Monday, April 15, 2013

Northbound Smokehouse: Smoky, Meaty, Goodness!

The other day Matt, Anna, Sj and I decided to celebrate Anna's birthday by doing a crawl of several Minneapolis breweries.  Despite being an avid beer fanatic, the long and endless winter here, paired with the distance from my home in the West has precluded me from visiting many of these newly opened breweries.  With an end to the glacial winter in site, we headed off first to South Minneapolis and Northbound Smokehouse.

Unlike the veritable glut of production breweries and taprooms now springing up in the Twin Cities, Northbound is a genuine Brewpub.  The old stand-bys of Town Hall, Great Waters, Rock Bottom and Barley Johns were all founded over 10 years ago, and this is the first brewpub to open since then.  As a guy who likes his food (see all my posts about beer dinners...) I was excited to hear about this place.  Now I'm sad that it took me so long to get out there and try it!

Upon opening up the car doors to walk over to the brewery, we were all hit by an amazing smoked meat aroma that caused instant belly rumblings and excessive salivation.  That smell can not be properly described for print, but stimulated that hind-brain where the Homo Habilus or Australopithecus still dwells, ready to club some animal into submission and throw it on a smoky fire.  The stated goal of the brewpub is to house smoke locally sourced meats, served up with high quality craft beers.  Located in the Oak Building, it is at the NW corner of 38th St. East and 28th Ave South.  The pub itself has an understated look with the name stenciled on the windows and some minimalist local brewery posters on the walls inside.  Everything is new looking and uncluttered, with clean lines and comfortable stools and chairs to sit on.  The general feel of the place is a comfortable corner bar and restaurant, but lacks a little character to differentiate it from others.  They do have a large patio area that will soon be crowded with locals, eating and drinking their hearts out.

Two chalk boards quietly post the current tap list.  They were serving five of their own beers, so all of us got samplers to test out our server's skills.  They also had several local guest beers on tap: Indeed, Schells, Surly, Fulton and Lift Bridge.  Their brewer, Jamie Robinson, apparently used to work at Town Hall, so I had high hopes for the beers.  Their current seasonal was the Small Ball--a sessionable pale ale made with Glacier hops, and very drinkable.  My favorite of theirs was the Porter, made with a small percentage of smoked malt--but not enough in my opinion!  The honey wheat was remarkably good for a style that is usually a throw-away at brewpubs.  The Light Rail Pale and the Big Jim IPA were both respectable but not outstanding.  Overall the house beers were all well crafted and clean, but I wanted a bit more out of them.  I think they should really embrace their smokehouse roots here and have a legit rauchbier or a gratzer rather than focus on the lighter ales.

Laine showing off her mad skills

What makes this place stand out is the food.  Sj and I split the Smoked Porketta sandwich which was amazingly smoky and flavorful.  We also split the Smoked Beef sandwich with horseradish and smoked Gouda.  That was meat heaven on a plate.  The cajun fries were some of the best I've had in the Twin Cities.  The down side to stopping here first on our pub crawl was that all of us ate way too much and had little room left for more beers!

Glad I had my lactaid...

Our server (wearing a Dangerous Man shirt,) immediately picked up on the fact that were   beer tourists and pointed us toward other local places to visit as well.  She was very knowledgeable about Northbound beers, as well as other local beers and breweries.  This was a very good place to have lunch and some beers.  I would be here a lot if I lived anywhere near the area, and highly recommend it.  About the only gripe I have with the place is that the decoration in the bar is a little generic--I think they would do well to play up their brand a bit more.  I have also been to another smokehouse (Black Dog in Champaign, IL) that serves pretty much everything on the menu smoked, including most of the appetizers, and I want the Northbound guys to take it to that level!  Go big or go home!

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