2235 N. Clairemont Ave., Eau Claire, WI 54703
(715-834-8153) GPS coordinates – N 44 º49.356′ W091º32.590′
by Kevin Wynn
Ah, Wisconsin. Land of the Packers, cheeseheads, some of the upper Midwest’s finest twisty riding roads and one slimy baseball commissioner…oops, sorry, lost my journalistic objectivity there for a second. Wisconsin is also the home of fine Texas style barbeque. Yes, it’s true! Less than 100 miles from Minneapolis by freeway is the one of the best barbeque joints you’ll ever experience.
But first I needed to do some exploring. I’d never been on the back roads north and east of Chippewa Falls before, so after a quick blast out I-94, I spent a couple hours wandering the countryside between Bloomer and Ladysmith. If you go, try out County E, (Rustic Road No. 6) and County M. Sometimes my Concours thinks it’s an adventure tourer, so I also played around in the dirt on Moon Ridge Trail (N 45º11.942′ W091º16.602′). Anywhere there are lakes and rivers to keep the roads from being straight, you’ll find something to like. Now that I had a good appetite worked up, it was time to head to Mike’s.
Mike’s Smokehouse was born out of a desire to do something more satisfying than driving a forklift, at a tire plant, on the night shift, for something like 13 years! Mike McGrouary wanted out, to start his own business, to be free! He happened to have a relative who was well acquainted with the owner of “Sonny Bryan’s Texas Smokehouse,” considered maybe the best BBQ joint in Dallas. Mike quit his job and begged his way into an unpaid apprentice job with Sonny Bryan, doing dishes and mopping, working his butt off to earn Sonny’s respect, and to learn the secrets of a master. Mr. Bryan was skeptical at the start but after nine months, when Mike was ready return home, he shared his family recipes with Mike. Fortunate we are that he did, because he helped start a 24 year tradition of outstanding barbeque in Eau Claire.
As much as I enjoyed last month’s review, in many ways Mike’s Smokehouse is better. I ordered a “Sampler Dinner” to try all seven of the meats served, with sides of cole slaw and baked beans. My meal was ready in minutes; a plate heaped with baby back and country style ribs, ham, chicken, pulled pork and beef, and a little smoked cod for a twist. The hickory smoked meats have a “deep” smoky flavor, with an intensity that carries all the way through the meat, and lingers long afterward. Only the sliced ham seemed out of place, good, but not as outstanding as the rest. Mike’s sauce, though toned down a bit from the original Tex-Mex recipe for the northern palate, is rich and mildly warm. If I have a criticism, it’s that the sampler didn’t come with enough sauce for that much food. The ‘slaw was crisp and tangy, just the way I like it, and the baked beans were delicious too.
Not content to simply bring home leftovers, I ordered a “bucket of ribs” to go, along with a pint of sauce, Mike’s Spuds (au gratin, with big chunks of ham) and more ‘slaw to share with my family. With light traffic, I made it home with the food still a little warm. Isn’t that what saddlebags are for?
Oh, one more thing. Conveniently enough, right next door is a little eleven room place called the Clairemont Motel (Phone 715-832-7611, 2221 N. Clairemont Avenue). With a little advance planning, it’d be great to spend the day rambling the alphabet roads, maybe stop for a tour of the Leinenkugel Brewery, then pack yourself with barbeque at Mike’s Smokehouse and a few adult beverages and just walk next door to your room for the night.
Sounds like a great weekend to me. Eat well. Ride well.