When Jeff Weber decided to move into the former Legend’s space in northeast Minneapolis, the chef thought back to the days the building was a barbecue spot run by Jimmy Theros, who’d later go on to open Rudolph’s in south Minneapolis.
Maybe the neighborhood could use another smoke joint?
In hindsight, the notion seems obvious. The Twin Cities’ barbecue scene is bursting: Animales food truck is thriving at Able Brewing; it’s hard to get a table at Revival St. Paul; Market Bar-B-Que responded to its forced Nicollet Avenue exit by reopening in a bigger space in Northeast; even the prize-winning Travail guys are planning a meaty Minneapolis project.
’Tis the era of barbecue in these towns, and what a time to be alive.
Weber, who formerly lived in North Carolina, recalls a time when the only condiment Minnesotans seemed interested in was... ranch dressing. That’s why Beast offers a Minnesota White sauce, a send-up of an Alabama-style condiment that uses house-made ranch, made to order. Few people are getting that—“some people put it on a salad,” Weber reports—but the chef/owner sees it as a good thing, a positive sign toward an increasingly adventurous palate.
Local tongues have grown right up, which means barbecue’s not only a welcome guest: It better have something to say for itself.
Beast sure does, and with affordable price points (a single-item platter, with a side, can be had for $16), the only one losing an arm or a leg for the experience is whichever “beast” you’ve picked out.
Less than two months after its polar vortex debut, we would already put this barbecue up against any other. The ribs are perfectly crusted with a dry rub that has, mysteriously, trapped every single drop of whatever juice that pig had to give. Anyone can smoke a turkey, and chicken wings ain’t the toughest assignment, but ribs can be tricky. And Beast’s, sourced from Sioux Preme meat packing in South Dakota, are sublime, the kind you’d happily eat dry, heavily sauced, or, like... out of a garbage can, if that’s where your smoke-seeking nose found them.
About those sauces: Aside from the intentionally bland-ifying Minnesota White, there’s a house sauce, a “sassy” house sauce (spicier than its “MN nice” menu neighbor), and a “Cackalacky,” which borrows from the thin, vinegary stuff Weber ate in the Carolinas. For his money, he likes the “Sassy BEAST,” and we’re inclined to agree; there are spicier sauces to be found in the Twin Cities, but few are doing as much with depth, tang, and sugar all at once. It’s a sauce good enough to make you trim your mustache before going, and/or ask permission to lick it off someone else’s fingers.
There’s also smoked chicken (crispy, and pleading from beyond its feathery grave to be dipped into something) and chopped-up servings of pork butt and chicken, both of which are tasty additions to one of Beast’s one-, two-, three-, and four-meat platters. In case someone at your table’s longing for their last trip to Lake Superior, there’s smoked whitefish. Our advice: Get the BEAST Platter, (capitalization theirs, enthusiasm ours) and fill it up with a little of everything.
But the real standout is the smoked BEAST, served either on its own or on a sammie. It’s beef, so maybe you’re expecting brisket. Spit your expectations out and make room for a sirloin steak, sliced thick, the kind of cut that’ll have you calling your therapist to discuss resentment toward your father for just dropping steaks on a grill when he should’ve been slow-and-low smoking them for hours, like Weber does.
Among the snacks, Pork Candy eats like it sounds—sweetened rib tips, the consumption of which you absolutely should not disclose to your dentist—and a smoked fish dip will have you happily ruining your breath for the next person you talk to. The only real misses on the menu were the slightly dull pimento cheese deviled eggs and a double butt burger (insert dirty jokes here), which came out so overly sweet it would fit right in on the dessert menu.
You’ll wash stuff down with a solid tap beer and wine menu, well balanced with light and dark offerings, depending on how you want to help slide that meat down your gullet. There’s also a Bourbon Salad cocktail ($9) made especially for Beast with Hog Mash booze from RockFilter, and a Beast New Fashion ($12) concocted with the same spirit. Either works, but you’ll probably want something slightly more “water-based” to balance the salt content. This is, after all, a barbecue place, and you need to ask your poor digestive system for forgiveness.
If you ever ate—or, let’s be honest, drank—at the old Legend’s, the setup at Beast will seem familiar, as if the old dive spot switched out a dirty-black-T-shirt-and-ripped-jeans outfit for a clean-black-T-shirt-and-new-jeans outfit. The spacious downstairs will be available for banquets, parties, and (eventually) live music. Weber’s still working that part out, and also wants to start experimenting with daily specials. At the moment, he’s got his hands plenty full, as he cheerfully slings logs into the smoker every damn day.
“I haven’t had a day off yet this year,” he says, just after bragging that Beast serves everything fresh and hot, and isn’t in the habit of reheating pre-cooked smoke victims, like “some places.” (He didn’t call any out by name.)
As for the sides, our advice is to sleep with the tangy coleslaw, marry the creamy-crusty mac and cheese, and kill a forgettable corn-and-peppers dish. (Garlic Texas Toast is an essential, but you knew that.) All sides are prepared vegetarian, a reflection, Weber acknowledges, of the shifting tastes of some environmentally conscientious or health- and diet-constricted diners. Sure, those beans or greens might be “better” if he tossed some bacon in—but it’s 2019, and people are “trying to mitigate their carbon footprint,” and eat out ethically. If that’s your mood, the portobello sammie will send you into that good night with no regrets.
Occasionally gorging on good, ethically sourced barbecue’s not a sin. It just feels like it should be. The “crossroads” spot in Mississippi, where Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to learn how to play the blues, is now marked by a little monument — and a rib joint on the corner.
Go eat at Beast, but be careful. A stray hand reaching for a shared platter might get stabbed by a fork. The stabber will claim this was an accident. You will have your doubts. None will be about the quality of the food at this new and, clearly, badly needed Minneapolis fixture.
Click here to see a photo slideshow of Beast
825 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis