Famous Dave lives up to name

Transplant: Wisconsin chain delivers just-right ribs with expansion to this area

Restaurant review

June 01, 2000|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

As someone with a weakness for barbecued ribs, I was looking forward to trying out the recently opened Famous Dave's Northwoods Grill and Barbeque in Annapolis, hoping it wouldn't be a disappointment.

It's hard to get good ribs. The people who run barbecue joints tend to boast a lot about secret recipes and sauces, promoting their restaurants with all the subtlety of Vince McMahon touting a Wrestlemania event. But, too often, they don't deliver.

Dave delivered.

When we visited one recent Friday night, I confess I was skeptical. If Dave (that would be chain owner Dave Anderson) was so famous, how come I'd never heard of him? Besides, how much could one really expect from a place with side dishes, or "fixins," that had cornball names like "drunkin'apples," "famous Northwoods beans" and "lodge fries"?

The chain's founder started his first restaurant in Wisconsin. But he was raised in Chicago and his fondness for the blues was reflected in the recorded music inside. (Dave picks the tunes personally, according to the restaurant's Web site.) Fortunately, it was turned down enough to allow conversation.

Our server, Chrissy, disarmed us from the start as she took our drink orders. We worried that the sweetened tea might be a little too sweet. "Try it, and if you don't like it, I'll bring you something else," she offered reassuringly.

Throughout, she was cheerfully attentive without being intrusive. She patiently answered all our questions about menu items, helping us sort through the choices.

We started out sharing an appetizer, the catfish fingers ($6.99). The catfish strips turned out to be a little overseasoned and tasted as if they sat in the fryer a tad too long. The remoulade and "sweet soul" dipping sauces served with them were tasty, though.

For an entree, I went with the baby back ribs ($15.99 for a full slab). Like all dinner menu items, it came with a honey-buttered cornbread muffin, corn on the cob and a choice of two side dishes. I picked Northwoods beans, a savory dish with chunks of sausage and brisket, and drunkin' apples.

My spouse opted for a two-meat combo plate ($10.99), with chicken tenders and Texas beef brisket, and coleslaw and fries for her side orders. The other side dish available is potato salad.

Friends dining with us ordered the two-meat combo plate, with barbecued chicken and catfish fingers, and Dave's Favorite - a half-pound hamburger topped with jack cheese and two strips of bacon that comes with one side order ($6.99).

The baby back ribs ranked among the best I've tasted. They were moist, lean and had a light coating (not dripping wet) of sweet, slightly tangy barbecue sauce. They were also slightly charred, which is how I like my ribs. Delicious. I tried the meatier, flat-bone St. Louis Ribs on a later visit, and they were equally good.

The hamburger came exactly as ordered, medium, with no pink showing, but it was still juicy and tender. My wife liked the chicken tenders better than the catfish fingers. She pronounced the brisket good but said she preferred her homemade recipe.

All of us found the drunkin' apples a tasty side dish. The baked apples are cooked in orange juice and amaretto, then sprinkled with cinnamon. The apple pieces were firm, not mushy like those served in too many restaurants.

Our appetites were sated, but that didn't stop us from sampling Dave's desserts. We ordered bread pudding ($4.49), a hot fudge Kahlua brownie ($4.99) and "Better Than Mom's Pecan Pie" ($3.99). Each came served in a large bowl with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side and was plenty for two to share.

The pecan pie, served hot with a drizzling of caramel sauce around the dish, was superb. My dinner companions were equally pleased with the bread pudding and the rich dark brownie dessert, which was topped with whipped cream.

The menu includes a variety of sandwiches and other items, as well as meals for kids ages 10 and younger that include an entree or sandwich, fries, Oreos and a soft drink, priced from $1.99 to $3.99.

Famous Dave's restaurant chain has been expanding around the Midwest, with more than a dozen locations in Minnesota and five in Wisconsin. The company bought four Red River Barbeque and Grille locations in Maryland and Virginia for its venture into this region.

If Famous Dave's continues to maintain the quality of service and food we found on our recent visit to its Annapolis restaurant, Dave's fame should start spreading around these parts - at least among fans of good barbecue.

Famous Dave's Northwoods Grill and Barbeque

Where: 181 Jennifer Road, Annapolis; 410-224-2207

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; until midnight Fridays and Saturdays

Prices: Appetizers, $5.99-$6.99; entrees, $5.99-$17.99Credit cards: All

Rating: ***

Ratings: * culinary wasteland **** culinary heaven

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