You’ll smell StormKing Barbecue well before you see it, the unmistakable aroma of smoked meat wafting through the air at the corner of 26th and Nicollet. The scent will draw you to a diminutive storefront with a small, handwritten sign announcing, “open tonight at 4 p.m.”
As you poke your head in the door, you receive a hearty greeting from co-owner Nick Walsh, who is behind the counter slicing brisket to order. His partner in life, Katie Forschler, works the front of the house like she’s known you forever.
The vibe is light years away from the manufactured familiarity of so many restaurants. You can tell these guys have skin in the game and love what they’re doing.
Your ordering decisions here are pretty basic: beef or pork? Fatty or lean brisket? Potato salad or Texas beans? Rest assured, you can’t really go wrong.
There's a chance they might run out of something, since their motto is “we will never serve barbecue from the day before.” Considering the meat takes about 14 hours to cook, just think of it as an opportunity to try something new.
Jordan Smith, a partner in the venture and owner of Black Sheep Pizza, StormKing’s next door neighbor, says they aim to give people a “true Texas style barbecue experience in the North.” The menu offers brisket, pulled pork, spare ribs, chicken, spicy sausage, and burnt ends, all priced by the half pound, Texas market style. All meats are hormone- and antibiotic-free, and smoked in oak in a smoker that can hold up to 700 pounds of meat at a time.
Prices range from $6.50 per half pound for the spicy sausage to $11 per half pound for the brisket and burnt ends. You can also opt for a combo, which gets you 6 ounces of meat, a side dish, pickles and jalapenos if you like, a few slices of raw onion, and a roll.
A one meat combo is $11.50, two meats go for $19, and three is $25. StormKing is a “living wage/gratuity free” establishment, so you know exactly how much dinner will cost you.
The presentation is rustic, with food served on a small, paper-lined sheet tray. But it’s all about the meat here, and the barbecue is fantastic. The brisket was melt-in-your-mouth tender, with a kiss of smoke that is tantalizing without being overpowering. It enhances the meat, but doesn’t smother it. The meat is served sauce-free, but be sure to try the house sauce that sits on every table. It’s a little sweet, a little spicy, a lot tasty.
The sides were worthy of the meats. They’re slightly chefy versions (in a good, not pretentious way) of dishes you’d expect to see at a neighborhood potluck. The creamy potato salad has perfectly cooked potatoes married with green onion, celery, and radishes, subtly but perfectly seasoned.
The Texas beans are substantial, saucy and savory instead of sweet. The broccoli and bacon salad is nothing like the soggy version ubiquitous in delis. Don’t miss the pies, either. We were too full to try it immediately after dinner, but we grabbed a piece to take home. Pies come from Pie & Mighty, a pop-up bakery, and options include a killer maple pecan pie and a seasonal berry pie.
Beer is a natural with barbecue, and the drink list offers a good selection of local brews on tap, as well as tallboys. Wines are “red, white, rose, and sparkling.” The restaurant also has an ambitious cocktail program. Try the Gin & Juice, a spritely combination of grapefruit juice, St. Germain, and Peychaud’s bitters.
The decor fits the food. It's minimalist but homey. The menu is handwritten and posted on the wall and above the counter. There are about a dozen tables, all set diner-style with napkins, squeeze bottles of sauce, and a salt shaker. The small space was, once upon a time, a private party room for prior occupant Azia, and most recently an office for Smith’s wife and business partner Colleen Doran.
Good news for those who want their barbecue to go but don’t want to wait in line (or search for parking on the always-crowded corner): StormKing offers curbside service. You can order and pay online, and they will bring the food to your car. The city has granted them three parking spots for carry out. “I’ve met people in the alley, down the block, around the corner,” says Forschler.
16 1/2 W. 26th St., Minneapolis
4 p.m. – 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 4 p.m.–11 p.m. Friday and Saturday