I just went on a lengthy trip to the furthest places in my territory - most notably North and South Dakota. I rented a mid-size Toyota RAV 4 SUV to carry some samples in - too many things to carry than the ROKNROL Impala could handle. As you can see from the picture I took when I pulled into the driveway on Friday night, I put on just under 2300 miles for the week. A lot of driving, but I saw some neat things and ate at some good places along the way. I'll be sharing some of those places with you in the coming days.
One place that I'm really excited to tell you about is the Firehouse Brewing Company in downtown Rapid City (see map). I had a long day of driving from Dickinson, ND to Rapid City, stopping to see some sights along the way and wandering a bit, so when I pulled into the hotel in Rapid City around 8:45, I just wanted to throw my bags in the room and go get some dinner.
I'd read about the Firehouse Brewing Company when I was doing some pre-trip research in the days leading up to the long drive. It turns out it's the first brew pub in the state of South Dakota. Opened in 1991, it's housed in the original fire station in downtown Rapid City. There's a lot of fire station memorabilia throughout the place, including the original fireman's pole leading from the second floor of the building.
I got in just after nine p.m., hoping they were still serving food. They were. I sat at the bar and grabbed a beer menu. They were extremely busy that evening, and even with three people behind the bar it took some time to get waited on. I finally got someone to come over and I ordered up their Eagle Pale Ale - an American style pale - and I asked for a dinner menu.
The Eagle Pale Ale was somewhat flat. Definitely not as hoppy as I would have liked it. It was OK, but I should have ordered their Chukkar Ale, an English style pale that was described as being more of a traditional pale ale beer.
The menu was quite extensive. They have specials through the week and that night it was all you could eat barbecued pork ribs for $13.95. I saw a lot of those plates going out to people as I was looking through the menu.
They had everything from pasta to Mexican, to steaks and burgers, to sandwiches and salads. It was pretty impressive. A couple three things caught my eye. One was the Souvalaki - a marinated pork tenderloin smothered in grilled onions, mushrooms and peppers served on rice. Man, that sounded great, but I knew with the cooked onions and peppers, I'd be up half the night.
They also had something they called Rancher's Pie - they take their homemade mashed potatoes and layer them with beef chunks and veggies, then cover with parmesan cheese and then caramelize the cheese under a broiler. That sounded wonderful.
Another thing that I looked at was the Italian Sausage Ravioli - sausage stuffed ravioli's in a marinara blended with red and green peppers. Man, my stomach was doing back-flips when I was reading that.
But what I went for was something that television personality Rachel Ray had when she visited the Firehouse Brewing Company a few years ago for the Food Network's Tasty Travels show that she hosted. I'm not a big Rachel Ray fan, but this sounded good. They called it "Spontaneous Heating" - the brewpub's own gumbo concoction made out of Andouille sausage, buffalo sausage, shrimp, seafood, and chicken, simmered with Firehouse Brewing Company's own Chukkar Ale. They served it in a huge bowl on a bed of rice.
At that time, I also ordered up a Chukkar Ale, but the bartender pointed to the board on the wall and said, "We don't have Chukkar Ale this evening." I was sort of incredulous they wouldn't have the Chukkar Ale on tap that night, but, nope, they didn't. So I ordered up the Brown Cow Ale. I hoped it would be more flavorful than the Eagle Pale, but I was equally disappointed. It, too, was flat tasting and didn't have the "pizazz" one would expect from a roasted brown ale.
When my dinner showed up, I knew I was going to have trouble finishing the meal. It was a HUGE bowl of their gumbo on top of a bed of rice. The gumbo sauce was rich and thick. I asked for a bottle of Tabasco to go along with it and immediately poured some on without tasting the gumbo. A guy and a lady sitting near me looked at me when I did that and the guy said, "Are you sure you want to add more Tabasco to that? It's plenty hot on it's own."
I assured him that what may be hot for them was pretty mild to me. Besides, I like the taste of Tabasco in my gumbo.
From the first bite, I was hooked. It was unbelievably great. I've had gumbo in New Orleans, and I've had gumbo in some of the best Cajun restaurants around the Midwest and Las Vegas. But I have to say this may have been the best damn gumbo I'd ever had in my life. Actually, it was more like jambalaya than gumbo, but I wasn't going to quibble as to what it was called. It was just damn good.
It was so good that I finished the whole meal. I couldn't believe I ate the whole bowl of food, but it was just so freaking great that I just couldn't stop.
After dinner, I went out to their beer garden to check out a reggae band that was playing. The Firehouse Brewing Company regularly has a number of bands playing during the summer months and that evening they featured Yabba Griffiths, a Jamaican-born reggae artist who is now based out of Chicago. I grabbed one their Firehouse Red beers, an OK red - the best of the three beers I had that evening, but still not the best red I've ever had - and sat and listened to Griffiths and his band play three or four songs. For a Wednesday night, they had a pretty substantial crowd there to listen to the band. And the music was very good.
For dinner and three beers, the bill came to just under $30 bucks before tip. I wasn't too enamored with their beers, but I have to say that was one of the finest Cajun meals I've had for quite some time. Who would have thought it would have been in Rapid City, SD?
I was driving across the vast spaces of South Dakota the next day thinking about the meal I had the night before. My stomach was doing jumping jacks as I remembered the taste sensations from the gumbo. I'm hoping I can start doing some business out in Rapid City - even though it's an 11-hour drive one-way from the Quad Cities - just so I can go back out and have more of Firehouse Brewing Company's Spontaneous Heating. It was that good.