It’s been a 20-year on-again-off-again affair for Dave Anderson and Famous Dave’s, the national chain of barbecue restaurants that bears his name. But the man must have barbecue sauce running in his veins, because he just can’t stay away from the barbecue business. In 2015, he opened the first branch of Old Southern BBQ Smokehouse in Hayward, Wis. (the same town in which he opened his first Famous Dave’s), and just one year later, there are additional Old Southern BBQ locations in Rice Lake and Hudson, Wis.
We visited the Hudson location, tucked inconspicuously into a strip mall a short jaunt off Interstate 94. Friday lunch found the restaurant busy, with every table occupied and a line from the register to the door. It’s a light and airy room, with an indoor pergola, unfinished pine paneling, lots of windows, and a faux farmers market stand, complete with real fruit and vegetables (probably the restaurant’s stock). All of the signage is in the style of chalk drawings — cartoonish and colorful.
We had a Southern Sampler ($22), which includes a little of each meat, and we found it all to surpass the quality of Famous Dave’s. In ranking order from fair to outstanding, we tried the Texas hot link, beef brisket, pork, ribs, and chicken. The Texas hot link was mediocre, a little too much like a plain hot dog. There was nothing particularly “Texas” or “hot” about it. The brisket split the table. It had a mild smokiness, it was tender and juicy like properly slow-cooked brisket, and the beefy flavor really came through. The pulled pork had a great fall-apart texture and a whiff of real wood smoke, but it could have benefited from more aromatics. The ribs had a great crusty exterior and were likewise tender. The definite highlight was the chicken. It had a deeply infused smoky flavor and was well-spiced and juicy as can be.
None of the meats really wanted for barbecue sauce, but the full line of colorfully branded bottles on each table called out for meat. So we obliged. Again in order from meh to yeh: the Southern Sun was a disappointment, too mustardy and Heinzy, ironic for a Carolina-style sauce. The Southern Gal’s was too sweet. Chicago Blue was a little peppery, so just use the Dixie Red, which was more peppery. We liked the Diablo’s Batch, which falls short of satanically hot but has a tricky heat that sticks with you and multiplies, even after you stop eating it.
We found the sides ($2 for a single portion) to be a little spottier than the meat. The mac and cheese, normally a pretty low bar to clear, was a disappointment: dry and more cheese-colored than cheesy. We were divided on the potato salad. The tubers themselves were bland, and one diner suggested that the potatoes would have benefited from being boiled in saltier water. The dressing was creamy with a dill flavor, and the salad had a nice celery crunch. It rose to the level of a solid grocery store version. The tangy slaw might have oversold its tang, but with all the meat, a lightly dressed vinegar slaw hit the spot. It was crunchy and refreshing.
You can order meat and sides or sandwiches as at any barbecue joint. But where Old Southern has broken the mold is by applying the “Chipotle effect” to barbecue and offering bowls ($8). It’s basically meat and sides served right on top of one another and drizzled with barbecue sour cream. There are three pre-made options, but you can create your own with a choice of one meat and two bases (generally starches and beans), and with as many toppers (pickled onion, pickled cukes, corn etc.) as you’d like. The Dixie Bowl (rice and barbecue beans, tangy slaw, pork topped with tomatoes, jalapeños, and corn) was a harmonious balance of flavor and texture that we’d definitely order again. For the price, it’s an enormous value. On a later visit to the Hayward branch, we tried the Soul Bowl (mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, chicken, and creamy coleslaw), which we found to be a mess of starch and cream. Creamy coleslaw, mac and cheese, and mashed potatoes can live on a plate together, but all in one bite they do not create a symphony.
It’s impossible not to compare Old Southern with Famous Dave’s. One could easily imagine that Old Southern is what Dave Anderson would have done with Famous Dave’s if he had his druthers. The concept appeals to the modern fast-casual diner’s taste and DIY preference. Most importantly, the food is well made and consistently enjoyable. This feels like a readily scalable concept, so if you live in the Twin Cities, and Hudson is too far for you to travel, give it time: We wouldn’t be surprised to see an Old Southern BBQ pop up in the cities sooner or later.
Old Southern BBQ
Fast casual barbecue and smokehouse in Wisconsin
2421 Hanley Rd
Hudson, Wis 54016
Daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Vegetarian / Vegan: Very limited
Entree range: $5-$22
Sound level: Noisy, but no need to shout
This post is sponsored by the University of Minnesota Press. As the holidays approach, our Giftable series features a range of food- and drink-related items.
What’s it about? Sample the Birchwood Cafe’s recipes — adapted for home cooks — and fill your own table with some of the irresistible fare that has made the cafe one of the region’s best-loved restaurants. The Birchwood Cafe Cookbook shows you what it takes to make a sustainable kitchen and a joyful table, to prepare “good real food” that really does more than a little good.
