Photography by Eliesa Johnson
Pork ribs from Revival in Minneapolis
What does the South mean to you? Waffle Houses and Duck Dynasty? Folks in pressed linen suits and derby hats quoting Faulkner while rocking on the porch and sipping sweet tea? There’s truth to these clichés, but they don’t fully capture the depth and spirit of the region—the same way the North isn’t just a bunch of parka-clad blondes passive-aggressively quoting Garrison Keillor. You know what does cut to the heart of the South, though? Food. The region has a deep and complicated culinary tradition rooted in a head-spinning array of influences, from African to Native American to European.
Today, Southern cuisine is blowing up all over the country, with young women emulating Beyoncé for raising up the ladies who carry hot sauce in their purse, New York staking a claim for its own regional style of barbecue, and KFC’s newly sassy Colonel Sanders reboot bringing Nashville Hot Chicken to the masses.
Not that we’ve been totally bereft all these years, chomping on herring dipped in ketchup. Remarkably, we launched one of the country’s top 10 barbecue chains. Famous Dave’s currently boasts nearly 200 spots across the country, with more than a few south of the Mason-Dixon line. And while food snobs will say that there’s no good barbecue here, they probably haven’t gone spelunking like we have, through the small joints and back neighborhoods where grocery delis have smokers parked out back for weekends. If you’re looking for the obsessive barbecue types you find at world-renowned spots like Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas, I’d say: You’re right, we aren’t there yet. But just you wait, baby, we are on the way.
In the meantime, a great many soul food and Southern barbecue eateries dot our landscape, handily bringing the South to the North, often thanks to folks who’ve moved here with old family recipes. These folks—like Georgia’s Bob Edmond of Big Daddy’s, Mississippi’s Lee Smith of the recently closed Lee & Dee’s BBQ, and Pastor Luches Hamilton of Arkansas—have provided the backbone of our Southern eating habits. This isn’t to say that just because you’re from the South you’re a good cook. But let’s not deny the importance of those who have been here cooking the beans.
And thanks to some new faces on the scene, we’re now experiencing a tipping point for Southern food in the Twin Cities. Maybe you’re not shocked to see people lining up for fried chicken outside of Revival in south Minneapolis, but know that they’re also standing outside for the collard greens and grits. Our eyes have also been opened to the miracle of pimento cheese, which we immediately stuffed into a burger, as one does. We have national television shows coming to feature not only our sausage shops but ribs and brisket champs like Charlie Johnson of Q fanatic. This month we will once again do what we do best and seize the season with more than one crawdad boil block party, which have become part of our summer fabric. And as of press time, the Travail boys have threatened to open their own K.C.-style ’cue joint in Northeast. By the time Revival St. Paul is ready to open up, its North Carolina–taught chef, Thomas Boemer, will be bringing that national level of obsessive and cheffy Southern cooking to our streets in an unprecedented way. I believe we’re ready for it.
The Chinese believe an invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. For the North and the South, that thread lives in the Mississippi River. Let’s just say that Minnesota is embracing the flow, and that the rich and smoky dishes coming upriver are being greeted warmly with open hearts, minds, and guts. Pass the Wet-Naps.
In which two Southerners and three Yankees take a restaurant tour.
A critical survey of Twin Cities restaurants inspired by cuisine from below the Mason-Dixon line.
Friendship and history are the root of Ron Whyte and Bob Edmond's terrific barbecue at Big Daddy's Old Fashioned Barbeque.
Chef Thomas Boemer is ready to write the next chapter of Twin Cities cuisine.
Our region is overflowing with hot and barbecue sauces to mop on your 'cue or slather on your crispy chicken. Behold, 31 highlights—one for each day in August.
Here in Minnesota, the whiskey game is getting stronger by the month.