I have mostly ignored Captain Ed’s new group blog about Canadian politics, True North, for two reasons: 1) I don’t care much about Canadian politics and 2) I’m still bitter that I wasn’t invited to contribute posts on U. S. College Hockey. Those Canadians think they’re the only ones who know hockey. Now I can add a third reason to ignore True North: They don’t know good BBQ when they eat it. At least that is true for The Bensonhurst Bomber, who wrote a hate-filled review of John Hardy’s BBQ, one of the greatest restaurants in the BBQ capitol of North America, Rochester, Minnesota. This is especially sad for Dave Aeikens (who despite living in St. Cloud, knows more about hockey and BBQ than all of the contributors to True North combined) and myself, because of the efforts we have put in to educate the Bomber on the finer points of BBQ. (For those of you wondering about his moniker, Bensonhurst is, I think, his home borough in Winnipeg. The Bombers refer to his favorite Canadian Football League team, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.)
I don’t do many fiskings here, I think they’re mean, but this review merits one: As a transplant, it didn’t take me long to learn that Minnesotans know absolutely nothing about good food. All you have to do is drive by an Olive Garden, where the ignorant sheep line up in droves for “good Italian.” The Bomber has obviously not tried the all you can eat soup and salad special. Not only is it tasty, but it is a great bargain. Or try getting a table during “Lobsterfest” at Red Lobster, where the allegedly above average residents of the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” go for “fresh” fish. In short, I should have known better than to take seriously a restaurant recommendation from a native Minnesotan. Uh Bomber, Minnesota may have 10,000 lakes, but zero of them are good for lobstering. The fact that we are over 1000 miles from an ocean explains why we don’t have terribly fresh seafood. But I found myself in Rochester this past weekend. For years, Sisyphus, the real brains behind the Nihlist in Golf Pants’ Top-11 lists, and Dave Aeikens, perhaps the last man on the planet to naively believe in the viability and – more incredulously – the efficacy of the dead-tree media, have been telling me about a little BBQ place called John Hardy’s. The Bomber recovers a bit here from his very shaky start with some indisputably correct statements. According to Sisyphus, it’s as good as any BBQ you’ll get in Kansas City, Memphis or any of the BBQ shrines south of the Mason-Dixon Line. So I had to stop. FALSE. I said John Hardy’s was BETTER THAN, not as good as, any BBQ you’ll get in Kansas City, Memphis, or anywhere else. What a mistake.
Let me start by saying that John Hardy’s isn’t horrible. In fact, if you’ve never had good BBQ, you’ll probably love it. Thanks for the condescension. Minnesotans couldn’t possibly know good BBQ. Like many of the great BBQ emporiums in Texas, North Carolina and Alabama, John Hardy’s is basically a shack by the side of the road (in this case, on the western service road of State Road 52, just north of downtown). The Bomber clearly went into the restaurant with a set of preconceived notions that destroyed his ability to fairly judge John Hardy’s. His first preconceived notion, common among Canadians, is that good BBQ is impossible unless it is served in a shack in Texas, North Carolina, or Alabama. Unfortunately, they’ve ruined the original décor of the place because they got greedy. They added more seating by building an ugly, modern, glassed-in patio area with a sloping glass roof. It’s clear walking in that the place had much more character – and the BBQ may have even been better – when the place was about 15 feet wide. It’s called capitalism, you commie. It was also too clean to be an authentic BBQ joint. You could actually see out the windows. There’s wasn’t a thin layer of smoke and grease on everything. The filters above the smoker had obviously been cleaned or – GASP!!! – changed recently. They were almost spotless. PRECONCEIVED BBQ STEROTYPE 2: BBQ joints must be unhygienic. Besides being the BBQ capitol of North America, Rochester is also a Medical City. Most don’t like germs. However, you can request a side order of dirt and rat droppings. There were also no black people behind the counter or in the kitchen. They were all good Scandinavians and Germans. What the hell could they possibly know about BBQ?!?!? I don’t care if John Hardy left them the recipe, they had no business serving what they thought was good BBQ.