Who’s it a good gift for? Lovers of the Birchwood Cafe as well as home cooks looking to expand their recipe collection with fresh and innovative dishes.
Where’s it available? Buy online or call 1.800.621.2736.
Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.
Shrimp on Hell Sauce at Homi Restaurant
The Shrimp on [sic] Hell Sauce from St. Paul’s Homi Restaurant is, as described, quite spicy — spicy enough that the server looked side-eyed at me when I ordered it, but I assured her I could handle it, and I could, mostly. A generous serving of shrimp and onions is doused in an earthy, smoky morita chili sauce that released its fire slowly but surely. Rice, beans, and a cool lettuce salad were great offsets, as was the frequently refilled glass of water.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Amy Rea]
Meat & Cheese Plate from The Draft Horse
If the fact that nearly every item on this charcuterie board is made in the Food Building — the same structure in Northeast Minneapolis that houses The Draft Horse — isn’t cool enough, here’s something more to consider: You can save $10 if you order this mini feast during happy hour. The board is complete with two meats from Red Table Meat Co.; two cheeses from The Lone Grazer Creamery; a fresh chevre from Singing Hills Goat Dairy; house-made terrine, pickles, and chutney; honey from The Beez Kneez; and bread from Baker’s Field Flour & Bread. This could easily be the most budget-friendly, local, and delicious charcuterie board in Minnesota.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Ruthie Young]
Green Sauce from Brasa
Everyone knows that the Green Sauce is the best thing about Brasa. The food is mind-blowingly good too, but in the end, it’s just a vehicle for Green Sauce. You should know that they sell this elixir, made from ginger, possibly mayo, maybe unicorn tears, probably lime juice, definitely cilantro, and maybe fairy dust, by the pint for takeaway. And you will need quantity so that you can put it on everything you make. Use of the day: salad dressing. Boom, cubicle lunch just went from sad to happy.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Ted Held]
Salmon Smørrebrød at Tullibee
We’ve been fans of Scandinavian open-faced sandwiches for years, and this is one of the nicest we’ve had: a classic presentation of smoked fish, pickled cucumbers, dill, and cheese on rye bread. It’s a perfect sit-down business lunch — quick to eat, but formal enough to warrant a knife and fork.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
Apple Turnover from Solomon’s Bakery
The apple turnover from Solomon’s Bakery in New Brighton is like a little apple pie, with a mildly sweet, flaky crust and just the right amount of apples inside — not so many that they overwhelm the delicate crust, just enough to taste the apple … and plenty of cinnamon. A perfect fall treat.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #5 | Submitted by Amy Rea]
This post is sponsored by Fair State Brewing Cooperative.
“This home brew is so good you should work at a brewery,” you thought to yourself as you sipped a friend’s freshly fermented suds brewed in their garage. If this describes you, or if you’re the proud homebrewer in question, you’re in luck. Although it may seem like a pipe dream to open your own brewery, some local craft breweries are tapping into customer talent and building a better community — and beer list — in the process.
And it’s more than just home brewers who are getting elbow deep in wort (unfermented beer sugar liquid). At Fair State Brewing Cooperative, a membership gives beer lovers more than daily discounts, although they get those too. “We like to provide many opportunities for people to get involved in any way they want,” Evan Sallee, CEO and president said. “We have our volunteer group, Fair State Cooperates, an events team that helps educate customers at tastings and beer festivals, and our member design events that give an opportunity to have a say in the beers we make.”
In the two-plus years since Fair State’s opening, the brewery has experimented with a few different ways to incorporate members into the brewing process. “It’s been iterative,” Sallee explained, “to find the best way to bring people in while being practical with our brewing schedule.” The brew calendar is tight at Fair State’s current space on Central Avenue, but as soon as the new St. Paul brewing and distribution facility opens in early 2017, there will be more “collab-brew-tive” events.
Fair State Brewing Co-op membership brings plenty to the biergarten table for all kinds of beer lovers, from the most brew-savvy Top Notch Beer Nerds, to the creative-minded Enthusiastic Tipple Tasters, to the community-centric Avid Ale Supporters.
Top Notch Beer Nerds: Consider Kyle Schmidt, member number 627. The Northern Brewer employee won the Homebrew Challenge of 2016 with his pale lager by wooing the judges: Niko Tonks, the head brewer; Caleb Levar, a brewer; and Sallee. Now on tap as the Keller Blanc, an ode to its namesake Hallertau Blanc hops, Schmidt’s lager beat out 12 other entries to take the “best in show” title. He earned a brew day with the Fair State team, during which they upscaled his recipe to fit the brewery’s system. This proved to be both challenging and rewarding.
