I had finished my morning meetings in Champaign on a recent visit there and I had contemplated stopping at The Burger Barge outside of Peoria for a burger on the way home. The only problem is that by the time I would have gotten there it would have been close to 3 p.m., too late to enjoy a great burger if I was planning on eating with my wife later that evening. I decided to go find a barbecue restaurant that I'd driven past on my way into Champaign the previous evening - Boneyard Barbecue. I pulled in there around 1:30 and had missed the lunch rush.
Boneyard Barbecue is located at 25 E. Springfield St. in what was the old Fireside restaurant. (See map) After a place called Rocks closed up in the summer of 2009, Anthony Donato teamed up with Eddie Geovanti's - owner of Geovanti's in Champaign - to open the Fireside, a contemporary bar and grill known for their wings, burgers and - for Springfield, IL natives - their own variation of the horseshoe sandwich.
Donato eventually bought Eddie Geovanti out of both the Fireside and Geovanti's, but found that running both businesses was troublesome, considering he also ran a property and business management company on the side. Enter George Dries.
Dries was the owner of BoBo's BBQ, which was basically a mobile food service that parked in lots around Champaign selling his Southern-style barbecue out of his food truck since 2008. Bobo's was a popular destination for people in and around Champaign and he soon found that he needed a permanent place to sell his barbecue. Donato was looking for a partner for the Fireside location and the two got together to change the bar and grill into Boneyard Barbecue in the fall of 2011.
Dries and Donato updated the inside of the restaurant to make it more of a sports bar atmosphere that also sold burgers and sandwiches along with BoBo's barbecue specialties. There is an outdoor patio (albeit along busy Springfield Ave.) and a large party room for private events. The owners are also huge University of Illinois sports fans and the outside of the building is painted in the school colors of navy blue and orange. Large "I's" for Illinois adorn the outside of the building. For an Iowa Hawkeyes fan like me, it was a little galling to walk into the place.
I took a seat along the north side of the rectangular bar with the windows looking out onto the patio behind me. I was greeted by a bartender, Hannah, who was outgoing and chatty. Rather chatty. Actually, I noticed that with all the help at Boneyard Barbecue were chatty with their customers. Not that there were a lot of customers in the place at that time of the day, but Hannah sure liked to talk.
She gave me a menu to look through and, as always, when I go to a barbecue place that I'm not familiar with I like to go for a combination platter just to try a little bit of everything. They had a handful of combinations - brisket and pulled pork, ribs and brisket, ribs and chicken, ribs and pulled pork. Actually, what I really wanted was ribs, pulled pork and brisket. I just decided to go with the brisket and pulled pork. What was sort of interesting and rather peculiar was that you had to order your choice of barbecue sauce to go on the meat. They didn't have sauce bottles or containers anywhere in the restaurant. You had your choice of mild or hot, or a combination of the two. I got mine with the combination.
Two sides came with the barbecue platter - I got baked beans and mac & cheese. I had to pick between those two and fries, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet corn, cole slaw, sweet potato fries, cottage cheese or green beans.
After about 10 minutes, Hannah came out with my barbecue combination. The mac & cheese, I could tell, was going to be pedestrian, at best. And it was. And the baked beans weren't much better. I should have asked her for some sauce on the side to help zip up the beans because they were pretty weak on taste. And that was another minor quibble on my part - there was no extra sauce available in bottles or containers.
The brisket was more of a pulled beef variety rather than sliced. However, it was moist, tender and tasted good with the smoky and very sweet barbecue sauce that Boneyard Barbecue had to offer. I forked some of the excess sauce on the plate in with a bite of the baked beans and it helped the taste tremendously.
The ribs featured four bones slathered in the barbecue sauce. I really wish I would have gotten the sauce on the side when I got to the ribs because I could tell that they had a unique rub on the outside. The ribs were very meaty, also moist and tender. The sauce was a little overpowering for the taste of the rib meat. It was also so sweet it was sticky. One thing that Boneyard Barbecue needs to offer is wet naps or at least a warm wet towel to use while eating the ribs. I had to go into the restroom and "squeegee" my face and hands off after I finished the meal.
Hannah came over to me and asked, "How was it?" I told her the truth - it was good. I can't say it was outstanding barbecue, but it was good. I've gotten spoiled on good barbecue in Kansas City and in Des Moines, two places that, I feel, has the best barbecue in the Midwest. But Boneyard Barbecue acquitted themselves very well and would have stacked up against many barbecue places I've eaten at in the past. If I do get a chance to go back I'll try the ribs dry or with sauce on the side. I want to taste the meat on the ribs without the interference of the sauce. Not that there is anything wrong with the sauce, but it did overpower the taste of the meat. And I've found that if barbecue joints do that with their meat, they're trying to hide something.
(Update - In a growing eclectic barbecue market in Champaign/Urbana, it appeared that Boneyard Barbecue couldn't keep up. They are now closed.)