Now it’s OK if the patrons are all white. That’s pretty normal in places like Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City or the myriad – and wonderful – BBQ joints that are in gas stations on the service road along I-10 from Houston to San Antonio. But you gotta have some moolinyans in the kitchen. PRECONCEIVED BBQ STEROTYPE 3: Good BBQ can only be made by African Americans. The late great John Hardy is indeed African American, but since his death, his restaurant has gone on and proven that white people can indeed make BBQ. To get a good sampling of the fare, I ordered the lunch combo, which included a healthy order of chopped pork, two spare ribs, and my choice of side. I chose the cole slaw [sic] and the JoJo potatoes. Coleslaw? With BBQ? You’ve got to be kidding me. The second side should be either Okra or Baked Beans. I didn’t even know they had Coleslaw – it must be for Canadians who are going through the Mayo Clinic for taste bud problems. Another red flag went up when the waitress (again, a fat Scandinavian who talked like an extra in “Fargo,” not Ouisee on Good Times) asked me if I wanted the sauce on the meat or on the side. PRECONCEIVED BBQ STEROTYPE 4: Good BBQ cannot be served by Scandinavians with Minnesota accents. It’s been my experience that the best BBQ places don’t offer you a choice of sauce or “on the side.” Basically, they have the confidence to say “This is what we’re serving, this is how we’re serving it, and if you don’t like it don’t come back.”
The food came quickly and the portions were large. PRECONCEIVED BBQ STEROTYPE 5: Good BBQ joints must be rude, slow and unresponsive to their customers. (This reminds me of a comment made by my good friend, Chris Economaki, himself and world-renowned gourmand and oenophile. “When it comes to food, most Americans are interested in quantity, not quality.”) PRECONCEIVED BBQ STEROTYPE 6: Quality food can only be served in over-priced miniscule portions. The pork was tasteless without the sauce. It had none of the oakey or woody flavor that most good BBQ had before you season it.
If you want an oakey flavor, eat oak. I started with the mild sauce, but that didn’t have enough of a kick. So I went to the hot sauce and it was passable. A solid B-minus.
I will grant this point – in Minnesota the hot sauces generally are not. The mild sauce isn’t much hotter than ketchup.
Next came [sic] the ribs. They didn’t fall off the bone, but stuck to it rather tenaciously. Even with the sauce (the hot again), they left a lot to be desired. The highlight of the meal, I have to say, was the cole slaw[sic] and the JoJos. The cole slaw [sic] was good and creamy. A nice contrast to the tangy BBQ sauce. But the best thing John Hardy’s served were the JoJos, which are nothing more than fried potato wedges. They were crisp on the outside, but still slightly chewy on the inside. Moreover, they weren’t dripping in oil. They were just right. With a little salt and a side of ketchup, they were almost perfect. The JoJos are indeed a John Hardy’s highlight, but you are eating them wrong. Salt and ketchup? What a waste. The JoJos should be smothered in BBQ sauce – incredibly delicious. Wish I could say the same for the rest of the meal. Again, it was a solid B-minus. I wouldn’t drive to Rochester just to go to John Hardy’s (like I’d drive to K.C. for Arthur Bryant’s for the burnt ends or to Tuscaloosa to go to Dreamland). I believe I told the Bomber that as good as John Hardy’s is, it is not worth a three-hour round trip drive. If you think Arthur Bryant’s is worth a sixteen-hour (or whatever) round trip drive, you are insane. So, I’d encourage Sisyphus to keep writing those Top-11 lists. But he doesn’t have much of a future as a restaurant critic. And I will advise the Bomber to stick to reviewing tailgate bratwurst at Winnipeg Blue Bomber games. If you enjoy good BBQ and find yourself in Rochester, do yourself a favor and stop by John Hardy’s.
You missed the most glaring error in the bomber's statement. Esther Rolle played Florida Evans in "Good Times." I don't know who "Ouisee" is, but Isabelle Sanford played a character affectionately called "Weezie" by her husband on "The Jeffersons
." Perhaps Canadians don't have reruns of late-70s American sitcoms on their governmnet run TV stations.