Too Much of a Good Thing
"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."
Isaiah Berlin cataloged a pantheon of writers and thinkers using this bit of old poetry, but it's also a fine starting point for thinking about restaurants. On one hand, you've got the foxes: the playful and boundless 112 Eatery, or Chino Latino with its nearly infinite global menu. On the other, you've got the hedgehogs: Casper and Runyon's Nook and its burgers, or the Russian Tea House and its piroshki. Both kinds of restaurants intimately understand their boundaries (or lack thereof) and succeed as a result.
A restaurant that ignores its own DNA and tries to do too little or (far more typically) too much does so at its peril. The Brickhouse, a newly opened barbecue joint in North Minneapolis, has some promising offerings, but it may fall victim to its own ambitious overreach.
When you think barbecue, you probably think pork ribs. A good barbecue joint doesn't have to specialize in pork ribs, though; it could be pulled pork sandwiches, or beef ribs, or chicken, or pork chops, or steaks, or even seafood. It could even be more than one of the above. It probably shouldn't, however, be all of the above.
On the Brickhouse's expansive menu, the hits were plentiful. Most crucially: The versatile house BBQ sauce was perfectly balanced, neither too sweet nor too tangy nor too spicy. It added zip, moisture, and sugar without crushing its target. A 10-ounce pork chop ($11.95) was, like almost all of the restaurant's offerings, spice-rubbed and richly charred—a delicate balance of carbon, spice, and salt. For $16.95 we got the better part of a barbecued chicken and three pork ribs, which is a lot of food, much of which was good. The chicken, for example, was moist and flavorful. The drumstick was a revelation, the flesh practically shrugging itself off the bone and into the mouth.
Misses were just as plentiful, unfortunately. The chief clunker was an eight-ounce rib-eye steak ($16.95), which was ordered medium-rare but came out bone-dry and leathery. Desserts and a number of side dishes aren't made in-house, and unfortunately that comes through on the plate. Tasting the key lime pie ($3.95) was not unlike biting into a wedge of citrusy cream cheese. Likewise, Ore-Ida-esque fries and Velveeta-like mac and cheese undermine the argument that independent restaurants stand out by serving food cooked with creativity and love.
And the Brickhouse ribs, both beef and pork? They were...complicated. They boasted the same flavorful rub and char that made the pork chop a winner. BBQ sauce brought them up another notch. And yet: With gristle-powered resolve, the meat clung fibrously and tenaciously to the bone. Many experienced BBQ eaters will tell you, passionately, that the meat most certainly should not fall off the bone of a perfectly cooked rib. Fair enough, but neither should it cling tightly enough to give a steak knife a run for its money. Braising, or a "slower and lower" approach, might do wonders.
The Brickhouse is far from DOA—the sauce and chicken alone make it worth a visit, and there's plenty of evidence that the future holds great things. With more carefully prepared ribs, a hedgehog-edited menu, and side dishes made with the same love and respect as the entrées, the Brickhouse would be on its way to becoming a North Minneapolis fixture.
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