Some parents can't wait to have their kids move away. But if the business your chlidren chose happens to smell delicious and taste even better... maybe they ought to just open up shop next door?
This is working wonders for the siblings behind FireBox Deli, a north Minneapolis gem that sprouted next to their parents' tax-preparing business on Lyndale Avenue. The Vang family opened FireBox in 2014, putting them well ahead of the curve in the local meat-smoking scene.
Lots of barbecue joints have opened since: Revival in St. Paul, Minnesota Barbecue, Beast in Northeast, plus new addresses for Market Bar-B-Que and Bark and Bite. FireBox, with its unassuming edifice and counter service operation, might be the best of them all.
And now they're branching out, with a second shop coming to St. Paul on Marshall Avenue near Snelling, a well-kicked-ball's distance from Allianz Field. Starting sometime next month, Minnesota United fans should follow their noses for fire-kissed food before or after games. Maybe both.
Brisket at FireBox comes singed with a char so dark you might worry it's burnt. Stop worrying and chew: A couple lean pieces (think of these as the "health food" portion of your plate) required teeth, but the ones striped with fat damn near dissolved into smoldering bliss on the tongue.
In "Firebox Fries," the brisket teams up with melted cheese for a kind of barbecue poutine, a filling option... assuming your fellow diners don't wait until you're not looking and wolf it down before you can stop them.
FireBox's sauce is a tangy classic, complex but not overwhelming. Use it liberally. Everything at FireBox is served dry, from beautiful red-and-gold chicken wings to ugly-but-irresistible pulled pork.
Rib tips are a standout, juicy little nuggets that deliver unreasonable amounts of flavor in each little bite. You'll feel like you ate a whole rack. Don't eat them in-house if you've got any shame, as you'll find yourself scratching and gnawing at the little bones, desperately seeking one last meaty scrap.
One meat and two sides will run you between $15 and $17.25, but since everything's pretty good, we suggest you spring for a two-meat combo ($18.25). Both options come with your choice of two sides, and at FireBox, these are no afterthought.
Cubed sweet potatoes are touched-up by a brown sugar mix drawing out the natural sugars without stealing the show. Collard greens are smoky and deep, that swell combination of salt and leafy bitterness. Sticky rice (which joins egg rolls as menu reminders of the Vang family's Laotian origins) is expertly done, and makes a welcome bed for any of FireBox's meats.
The mac and cheese is a must. Lightly crusty up top and gooey as all get out underneath, it's good enough you might briefly forget someone sold you meat they smoked for a long time. Variety's the spice of life, but if your "two sides" are one order of mac and cheese and yet another order of mac and cheese, we can't say you'd be making a mistake.
It's food good enough to travel for, and owner Zong Vang told the Pioneer Press that diners have been known to drive to north Minneapolis from St. Paul. Their barbecue commute's about to get shorter, and the opening of a second location might just signal the rise of a smoky little dynasty on the horizon.