A group of new-to-the-business restaurateurs is delivering impressive Memphis-style barbecue to the southern suburbs.
Keith Hittner, son Keith Hittner Jr. and son-in-law Elliott Ashwell call their Burnsville place Rack Shack BBQ, and the streamlined, user-friendly menu offers five smoked meats, served by the pound, in sandwiches or as combo meals paired with a half-dozen sides.
All of the meats are rubbed with the same house-developed spice rub, which has strong paprika, cumin and brown sugar flavor notes. The pork shoulder and Angus beef brisket get the most attention, marinating in that spice rub for 24 hours before spending 14 long hours in the kitchen's smoker until the intensely appealing meat yields to the slightest pressure from a fork.
Kudos also for the turkey breast, which hits the smoker for three hours and then is sliced thin like the brisket. I would happily pull out my passport and make the trek to Burnsville today for another crack at all three.
For a rib joint, the pork ribs don't have the starring role that they should, coming off a trifle dry and chewy. Perhaps I visited on an off day, because the smoked whole chicken was similarly overcooked, as was the smoked potato, an otherwise fantastic way to tart up a boring old baked potato. I also wasn't bowled over by the ground brisket burger, although I made the mistake of ordering it naked; the lean, not-so-juicy beef probably requires the mountains of toppings (mushrooms, bacon, blue cheese, grilled jalapeños) to really make it sing.
Still, there are plenty of other reasons to admire this venture. Sandwiches start with sturdy onion rolls. Eight inventive house-made sauces cover the gamut from barely tongue-tickling to incendiary, with the requisite forays into sugar-kissed sweetness and vinegar-based tanginess.
Several side dishes make highly favorable impressions, including a crunchy and not-too-sweet slaw (an ideal topper for a pulled pork sandwich), addictive pork-fortified slow-cooked beans and a spot-on skillet-baked corn bread, boasting a toothy crust that yields to a creamy interior.
There's a decent beer list (the wine selection is best described as desultory), and the desserts -- including an Oreo baked inside a chocolate chip cookie -- exude the brand of all-American excess regularly associated with barbecue.
It's also encouraging to see that the Hittners and Ashwell don't take themselves too seriously. Case in point: an exercise in gleeful overkill involving a cast-iron skillet loaded with one of those smoked meats and a dollop of each one of the menu's side dishes. One look at that behemoth and I instinctively reached for a beta blocker, but, as is the rest of the menu, it's very reasonably priced: $10.95.
The Rack Shack does a brisk takeout business, but the modest dining room has its charms, most notably the smoker's appetite-tickling perfume, and gleaming stainless steel-topped tables, perfect platforms for the genial messiness that is barbecue.
Two complaints: Those sauces are stored in the kind of sticky squeeze bottles that make my not-so-inner germophobe wince.
Then there are the staff's T-shirts, which have "Nice Rack!" printed across the chest. The intentions are probably humorous, but they come off as an ill-advised Hooters-ism, one that is beneath an operation with culinary ambitions.
Rack Shack BBQ
Where: 2925 E. Cliff Rd., Burnsville Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.-Sat., noon-7 p.m. Sun. Contact: 952-736-3004, www.rackshackbarbeque.com.