight in a nothing-looking shack at the side of a four-lane highway.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
All
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest
 
Loading...