Romancing the rib

The Market is more than a barbecue joint, it’s a place of worship. To longtime fans (they could fill the Metrodome) who have followed the move from one location to another over the years, the Market has been practicing baptism by hickory smoke since 1946. For decades, the logo — a plump porker in chef’s hat and neckerchief — has signaled culinary salvation to all who seek the real deal.

The Market’s meat comes from Pork Central (Iowa), cut to the kitchen’s specifications. Next it’s given a pass through a marinade — quickly, just to add a hint of piquancy rather than to mask that pure flavor — then it’s smoked for hour upon hour over a hardwood fire of apple, cherry and hickory. What happens then is priceless: The juice drips into that fire pit to rise again as smoke and further flavor meaty racks. That’s what accounts for the room’s come-hither aroma — far better than Chanel in this fan’s opinion.

These are ribs for those who love to wrestle the meat from the bones rather than have it steamed into submission. “Tender” is not the first adjective that comes to mind when describing the lure of these babies. For that, roam elsewhere. “Flavorful” is the word that applies here.

They’re served naked, the way a true aficionado craves his or her meat fix, not masked with cloying sauces. “We have nothing to hide,” asserts Anthony Polski, heir apparent (or, as he describes his job title, “next in line”) in the Polski family enterprise.

Well, there are a trio of homemade sauces at the ready, if you must (and occasionally I must) — mild, hot and classic — tomato and spice and everything nice (but spared an overdose of sugar): “I grew up on it; I added it to everything, even a slice of bread, and so did my friends,” swears Polski. “If someone like me could eat it for 23 straight years, it’s got to be pretty darn good.” No argument there.

Veteran pit master Michael Hammond has been firing the wood, slinging the racks and stirring the sauce kettles for even longer than that — 30 years and counting. Regular customers boast that same history of loyalty, too. They range from showbiz stars and sports personalities passing through town (you’ll find more than a few famous names etched on the little brass plaques above the exact booth they favored), along with everyday Joes like you and me, who just cannot kick the habit.

Those with learner permits may start with the four-rib portion; chances are strong they’ll soon graduate to eight, then the whole darned 16-bone rack, sent out from the kitchen on a plain ol’ tray, accompanied by succulent fries, a dab of coleslaw made the “real” way — lots of vinegar, hold the mayo — and a couple of slices of what everyone who’s ever traveled to Kansas City knows is part of the drill — downright wimpy white bread, here given the benefit of toasting.

Market BBQ
1414 Nicollet Ave.