As I get older and balder, I have come to appreciate the t-shirt legend that proclaims, “Only a few heads are perfect – the rest are covered with hair.” Something similar is true of barbecued ribs – the best way to serve mediocre ribs is smothered in sauce – but to serve ribs naked, they have to be done just about perfectly.
North Minneapolis has been home to a lot of great barbecue joints over the years – Amos & Amos, Levy’s, and others that came and went so quickly that I can’t remember their names. The half-life of restaurants in north Minneapolis seems to be a matter of months, so if you want to try the terrific ribs at the Brickhouse BBQ, 4330 N. Lyndale, you probably should go sooner rather than later. There’s not much in the way of ambience, but at good barbecue joints there never is.
The Brickhouse opened about a month ago and the grand opening pennants are still fluttering outside, but the place doesn’t seem to be getting much of a new restaurant buzz. I stopped in last night around 7:30 for the rib and chicken combo, and for the whole time I was there, only three customers walked in the door – and they seemed to be friends of the owners.
It’s a family operation – Brad Bigger, his wife Blanca and their son Franklin Zumba-Deleg all share the cooking duties, while daughter Karina Zumba-Deleg works the front of the house. A note on the menu mentioned that the cooks have 45 years of cooking experience between them. The Biggers asked me not to mention their previous employer by name, but it’s one of the oldest and best barbecue restaurants in the Twin Cities – a market leader, you might say – and it’s famous for serving its bones naked – with sauce on the side.
The Brickhouse ribs are served the same way, but rubbed with a spice blend before cooking. You have to be a pretty good and confident cook to serve ribs naked – a pool of sauce can cover a multitude of sins, and make up for a lack of flavor if the ribs have been parboiled to speed up the cooking time. These were firm and meaty and full of flavor, with just a hint of smoke – Brad Bigger says he uses oak and hickory chunks in his smoker, and occasionally adds a little maple or mesquite. The barbecued chicken was also quite good – meaty and not too dry.
The homemade sauce (“a special recipe I don’t give out to anybody”) was a perfect accompaniment – tangy, and not too sweet – but it added to the flavor of the meat, it didn’t cover it up. My combo of half a chicken and three pork ribs cost $16.95, including coleslaw, Texas toast and fries.
There is a lot more on the menu that I would like to try, including the beef ribs (Bigger says his customers call them the Flintstone bones), the ribeye steak dinner ($16.95-$21.95), and the barbecue beef brisket sandwich ($7.95 with salad or coleslaw and fries.)
The Brickhouse is open daily for breakfast, and offers an $8.95 breakfast buffet from 8 to 12 on weekends.