BoneYard Kitchen & Bar is on the cusp of something. It opened this winter in the former Old Chicago space in Uptown and was immediately busy. Created by the Kaskaid Hospitality Group—also the owner of Crave, Union, and Figlio—this spot is a departure from the other glitzy, upscale joints. It wants to be a down-home Southern cooking spot born of family heritage recipes. It wants to convey a sense of place—a place that is not here.
There’s something very now about that, as we seem to be in a fried chicken moment in town. Street-food eaters are obsessed with Korean fried chicken, chicken ’n’ waffles are popping up on menus all over creation, suddenly there’s a hot chicken reference that has nothing to do with upstate New York, and edgy local chefs are planning pop-up events around champagne and fried chicken. Let’s not even start on the po’boy fanaticism gripping the TC. Bottom line: Low-country cooking can find purchase in this high-Nordic culture. So, will BoneYard be our ambassador?
I have to admit that I was originally turned off by the cornpone shtick being peddled by the marketing department, what with the Mee-Maw and Pee-Paw and joyously incorrect spelling of things written in a Duck Dynasty patois. Knowing that executive chef Jason Bush came from Georgia and that he had brought many family recipes along from his actual Mee-Maw made things a bit better, but I don’t usually like the inauthenticity of cartoon caricatures selling me my bourbon. And it is a good thing BoneYard backed off that, because it doesn’t really work with the atmosphere of the place, which is both charming and cool. The skillets hanging on the back wall and the well-chosen bits of antique fixtures and rough-hewn woods keep the place modern and chic—and wisely out of the Cracker Barrel world of decorating.
The food ranges from snacks and picnic plates to traditional specialty dishes and sandwiches to a few things designated as The New South. Many of the opening plates are done really well: andouille corn dog babies, fried green tomatoes, and iron pot mac and cheese (made stellar with the addition of kicky pimento cheese). The grits didn’t pass, but the winter succotash of black-eyed peas, corn, peppers, tomato, and bacon was so good it could have been a whole dish instead of a small side.
Though the bacon-wrapped duck meatloaf was called out by every server as the best dish on the menu, it failed hugely for me both at lunch as a sandwich piled with cheese, ham, chili sauce, onion straws, and an egg (I think?) and at dinner with caramelized brussels sprouts, gravy, and tomato jam. It was a gut bomb of muddled confusion on both plates. The dry-rub ribs left an inch-thick coating of rub on my teeth as I bit down, but the rib itself was wonderfully chewy and meaty.
The biggest letdown has been the fried chicken. I have yet to be served a juicy piece that is warm and fresh-from-the-fryer crisp. I also have an issue with big pieces of chicken that come with a pourable sauce (though I really loved the Sriracha maple syrup!) and are served in a basket. Can’t really pick it up, can’t really cut it.
But there is more good news. The brisket and pulled pork were both delicious, the gumbo was rich and warming, and the hot burger was rightly spicy and cooked nicely. The actual smoke-grilled pork chops were so tender and flavorful they didn’t really need too much of the bourbon peaches and candied pecans, but it hit a nice balance of smoky, meaty, and lilting sweetness. Here’s another thing: The blueberry pie was outstanding, a moment of summer with balsamic reduction and a lacing of brandy. I could go back and sit at that bar with a bourbon and pie and be happy.
So is this the gateway to our new Southern obsession? Will this be the yardstick for the rest to come? Not really. I don’t think you can have an iffy fried chicken when you’re hanging your hat on being Southern comfort food. There are some gems in the mix, but there are a few big misses that might cost it loyalty, and that’s really what it’s all about. BoneYard will likely be successful because there’s a great bar vibe, a youngish crowd, a sweet patio, and strong cocktails to go along with food that will keep you full and generally satisfied. 2841 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-455-6688, boneyarduptown.com