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Famous Dave's

In a word: The BBQ baseline.

The specs: #0173
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; rib-off at Madison Magazine, review by Beth and Ben; Wikipedia stub; Yelp reviews; official web site; Famous Dave's on Urbanspoon

JM ate the triple-smoked ham sandwich with fries and a Sprecher root beer.
Nichole ate the 4-bone rib platter with firecracker green beans and garlic skin-on mashed potatoes.
The bill was $23, or $11.50/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole both gave Famous Dave's a B (see our grading rubric).

Latest Famous Dave's news and reviews

Famous Dave's history is fascinating. We never knew this nationally-known chain started near Hayward, WI (home of that giant muskie), nor what an interesting guy Dave is.

Famous Dave's exterior

As for the food, JM found it generally good but mostly OK. He knows some work people who frequent this locale and knows that most of the menu is pretty good.  His ham was above average but nothing to make a special trip for.  He liked the Sweet and Zesty sauce the best; it was good for dipping the fries.

Famous Dave's sammich

The garlic mashed potatoes were the best item on Nichole's plate. The corn on the cob and mountain of green beans were just so-so and were sort of leathery. As for the ribs, they could have used more sauce, and a little tenderness.

Famous Dave's ribs

As we left, we noticed that there were lots of guys at Famous Dave's eating alone and enjoying the stuff on the big TVs.  If this is a niche that this restaurant fills, more power to 'em.


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I'm a Famous Dave's fan, but lately I haven't been as happy with their ribs as I used to be. I'm finding that I leave more material on the plate (fat, gristle, whatnot). They used to be clean-bone ribs. But it's been a while, so maybe they got a little better again (for my tastes).

On a side note, I just saw Famous Dave himself walking into Cracker Barrel (of all places) today. I gave him a polite nod, but it was at that very moment that I realized who it was. I felt like making any further reaction would be a little too fanboy for the moment (walking in a restaurant parking lot).

The license plate on his Expedition (or maybe an Excursion. I forget)?


Kinda funny.

Famous Dave's is very acceptable. Good mashed potatoes, decent ribs, decent brisket, a very good bacon cheeseburger. The sauce is better than the quality of the meat though. I once ordered a bbq pork sandwich that came light on sauce, and I was hugely disappointed to see that they served me what amounted to at most 1/8 of a pound of mostly fat. Disgusting. How about some quality control? Smokey Jon's has won the _national_ barbecue competition 3 times in the last 7 years. Much preferred, but all the way up by the airport. In Jon's stead Dave's is an acceptable alternative.

I haven't been here in years. I'm simply moving the discussion on BBQ from the Eldorado review to here.

Famous Dave's is to the Madison barbecue scene as Culver's is to Madison burger scene. That's not a condemnation of quality, just a statement on its Madison-ness.

I haven't been to Papa Bear's since just after they opened (it was okay), but Bull's was incredible. I haven't made it to Smoky Jon's yet, but their reputation precedes them.

I can't really speak to who's better because I don't go out for barbecue all that often. But as far as judging a culinary scene, I don't think Famous Dave's should be held as anything more or less than a franchise location that happens to be in Madison.

I would have to say that Fat Jacks is the best BBQ in the area. Big Mama and Uncle Fats used to be the best but, sadly, they are no longer here.

I still don't understand why "franchise" and "best in town" have to be mutually exclusive in Madison.

I've never found the Famous Dave's in Madison to be very good. The ribs tend to be fatty and gristly. The original restaurant in Hayward is a whole other story. Consistently good food and great atmosphere. Always a good post-Birkie treat.

Is this the same Jason who thought I'd turn on Brocach if I was told that it was a franchise?

I didn't say anything about which barbecue I thought was the best in town. The issue was/is judging the state of Madison's barbecue scene by Famous Dave's' example. And my point is that it's an invalid inclusion.

It's in Madison, but it's not representative of Madison, just like Culver's serves burgers in Madison but is no more representative of the Madison burger scene than McDonald's is.

I specifically said above that my position is not a statement on quality, just in assigning these kinds of places to their proper context. It's more math than food criticism.

So, again: who said that "'franchise' and 'best in town' have to be mutually exclusive"?

Same Jason, and I don't want to start this whole thing up again, but I continue to notice that "franchise" carries such negative connotations around here.

Telling someone that they need to broaden their horizons if they judge BBQ by Famous Dave's standard sounds negative to me, and your earlier post above seems to premise that position on its status as a franchise, rather than anything about the food. I think Famous Dave's is quite good, especially for the region we're in.

One of the best steaks I'v ever eaten was at a Ruth's Chris, also a franchise. Did it accurately reflect the culinary traditions and personality of the city that I bought it in? Probably not. But that wasn't an issue for me, and it wasn't the issue with the gentleman complaining about El Dorado either.

It's disgusting there in every sense of the word....

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