The Market is more than a barbecue joint, it’s a place of worship. To longtime fans (they could fill the ballpark) who have followed the move from one location to another over the years, the Market has been practicing baptism by hickory smoke since 1946. For decades, the logo—a plump porker in chef’s hat and neckerchief—has signaled culinary salvation to all who seek the real deal.
1414 Nicollet Ave. (free parking)
The Market’s meat comes from Pork Central (aka Iowa), cut to the kitchen’s specifications. Next it’s given a pass through a marinade—quickly, just to add a hint of piquancy rather than to mask that pure flavor—then smoked for hour upon hour over a hardwood fire of apple, cherry and hickory. What happens then is priceless: The juice drips into that fire pit to rise up again as smoke, adding yet more flavor to the meaty racks. That’s what accounts for the room’s come-hither aroma—far better than Chanel in this fan’s opinion.
These are ribs for those who love to wrestle the meat from the bones rather than have it steamed into submission. “Tender” is not the first adjective that comes to mind when describing the lure of these babies. For that, roam elsewhere. “Flavorful” is the word that applies here.
They’re served naked, the way a true aficionado craves his meat fix, not masked with cloying sauces. “We have nothing to hide,” asserts Steve Polski, whose family has run the Market for nigh onto forever. “You can cover a lot of mistakes with sauce,” he adds. Not gonna happen here.
Well, OK, there is a trio of homemade sauces in squirt bottles at the ready, if you must (and yes, occasionally I must)—mild, hot and classic: tomato and spice and everything nice (but spared an overdose of sugar): “I grew up on it; I added it to everything, even a slice of bread, and so did my friends,” swears Anthony, another of the Polski clan. “If someone like me could eat it straight for years, it’s got to be pretty darn good.” No argument there.
Market’s veteran pit master has been firing the wood, slinging the racks and stirring the sauce kettles for many a long, hot night. Regular customers boast that same history of loyalty. Back in the day, it served a lineup of late-night vaudeville performers here in the heart of the city. Then came more modern showbiz stars, sports personalities and itinerant politicos passing through town (you’ll find more than a few famous names etched on the little brass plaques above the exact booth they favored), along with everyday joes like you and me, who just cannot kick the habit.
Those with learner permits may start with the half-slab portion ($18); chances are strong they’ll soon graduate to the whole darned 16-bone rack ($27), sent out from the kitchen on a plain ol’ tray, accompanied by tender, pencil-thin fries, a dab of coleslaw made the “real” way—lots of vinegar, hold the mayo—and a couple of slices of what everyone who’s ever traveled to Kansas City knows is an essential part of the drill—downright wimpy white bread—here, given the benefit of toasting.
Of course, there’s more on the menu, from Texas beef ribs and rib tips to barbecued chicken and shrimp, and countless combo plates for the undecided. Plus appetizers, like onion rings and chicken wings, you won’t have room for. Even a caesar salad, for heavens’ sake. But why bother? That’s like ordering the fruit plate in a pizzeria.
Appearances are deceiving. At first glance, there’s a rather bland bar facing Nicollet Avenue, a couple of blocks before it gussies itself up and morphs into the Nicollet Mall. Head, instead, for the back room with its low, pressed-tin ceiling, checkered oilcloth table covers, ceiling fans that volley forward that righteous perfume from the pit, and high-backed wooden booths, unpadded as a church pew (but an order of ribs will take care of that). See you in church.