Chicago is out. Creole and comfort food is in.
That is to say, the old Old Chicago on Hennepin has been laid to rest and replaced by the Boneyard Kitchen & Bar, a Southern-themed restaurant owned by Kaskaid Hospitality Group, the same people who brought us big-budget, fit for the West End outfits like CRAVE, Figlio 2.0, and the three-in-one convertible spectacle of UNION in downtown Minneapolis.
Boneyard's concept is a study in rising restaurant trends: over-the-top indulgences like chicken-fried ribs and bacon-wrapped duck meatloaf in sizeable portions, rustic "craft-inspired" decor (think Mason jar light fixtures, mismatched mirrors, hot sauce bottles in tin buckets, and servers clad in plaid pearl-button shirts), and a bar program centered on a single spirit, in this case bourbon. To put it in local restaurant terms, walking into the Boneyard feels a bit like the Freehouse and Hell's Kitchen blended concepts and decided to ride the coattails of Butcher & the Boar, right down to the pork-centric entrees and old-fashioned desserts. Though they are far from Butcher & the Boar-quality fare, we really cheered for the wins here — genuinely spicy fried chicken, flaky yet still moist biscuits, and a handful of well-executed, modern-spin cocktails, like the Bloody Mary made with bourbon and the New Orleans-style milk punch they call "The Remedy," which puts a fine point on the phrase "nursing a hangover."
But overall these high points weren't enough to cover all manner of sins, which mostly fell under the category of quality control. Though we have no doubt this place will be popular and consistently busy by virtue of its location alone, at present Boneyard's food and flow leave something to be desired.
At dinner, or even a hefty lunch, we'd start with the Pastor's Plate for the table, an easy way to try some of the picnicky bits and pieces featured in other sections of Boneyard's menu. The board is loaded with thinly shaved pit ham; a duo of chilled deviled eggs, topped with rings of jalapeno and chewy chunks of bacon; pickled sweet peppers and slivers of bright pink pickled onions; and a mound of pimento cheese, which is shredded cheddar blended with hot sauce, pimentos, cream cheese, and a little mayo. It's not often seen around these parts, but pimento cheese makes an outright addictive spread. Our only real gripe with the Pastor's Plate is that it comes with biscuits, which are the same lovely, herby specimens mentioned above, but crackers would really be much better vehicles for most of the items in this Southern smorgasbord.
Moving on to the deep-fried items, of which there are many, we found the cornmeal-fried green tomatoes to be excellent: delicately fried with good gritty texture on the outside, and that tart, unripe squidginess within. The chicken-fried ribs, St. Louis-style dry-rubbed bones rolled with the flour coating they use on the fried chicken, would have been better left undoctored. The breading had good flavor, but most of it fell off the rib before making it to our mouths. Past the very surface layer of meat, the ribs seemed cooked, but were confoundingly cold to the touch. If you prefer to go for a cleaner, less-filling preface to your meaty main course, Boneyard's salad options were all serviceable, but we did particularly like the combination of caramelized onions, pumpkin seeds, and soft-boiled egg with acidic vinaigrette in the Farmhouse Greens.
Of the sins on the three-meat combo plate, perhaps the most damning was the brisket, which managed to be both fatty and bland. The ribs were at least served warm this time, and though they had good flavor, completely fell off the bone. That's the goal for some meats — braised lamb shank and pot roast — but not what you want in a St. Louis-style rib. The pulled pork that rounded out the plate had a nice shred and enough richness to make it tasty, but still lacked complexity.
The sides fared better for the most part: collard greens with satisfying smokiness and depth; sweet and cider-y baked beans loaded with crispy caramelized burnt ends from the barbecue; and inoffensive but immemorable cabbage coleslaw. The array of food you get from the combo plates would normally be hard to pass up, but we'd recommend doing so in favor of the pulled chicken and biscuits — a creamy comfort with deeply colored root vegetables and lots of sage; or the hot fry, a Nashville staple of spicy fried chicken that the Boneyard does a respectable version of with habanero, Tabasco, and ghost pepper. It's flamin' to be sure, but it's also just a rather good piece of fried chicken — light, salty breading, not overly greasy, with good crunch and still flavorful, if a bit dry, meat on the inside. With a little more practice, Boneyard could perfect this dish.
Desserts did not turn things around. The Bananas Foster pudding, grainy and more gelatinous than rich, tasted "weirdly like a Runt," in the words of one of our fellow diners, referring to the ersatz banana flavor of the hard candies. The pies were a bit of a disappointment too, though we should have been warned when our server made a very deliberate point of saying the crust was "made from scratch, in house" which is of course a selling point over the alternative, but should also be expected from a restaurant where "pie's the thing" on the dessert menu. The apple version did pack a lot of fruit and warm, spicy flavor into the filling, but lacked tartness, and the crust was pliable, not flaky.
Aside from the killer cornbread, speckled with jalapeños, white cheddar, pit ham, and a little brown sugar topping, which took nearly 40 minutes to arrive, the rest of our brunch experience could only be described as excruciating. After around noon, Boneyard is not so much a pleasant spot to meet friends for eggs, coffee, and casual conversation as it is a Sunday Funday rendezvous point for all of Uptown's bro-iest bros. Even without the DJ and electric guitar duo that set up and plugged in to give the room a screeching and scratching rendition of the national anthem, the normal noise level was loud enough that we had to lean up, shout, and repeat the rest of our order, which, after close to 90 total minutes of waiting, never appeared. So how were the chicken and waffles? Sadly, we may never know.
We happened to come for brunch on perhaps one of the very first patio-possible weekend days after a gruelingly long and cold winter. Though we were seated inside, the influx of patrons eager to enjoy brunch al fresco was inevitable and we even expected to have longer wait times for food, considering that the restaurant had basically doubled its capacity. But if you're expecting company, make sure you can actually accommodate them. That's not just a rule of Southern hospitality; it should hold true anywhere people are paying for food.