Eau Claire Eats: Karl’s Bar-B-Q Express

So you mean to tell me a Karl barbecued this express?

Sam Johnson

More stories from Sam Johnson

The Tator
December 13, 2022

When Riverview Cafe doesn’t sound appealing, Midwest Meals prides itself on being a healthy alternative.

This column has put me through the wringer, so I was thrilled by the idea of reviewing a barbecue restaurant.

Ryan Mass, my roommate, muse and apparently untrusty sidekick, was unavailable, so I called upon Jackson Bires, fourth-year healthcare administration student and Lauren Carlson, third-year rehabilitation science student, to join me on my quest.

Upon arriving at Karl’s Bar-B-Q Express, I had a good feeling about this review. 

The restaurant was clean and welcoming, with an ever so slight lack of professionalism. 

There was a large bottle of salsa and numerous taco shells on a table. Nothing on their menu involved either of these things.

When I want barbecue, I don’t want fancy chefs and tablecloths. I want a hint of grime, and the random taco ingredients did the trick for me.

The employees also gave me hope. 

There were two guys working the counter, both of which would’ve fit in well on FX’s “Sons of Anarchy.”

Their appearance was slightly intimidating, but their demeanor was anything but. 

I, a dedicated journalist seeking the truth, never identify myself as a community-renowned food critic. I want the authentic experience, so I use my alter ego, also named Sam Johnson, who is an exceptionally broke college student.

Despite my raggedy exterior, they were extremely nice and patient. The exact personality you’d expect from people with near-unlimited supplies of smoked meats.

We had free samples passed to us as we began considering our order. The employees were helpful and polite, acting as guides on our barbecued odyssey.

Bires and I split a three-meat platter with ribs, brisket and turkey with sides of cornbread, potato salad and mac and cheese.

While we waited for Carlson to order a pulled pork sandwich, we were given more free samples and a heartfelt goodbye from the unoccupied employee.

I cannot overemphasize how delightful my experience was. The employees were like Santa Claus and Gandhi, only bearing smoked meats and sides instead of gifts and wise words.

It was almost closing time, so we fought the urge to eat immediately and brought our food home.

Finally, we arrived, split up our food and dug in.

We gave our meal the best compliment food can receive — no compliment, because we were too busy chewing.

Allow me to preface my next words with a disclaimer. 

I am not a barbecue connoisseur. I find Kwik Trip’s rib sandwich delicious.

If someone seasoned and smoked a boot, then slathered sauce on it, I would probably enjoy it.

But this food was legit. 

The brisket was delicious. It had a crisp exterior with a savory, tender interior.

The turkey took me by surprise. I’m not a big fan of turkey, I’ve been trying to replace it on the Thanksgiving table for years.

If turkey, in general, is Owen Wilson, this turkey was Owen Wilson in a Wes Anderson movie or Marvel’s “Loki” series — unexpectedly good.

I think I reached Nirvana while eating the ribs, which the employees described as “experimental.” The meat fell from the bone in a cascade of smoky flavor, an experience that nearly brought tears to my eyes.

The sides were pretty good, but they were eclipsed by the ensemble of tasty meats before me.

If I ever reached a point where I became tired of the meat, the sides were there to save me like an oasis in the desert. I did not reach that point.

I didn’t try the pulled pork, but it appeared delicious.

“I enjoyed it,” Carlson said.

Before long, our food had vanished. I considered eating the sauce-stained styrofoam box, then felt grief like I lost a loved one.

All good things must come to an end. Unfortunately, this meal was no exception.

Johnson can be reached at [email protected].