Business in the Twin Cities has been pretty tough for me over the past few years, but I was just able to land a new and good account in the city. During one of my meetings with the dealer located in the Uptown area of Minneapolis, I proposed we go out to dinner that evening. There's a lot of little restaurants in the area, but when he said, "We could go to Rudolphs", I eagerly said yes.
It had been, possibly, 20 years since I'd last been in Rudolphs, a restaurant on Lyndale Ave. (see map) that features ribs and other barbecued specialties. Actually, you can't call Rudolphs a rib joint - it's far from that. It's a very nice, somewhat upscale restaurant. And that's what the owner designed it to be when he first opened in 1975.
Jimmy Theros was a restaurant veteran in the Twin Cities working with his parents in a couple of places they owned. He knew that people in the area loved barbecue. But at the time in the mid-70's, most of the barbecue joints in the cities were just that - joints. And most of them were in places that weren't in the greatest sections of town. Theros envisioned a more elegant setting for barbecue, something that would be comfortable and non-threatening to diners. It's more of a supper club than a rib joint.
In 2002 when Jimmy Theros decided to retire at the age of 74, his son, Charlie, took over the day-to-day operations of Rudolphs. Charlie actually made Rudolphs more of a entertainment destination with revamping the bar area and adding bar specials to the mix, and adding a D.J. on the weekends.
Rudolphs is named after the great silent screen star, Rudolph Valentino. Many of the pictures on the wall of Rudolphs are of old movie stars and movie scenes. But the lighting is subdued, the chairs are comfy and the tables are big.
We got into Rudolphs around 8:30 one evening and were shown to a table in the dining room. It was a nice night in Minneapolis that evening with a lot of people out and about. The bar area was nearly full and the dining area was a little over half-full when we sat down.
While barbecue is the main focus at Rudolphs, the menu also features steaks, seafood and pasta, something you definitely don't see at most barbecue-based restaurants. Many of the barbecue entrees are named after movie stars or characters in movies. One of the items featured on the menu was the Godzilla - 1 1/2 racks of ribs, 6 pieces of chicken, cornbread, cole slaw and garlic mashed potatoes for $64 bucks. I understand they get a few takers of that meal from time to time.
Since it had been a long time since I'd been to Rudolphs, I wanted to try the barbecue again. I ordered the hickory smoked brisket, topped with Rudolphs sweet and smoky sauce. It came with a side of their garlic mashed potatoes that were then topped with onion straws. And their gumbo intrigued me, so I asked for cup of that, as well.
My guest got the Ron Burgundy - named after Will Ferrell's character in "Anchorman" - which consisted of three spare ribs and a strip steak barbecued and brushed with Rudolphs' sauce, then sliced before serving. He also ordered up a side of the cole slaw with the meal. He said, "It's a big helping, so you can help me eat it."
When the waitress brought out the cup of gumbo, that's exactly what I got. It was served in a large coffee cup. And the gumbo was very good. It had a lot of flavor to it, but I added a little "zing" to the taste by throwing some Tabasco into the gumbo for good measure.
When our main entrees came out, I was ready for the meat. My guest's strip steak, sliced in diagonal pieces, was cooked a perfect medium rare. My brisket was OK, I can't say it was great, but it was more than edible. I got some of Rudolphs' hickory smoke sauce to put on the brisket and it helped. But Rudolphs' sauces are no where near being as spicy as I like my barbecue sauce to be.
The garlic mashed potatoes with the onion straws were good, although it could have been a little more garlic-flavored for my tastes. The cole slaw we shared was good, too, but it was nothing outstanding.
Afterward, I was definitely full and happy with my barbecue fix. With beers and food, the bill came to a little over $65 bucks before tax and tip. But it was everything that I remembered Rudolphs to be. Good, serviceable barbecue in a nice setting.
While I'm sure there is better barbecue in the Twin Cities, it's probably not going to be on the same par as Rudolphs' ambiance or food selection. There's a reason Rudolphs has been going strong for over 33 years and a lot of it has to do with the service, the food selection and the comfortable nature of the restaurant. It truly is a staple of the Twin Cities' food scene.