On the outside, Famous Dave's appears to be another fast food joint on the dreaded Rt 22. But once you navigate to the east side of the highway, be it u-turn, circle or simply flooring it, you'll be pleasantly surprised. The exterior, sports a log cabin look right out of Disney rather than the Adirondacks. But, once inside, it's more (dare I say it) Ralph Lauren with rustic wood panels, hunting and fishing doodads on the walls and chairs upholstered in plaid. But what gets your attention is the smokey aroma the minute you walk in the door.
Famous Dave's is a chain restaurant. Founded by Dave Anderson, his first outpost opened in Wisconsin in 1994. Today, the company boasts 170 restaurants with the one in Mountainside opening nine years ago. Their claim to fame is the slow smoked ribs and award winning barbecue sauces. It's easy to miss this because the website, once again, is like Disney on steroids with irritating kaleidoscope flames, hokey cartoon pigs and exclamation points everywhere. The online store sells everything from sauce to t-shirts and sadly seems to cheapen the excellent product that Famous Dave's is so proud of.
But once inside, all that hokiness dissipates and the rich smokey aroma is what gets you excited to peruse the extensive menu. If you're unfamiliar with how tasty barbecue can be, lunch at Famous Dave's is a great place to start. Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. which is a bonus if your looking for a cheap early-bird dinner. So cheap, the priciest things on the lunch menu are the "combo specials." For $8.49 you can choose two meats and there's an extensive variety: ribs, chopped pork, brisket, sausage, chicken, wings and even catfish. This comes with one side such as baked beans, fries, mac and cheese or a green veggie. It all comes with cole slaw, corn on the cob and a corn muffin. To say it's a lot of food is an understatement.
Lunch was an easy decision, St. Louis-style ribs and traditional wings (both award winning) with mac and cheese as a side because it was a newer addition to the menu (meaning no award yet). The manager, Jeff Hoffman, an employee at famous Daves for the past nine years, since he was 16, knows the food inside and out.
"We slow smoke everything here at the restaurant in a smoker anywhere from three to 8 1/2 hours depending on what it is. All of our seasoning and sauces are created by Dave Anderson. We've won every barbecue competition in the country from the national championships in Kansas City to one in Chicago just recently," he said.
Lunch was a feast with two large smoked ribs, six chicken wings complete with ranch dip, carrots and celery and heap of mac and cheese as well as the aforementioned sides. The ribs were meaty and deeply smoked with barbecue sauce slathered all over. The sauce was thick, sweet and tangy and only slightly spicy. The wings, also meaty and with that same sauce were good, but would have been positively addicting if they were crispier. The mac and cheese was terrific. Mixed with a smattering of corn and minced jalapenos, it took on a whole new layer of flavor while still staying true to the creamy cheesiness that makes this all-American dish so beloved. Manager Jeff, described the new side dish as mac and cheese with veggies and spices which gave me a chuckle as 10 corn kernels does not make for a serving of veggies (nor do the jalapenos).
There are lots of ways to enjoy Famous Dave's. If you don't have time to eat in the restaurant, there's a separate entrance for take out complete with special parking right at the door. You can call or fax your order ahead of time for super quick service. They also offer loads of catering options which is a home run for sports team dinners, award banquets or the office picnic. With all the zaniness that Famous Dave's tries to create, they really do have great barbecue which at the end of the day all it takes to make a restaurant "famous."