“My only goal was to make a beer worthy of the tap line, which was no small task, and to maybe be good enough to brew again,” Schmidt said. “Seeing your beer being poured in the Taproom, in addition to many of my favorite bars and restaurants all over town, is a very cool feeling. It makes me think that we met those goals.”
Keller Blanc made a sneak peek at September’s annual Co-Optoberfest before its official taproom release in October. Schmidt’s friends and family came out to celebrate his skill, enjoy a few pints, and toast his accomplishment. This well-balanced yet uniquely bitter brew is available in the taproom while supplies last.
Enthusiastic Tipple Tasters: The Member Design series is a beer designed by committee with delicious results. “If people want to brew something, they shouldn’t have to buy an expensive homebrew setup,” Tonks said. The process gives fledgling homebrewers, or just people who know what they like in a beer, the chance to collaboratively create a brew. The participants assemble, agreeing upon a style or styles before the meeting. When they arrive, Tonks acts as the paintbrush to their palate masterpiece. The results of the two gatherings thus far are concoctions Tonks describes as “big beers with adjunct additions.”
Member Design #1 is a Belgian golden strong with lemon zest, candied ginger, and peach puree. And who zested the lemons, you ask? Members, of course. The Member Design #2, a smoked Baltic porter with black peppercorns and maple syrup, proved particularly successful. The remaining beer will make a reappearance in Smorgasboard, a hodgepodge brew made up of 30 to 40 percent of this dark and mysterious beer along with a few other fan-favorite flavors. Look for bottles to be released on on draft and in 750-milliliter bottles on Dec. 8.
Avid Ale Supporters: Inspired by the zealous zesters of the Member Design #1, Fair State invited members to Lorence’s Berry Farm in Northfield in August to pick 300 pounds of raspberries. Scheduled for a January release, the aptly named U-Pick is a special sour ale that has been refermented on said member-plucked berries.
Similar to other breweries’ hop-picking events, Fair State’s farm trip will be an annual gathering. Unlike hops, however, raspberries are heavier, and therefore easier and more satisfying to collect — it takes less time to pick a quantity that can impart more flavor. And as a thank you, participants will get a 750-milliliter bottle to take home on the release date, Jan. 12 (another member benefit: early, guaranteed access to specialty bottled brews).
The opportunity to own a part of a brewery is a rarity in the Twin Cities. And the ability to be actively involved with a vibrant brewing community is even more special. At Fair State, member-owners help dictate which beers are on tap and the future of the brewery. As Schmidt described, “[Fair State Brewing Cooperative] expects that [members] will be the guiding force behind future success. It’s a powerful, inclusive path to making great craft beer.”
As the holiday season approaches and the gift list gets longer, it’s heartening to see options beyond the six-pack for the hard-to-buy-for craft beer aficionado. Whichever persona your friend or family member fits, they probably already have a novelty bottle opener or Spiegelau specialty glassware. The gift of a Fair State Co-op membership brings brewing opportunities and good fuzzy feelings galore.
Learn more about Fair State Brewing Cooperative membership here.
The Copper Hen on Nicollet Avenue opened in the spring of 2014 as a bakery with a few savory dishes among the cupcakes and French bread. The next year, the owners, Danielle and Chris Bjorling, won a funding competition on CNBC’s Restaurant Startup reality show, and they were able to add a full bar and table service in the redesigned space in November 2015.
In contrast to Eat Street’s array of ethnic foods, Copper Hen’s kitchen, with executive chef Josh Hedberg at the reins, focuses on Midwestern favorites like mac and cheese. Danielle Bjorling provides the desserts.
The cocktail menu features a well-developed seasonality, and it is balanced by a good selection of wine, craft beer, and spirits.
Unusual ingredients add intrigue to some cocktails, but do not dominate the menu. Acorn, Spice & Everything Nice ($11) features Sparkle Donkey Reposado tequila, Fernet-Branca amaro, allspice liqueur, dukkah, acorn squash syrup, and lime. The acorn squash flavor isn’t detectable, but overall the mix is sweet and spicy, with complexity and nuttiness from the dukkah. It is aromatic and potent in the nose with heavy Fernet, but it’s not hot on sipping.
Less successful is the Bacon Old Fashioned ($11), with bacon-washed Cody Road bourbon, house chipotle bitters, and maple. Overwhelming smoke from the combination of bacon and chipotle is unpleasant, yet neither the meat nor the pepper itself comes through. The smoke is far too intense, to the point of being chemical. At the same time, the drink is sweeter than the average classic Old Fashioned, creating a one-dimensional miss.
On the other hand, the Lumberjack’s Breakfast ($10) is a deceptively simple duo of gin and spiced cider, which can be served hot or cold. The gin is Vikre’s Boreal Cedar, a botanical and intense variety that adds depth to what would otherwise be mundane. We recommended the warm version as it showcases the gin’s cedar and herbal notes, while the cider tempers the aromatics.