I was driving between western North Dakota and the Twin Cities last fall and decided to stop at Fargo to get some lunch. I was sort of hungry for barbecue, so I did a search of barbecue places in the area and one place - Spitfire Bar & Grill - caught my eye. I set my GPS to the address for Spitfire Bar & Grill and headed there for lunch.
Like many places, Spitfire came to be because the owners got their start on the barbecue competition trail. Tim and Mary Olson were chiropractors in Fargo, but they loved barbecue ever since Tim sampled some of the best smoked meats he'd had while he was living in Oklahoma and Texas before settling back in his home state of North Dakota. Knowing that he couldn't get Texas-style barbecue in Fargo, he ended up having his own smoker shipped up from Texas and placed in his backyard. Soon, he was feeding friends and neighbors who raved about his barbecuing prowess.
In April of 2007, an Uno Pizzeria & Grill location closed in West Fargo. The Olson's along with managing partner Gordy Ferkul then turned it into a barbecue place. They procured a Southern Pride SPK-500 industrial smoker and installed it in the kitchen area. Spitfire Bar & Grill opened with a soft opening in the summer of 2007 to help get the kinks worked out before they had their grand opening in the fall of 2007.
About the same time they opened Spitfire Bar & Grill, the Olson's came across a television program one evening that showed the highly competitive barbecue circuit in parts of the United States. The barbecue bug had hit him hard and he was determined to get into competitions around the Upper Midwest. Nearly from the start, the Olson's "Team Spitfire" began to win the competitions they entered. More wins meant bigger and better equipment and they got their big competitive smoker trailer in 2011.
The Olson's continue to run the competition circuit around the U.S. and have participated numerous times in two of the biggest barbecue competitions - the Jack Daniels World Barbecue Championship in Lynchburg, TN; and the American Royal Barbecue Championship in Kansas City. Team Spitfire garnered a sixth place overall finish at the Jack Daniels WBC in 2009 and his ribs earned a third-place finish in that category the same year.
Spitfire is technically in West Fargo along 13th Ave. E. (see map) It was around 1 p.m. when I pulled into the parking lot and went inside. The main dining area had a cozy contemporary look and feel to the place. The focal point of the dining area was the large wood burning cooker for Spitfire's wood-fired steaks, seafood, and spit-roasted chicken. Many of the trophies the Spitfire barbecue team has won in competitions were on display in the dining room.
I ended up taking a seat at the bar. The bar area was spacious and bright with a number of flat-panel televisions hanging on the wall. My bartender server that day was Ambar, a pleasant blonde-haired lady who dropped off a menu for me to look through. I saw that they had my favorite beer - Kona Big Wave Golden Ale - on tap and I ordered one of those. I like places that have Big Wave on tap.
As I alluded to earlier, there's more than just barbecue on the menu at Spitfire. In addition to wood-fired steaks, seafood and chicken, they also feature flat bread pizzas, pasta dishes, sandwiches and wraps, wood-fired burgers, soups and salads. But I was there for the barbecue that day and I wanted to sample a little bit of everything. The only problem is that they didn't have a sampler platter at Spitfire. They only seemed to have sandwiches with pulled pork or brisket. And the only rib combo they had on the menu came with either steak and ribs or chicken and ribs.
I finally found a beef brisket platter they had on the menu and I ended up ordering that. The only problem is that it was expensive - $19.95 for the platter with two sides. I figured there must be a lot of beef that came on the plate.
There really wasn't. Oh, it was probably a little over a half pound of brisket on the plate, but I still didn't think it was that good of a value. For my sides, I got a bowl of the Spitfire baked beans and some fries.
The brisket was tender, but it was dry. It almost tasted like cafeteria-style roast beef. I didn't get much of a smoky flavor to the beef. It was somewhat disappointing.
To add to the disappointment of the brisket, they gave me a small 2 ounce container of barbecue sauce. It was a vinegar-based sauce that was just all right in my book. And because the beef was so dry, I had to use a lot of the sauce to help get the beef down. I needed a couple of the containers to help out the beef, but I quit once I ran out of the first container of sauce. And they didn't have any sauce in bottles. Being a sauce guy, I like to try different types of sauce on my barbecue. The brisket needed all the help it could get.
The fries were also sort of "meh!", but the baked beans saved this meal from being a complete dud. The beans were great - thick and meaty with chunks of pork with nearly every bite. Even the sauce they used in the beans was very good. The beans were - unfortunately - the only saving grace for what was otherwise a forgettable meal.
I don't know if Spitfire is known as much for their brisket as they are for their ribs, but I was disappointed in the brisket I had on my visit. The baked beans were the highlight of what was otherwise a bland-tasting meal. While the service as attentive and prompt, I thought the barbecued brisket was underwhelming. Spitfire wins local awards for the best barbecue in Fargo and has won a number of regional barbecue competitions, but the barbecue I had was not what I would call award winning.