The first thing we discovered inside Bayport BBQ is there's no ordering just a plate of ribs or brisket. In fact, the food isn't served on plates -- it comes heaped on butcher paper and is sold by weight.
It's a trick restaurant owner Chris Johnson picked up in Texas, where Hill Country-style barbecue -- dry rubbed and oak smoked -- originated as a way for butchers to serve farm workers a quick and easy-to-carry meal. Lunch would have been a few slices of beef brisket and bread wrapped in paper or maybe served with a sleeve of crackers and a pickle.
It's a meal that's easy to replicate in Bayport, which appealed to our family: We have wanted to give our 9-year-old daughter, a native of San Antonio, a taste of her home state but haven't wanted to shell out for airline tickets. The St. Croix River community would have to suffice.
On a recent Saturday evening, we made the 25-minute trek from St. Paul to Bayport as much for the barbecue as to take advantage of the sun-drenched patio I had spotted on an earlier lunch trip there with co-workers.
The host, catching us staring dumbfounded at the wall-sized menu board, offered us a tutorial on the operation: The meat is cooked with heat, smoke and spices; sauce comes on the side. Order by the fraction of a pound. Want just a couple of spareribs? Order a half-pound. Want to sample the brisket? Get a quarter pound. Really hungry? Order more.
Folks looking for a straightforward, one-word order can opt for the sandwich
We went with a hodgepodge of mains: a half-pound of pork spareribs and quarter-pound each of salmon, brisket and turkey. We threw in a Bayport hot link for good measure.
We rounded out the order with a couple of sides: a half-pound of creamed corn and a pound of au gratin potatoes. The bright yellow kernels came coated in a sauce thickened by cream cheese, making it more decadent than any version I'd ever had. The potatoes were thin-sliced, tender and flecked with cheese.
True to Texas form, Bayport BBQ sells slices of sandwich bread for sopping up meat and sauce. The difference here is that instead of blocks of mass-produced white bread, the loaves at Bayport are baked in house daily and come thick cut with a chewy crust and airy crumb. We picked up an entire loaf -- the staff promised any leftovers would make great French toast, and they were right.
Armed with a couple of lemonades and beer -- including a Farm Girl Saison from the Lift Bridge Brewery up the road in Stillwater -- we passed two other families as we made our way to a shaded table on the gravel patio out back. It was about 5 p.m., and the space was quiet, perfect for chatting with the kids. We'd come early because
Our daughter, a picky eater of the highest order, told us the smoked turkey topped with the sweet and tangy barbecue sauce was awesome. Our son dug into the "hot dog," as he called the hot link. The coarse-ground pork inside was studded with spice but wasn't too hot for his 3-year-old taste buds.
The lean brisket slices came apart under the edge of my fork while the spareribs, each about 8 inches long, pulled from the bone with a slight tug. I appreciated the Texas-style aesthetic of cooking the meat without sauce but still dipped the morsels into the concoction that came in repurposed Corona bottles.
With tip and a second round of drinks, our bill came to about $65. It was a lot cheaper than airline tickets to San Antonio and a small price to pay for a big taste of Texas in Minnesota.
Kids' Cuisine is a one-time take on how restaurants handle kid customers. It's written by a rotation of Pioneer Press staffers with children -- the real experts for this column. John Brewer can be reached at 651-228-2093.
Address: 328 N. Fifth Ave., Bayport
Contact: 651-955-6337, bayportbbq.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to about 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday; open until about 10 p.m. when bands perform
Prices: $15 per pound for turkey to $10.50 per pound for pork spareribs
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