Grill Crazy

Q Fanatic is one of the state's best BBQs

This may be the great unspoken rule of American barbecue: The meat should be able to stand on its own merits—no sauce required. If the only way you can choke down a rack of ribs or cut of brisket is because it's been slathered with sweet and syrupy BBQ sauce, your cook has failed you.

The Tennessee-style spice rub that goes onto the meat at Q Fanatic is at least half the reason that the entrees don't need sauce. The other half is how perfectly cooked they are: not tough, not gelatinous, not chewy, but delicate to the tooth, moist, and full of flavor. When you're eating the pork ribs, the meat doesn't fall off the bone, but it comes off with a gentle tug—that's how it's meant to be. Sauce is served on the side, with the confidence that the customer can determine how much would make a perfect BBQ experience.

So take all that into account when you consider that the sauces at Q Fanatic must surely rank among the tastiest in the state, and should, if there's a just god, be considered among the tastiest in the country. They are balanced like an Olympic gymnast. An appropriately spicy pepper-vodka sauce has a gentle alcohol burn that amplifies its peppery bite. An espresso BBQ sauce is thick with layers of coffee and caramel flavor, and it proved to be a shrewd choice for a one-pound order of wet ribs ($13.95).

A Southern mustard BBQ sauce turned out to be a perfect accompaniment for a Texas slow-roasted brisket sandwich ($7.50); the strong vinegar attack of the sauce was a bright and scrappy counterpoint to the meat, which arrived on a fresh-baked French roll. And the pulled pork sandwich ($6.95) was damned delicious with a serving of the smoky chipotle BBQ sauce, a flavor that covered and integrated itself into the meat without overwhelming it.

Q Fanatic, which operates in an unassuming strip mall in Champlin, is owned by Charles Johnson. Johnson used to own the Italian Cafe in Bloomington, and he seems to have carried over some of his obsessive style (reflected in Bloomington by his hand-made pasta) to this new venture. One of the classic weaknesses of BBQ places is a tendency to serve weak sides. Food-service French fries or mac and cheese from a box have popped up in various places that really ought to know better. Q Fanatic is unabashedly hard core, offering (among other things) beautifully light and puffy corn fritters, distinctly cheesy and authentic mac and cheese, and a bacon-enriched parmesan potatoes gratinée that offered a funky, creamy, salty twist on an often phoned-in vegetable dish.

Depending on where you live, Champlin can be a long drive. If you truly love real barbecue, gas up and make the pilgrimage. This isn't barbecue that merely passes muster; it's ass-kickingly good.

 
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