The Cloquet community gained a Southern-style restaurant last week. NE BBQ & Smokehouse, which specializes in smoked meats and barbecue, opened on July 27.
It’s the second barbecue restaurant to open in the area this year, after OMC Smokehouse in February, though owner Elise Hermann says she had been a year into research and development when she heard the news about the plan for OMC.
Northerners tend to use the word “barbecue” as a verb — a way of cooking meat like burgers and steaks over high heat on a grill. But in the South, barbecue is unquestionably a noun. It’s an honored tradition and product, which involves a deliberately slow method of cooking at low temperatures, often with tricks passed down from generations.
NE BBQ & Smokehouse fuses different barbecue traditions together in a way that is aimed at pleasing the palates of Northeast Minnesotans, according to Hermann. The emphasis is home-cooked comfort food, since Minnesotans have a penchant for meat and potatoes. The sauces aren’t too spicy.
The menu features some traditional dishes for barbecue purists, such as Texas-style brisket, St. Louis ribs, smoked chicken and Memphis-style pulled pork. The chef took creative liberties in designing some of the sandwiches. The Hot Mess combines pulled pork with macaroni and cheese. The Smokey features pulled pork, shaved ham and bacon with melted pepper jack, BBQ pickles and fried jalapenos.
“It’s like a pig on a plate,” jokes Hermann.
Customers can choose from side dishes like potato salad, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw and cornbread. The ‘Que for Two is a great way to sample several offerings at once, as it has a choice of three meats and two sides for $24.99. And it’s plenty of food for two people.
All food is made from scratch, including homemade barbecue sauces. The Awesome Sauce, which has a little kick to it, has been particularly popular. There’s also a Peach Habanero sauce, a Georgia Mustard sauce and a more traditional Memphis Style barbecue sauce with a hint of sweetness.
The bar serves up wine and a number of Minnesota craft beer drafts. It features cocktails created with Minnesota-made spirits, such as Vikre and Prairie, and fresh squeezed juices.
The expansive restaurant has 136 seats. It includes a bar area and two separate dining rooms, one with a stage for live music.
NE BBQ & Smokehouse employs 33 people and is housed in a historic building at 7 Eighth St. The building dates back to 1928 and was previously owned by the Eagles Club. Cheers Sports Bar & Grill was its most recent tenant. Nate Radoush now owns the building and leases it to Hermann.
Hermann has worked in the restaurant industry for 16 years, in every position from line cook to server and manager. “At some point, I decided I didn’t want to have a boss anymore,” she says.
The idea of opening a restaurant started as a joke between Hermann and her friend (and now kitchen manager) Stephanie Hann. Hermann wanted to convince Hann not to move back to Indiana.
The joke transitioned to seriousness as they delved into market research and arrived at the concept of a barbecue restaurant. In the end, NE BBQ & Smokehouse involved about two years of research, development and planning.
The community’s reception has been largely positive. The new eatery had a full house within 15 minutes on the first Monday it was open, which was a challenge for new staff. Hermann says customers have been supportive and patient, yet have given honest critiques too, which she appreciates as the restaurant is getting up and running.
All the meat is currently smoked indoors. To keep up with demand, Hermann says the restaurant will probably have to purchase an outdoor smoker soon.
Herman says the enterprise is a true labor of love. Friends and family were instrumental in helping her renovate the building. Her brother-in-law did much of the carpentry.
“We’re family-run. We’re not a big corporate chain, we’re reinvesting in the area,” she says.
NE BBQ & Smokehouse is open from 11 a.m. until midnight, with extended hours on weekends if there’s live music.
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