The Valley of the Sun never ceases to amaze me. According to a recent National Restaurant Association report, Arizona’s restaurant industry leads the rest of the country in growth, and is expected to do so for the next 10 years. Restaurants are a driving force of Arizona’s economy, with over 9,300 establishments whose sales figures are projected to reach over $11.5 billion in 2016.* There is no wonder at times I feel like a visitor in my own city, for around every corner, I discover something new. Most recently, I experienced this at Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que in Mesa, where I was invited to a media dinner. I admit it…I had never heard of the place. And I love BBQ. It is in my blood. As a kid, I spent countless weekends with my grandparents on their ranch in the Texas Hill Country. After mornings rounding up cattle, we would drive the country roads, stopping in towns too small to be a map dot, to fill up on brisket sandwiches and pickled pigs feet (that was Nana’s favorite…not mine!). I am especially fascinated by the different barbecue styles across the country. Therefore, I was eager to learn the story behind the founder and driving force of Famous Dave’s, Dave Anderson.
Dave was raised in Chicago by an Ojibwe (Chippewa) American Indian mother and a father from the ‘Deep South’. From his Native American roots, he gained an appreciation of cooking meat on an open fire. From his father’s southern roots, he acquired a love of smoked meats, especially ribs, and soon became obsessed with pit mastery. He then spent over 20 years traveling the country researching BBQ, from Memphis to Kansas City and the Carolinas, then clear across Texas, with the aim of giving the customers an authentic BBQ experience.
He opened his first restaurant in Haywood, Wisconsin in 1994 to rave reviews. Since its inception, Famous Dave’s has been committed to procuring the best quality ingredients and serving fresh food made from scratch. Fast-forward 20 years, with over 700 BBQ awards under their belt, Famous Dave’s has approximately 200 locations in 34 states, with four in the Valley alone (see all locations below).
“The secret’s in the sauce.” ~ Fried Green Tomatoes. Famous Dave’s has several trademarked barbecue sauces. While sauce/food experimentation is encouraged, the staff at Famous Dave’s isn’t shy about their personal favorites: Rich & Sassy on the St. Louis –style spareribs, Sweet & Zesty on the baby back ribs and burnt ends (of brisket), Devil’s Spit on the chicken wings, Georgia Mustard on pork and chicken, and Texas Pit for brisket, no doubt. Now there is one sauce that especially piqued my interest, but it is not for the feint of heart. Packed with the heat of habanero chilis, Wilber’s Revenge brings forth that good kind of heat that’ll tickle your toes and grow hair on your chest (that’s a good thing, in case you were wondering).
Along with an award-winning rub for pork ribs, Famous Dave’s has specialized in Texas-style smoked brisket, citing two of the more famous bastions of Texas BBQ as inspiration, Franklin’s in Austin and Pecan Lodge in Dallas. A restaurant the size of Famous Dave’s requires a large capacity offset smoker. For this reason, they have recently purchased two 1,000 gallon offset pit smokers designed and built by Camelback Smokers, a company started by Scott Holmes of Little Miss BBQ and John Rippel. In these 2-bay smokers, brisket is smoked and shipped to most of the other valley Famous Dave’s locations. Famous Dave’s uses Creekstone Farms grass fed beef from Black Angus cattle in South Dakota smoked with oak (as opposed to mesquite). Pit masters go through an intensive training program called Hog Heaven University, as only trained pitmasters are allowed to prepare Dave’s award winning barbecue. So all of this begs the question…what are you waiting for? See below for information about Famous Dave’s four valley locations and its dedicated catering unit.
1011 North Dobson Rd (in front of the Bass Pro Shops)
3250 West Frye Rd.
2206 East Williams Field Rd., Ste 101
16148 North 83rd Ave.
For catering, call 480-718-5331
*Statistics found at the website for the National Restaurant Association at www.restaurant.org.
For my other posts on barbecue, see:
All photos by Marci Symington for texAZtaste.com