Jordan Smith, chef/owner of Black Sheep Pizza, has a more-than-mild fixation with Texas barbecue.
“I fell in love with it," he said. "And so I’ve been researching it, for years."
Here’s a gauge of his, um, interest: Smith’s idea of the Texas barbecue bible is Texas Monthly magazine’s famous, much-scrutinized annual ranking of the state’s 50 best barbecue joints.
“I’ve probably been to 40 of the 50 in the most recent issue,” said Smith.
Go back to 2014, when Smith took over the former Azia at 26th and Nicollet. His original intent was to channel his magnificent obsession into a barbecue joint.
“But the space just felt like a neighborhood pizza place,” he said, which explains why a popular Black Sheep Pizza outlet (the company's third) occupies the prime Eat Street address.
Well, most of it. Smith and his wife, Colleen, converted an adjacent storefront -- it was once home to the Caterpillar Lounge -- to office space. Meanwhile, Smith kept making sojourns to Texas.
“Finally, Colleen said, ‘Just go ahead and build that damn barbecue place,’” Smith said with a laugh.
He did, and StormKing Barbecue quietly debuted on June 1.
It’s a classic Lone Star State setup. Expect to encounter brisket (smoked, indirectly, over white oak, for 12 to 14 hours), spare ribs, pulled pork shoulder, burnt ends (“When we have them,” said Smith), Amish chickens and house-made Czech-Tex sausages. On weekends, Smith adds giant beef ribs to the mix.
Sides include two versions of coleslaw (creamy and Asian-inspired), collard greens, potato salad, savory (chiles and cumin-enriched) rather than sweet baked beans, french fries and “dirty” fries, which are smothered in a chili that Smith makes using leftovers of that smoky brisket.
Formulating his barbecue sauce was tricky, said Smith.
“It was harder than making ketchup,” he said with a laugh. “To this day, I think that making a ketchup recipe for Mission [Smith was the restaurant’s opening chef] was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life.”
(For those who want to add kick to StormKing's barbecue sauce, Smith keeps bottles of Texas Pete Original Hot Sauce on hand. “Just squeeze that into the sauce,” he said.)
Dessert? Pie, of course. Baker Rachel Swan rolls out a butter-and-lard crust. She always has a maple-pecan on hand, along with a seasonal variety; right now it’s strawberry-rhubarb.
When Smith first started kicking around the idea for StormKing in 2014, “we were living in a barbecue desert,” he said. No longer. Barbecue is a growing Twin Cities trend, with the advent of Bark and the Bite, Dave (the Dave in Famous Dave’s) Anderson’s new Jimmie’s Old Southern BBQ Smokehouse, Sum Dem Korean Barbeque and chef Daniel del Prado’s soon-to-open Diamond’s BBQ, among many.
StormKing's 26-seat, counter-service setup also features a curbside pickup component (“Order online, and we’ll run it to your car,” said Smith), a smart feature for a parking-challenged neighborhood.
“Colleen and I think that takeout could ultimately comprise 75 percent of the business,” said Smith.
Hours are 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.