On the site of the former Clare Castle Hotel, The Beaufort has styled itself as an American-style sailor’s dive bar (replete with lifesaver motif on the front door) and is an integral part of the significant uplift of the pub and bar offerings in the vicinity of the University of Melbourne, which had previously been largely dominated by actual “dives”. Since opening in 2012 they have gone through a number of iterations with regards to their food offering, having served by a pretty tasty range of burgers for a period of time, as well as temporary appearances by both Fancy Hank’s and Bluebonnet BBQ.
The American barbecue experiment was clearly a success as in 2014 the Beaufort moved to having ribs permanently on the menu, via Ike’s Rack Shack which now smokes meat seven days a week out of the back of the bar. The Ike’s dining setup is in a separate part of the bar at the back and has a casual feel with astroturf on the floor and long wooden shared tables – this is a great space that allows some separation from the dark and raucous vibe of the main bar without losing the dive bar atmostphere that characterises the establishment.
The kitch feel of the dining area at the back extends even as far as the light fittings which are made of pickle jars which we thought was a pretty cool touch.
As suggested by the name, the menu at Ike’s eschews some of the traditional American barbecue offerings such as beef brisket and pulled pork and chooses to focus on ribs alone. These come in three varieties – pork, beef and lamb (we choose to deny the existence of the vegan ribs) – and are all smoked overnight and come pre-glazed with a house-made Bulleit bourbon / maple syrup concoction. The sides on offer are also a bit unconventional for a barbecue establishment, with more common offerings like mac and cheese and chicken and waffles appearing on the menu alongside beef heart and ox tongue. Even the cornbread is done in the form of a donut – more on this later.
The drinks list is an area where Ike’s really benefits from operating out of the back of an established bar rather than as a standalone and is probably has the best range of any of the American barbecue places that we have visited. As well as a range of regularly rotating craft beers on tap which include Australian and American brews (a former resident on tap was the Rogue Dead Guy Ale which is one of our personal favourites), there is also a range of bottled beers available which takes up an entire page on the drinks menu. There are usually also a number of “special” bottles available which also change regularly – previously this list has included the intensely smoky Black Lung IV by Moon Dog (appropriate given the food on offer), the Manhattan Ale which was the result of a collaboration between Dainton Brewing and The Everleigh, and also the Sharkinator by Lost Coast which is a lovely sessionable white IPA.
However, no sailor would be satisfied with just beer and non-beer drinkers are well catered for also as there is a range of rums, whiskeys and bourbons available either straight up/on the rocks or also in cocktails. On this occasion we also decided to try the Dark & Stormy which was pleasingly both well priced at $12 and made in the traditional way using Goslings Dark Seal Rum.
After priming ourselves with a few preparatory drinks we turned to the food on offer. The space at Ike’s is relatively small and even on a Monday night the back area was almost fully booked out – we would definitely recommend booking in advance if you plan to come in on a Friday or Saturday night.
Truffled Mac ‘N Cheese ($10.00) / Chicken and Waffle ($12.00)
We started our journey through the menu with the truffled mac ‘n cheese and also the chicken and waffles which is a staple from the American South. The mac ‘n cheese was done well, the level of creaminess was about right, the truffles added additional flavour without being overpowering and the gruyere and twisties crumble was both tasty and an interesting touch. We weren’t so impressed with the chicken and waffles however, the chicken was done roasted with gravy rather than in the usual fried form which turned the originally crispy waffle somewhat soggy which was unfortunate – there are some dishes that should be served in their pure form.
Hickory Smoked Ox Tongue ($14.00)
Next we tried the hickory smoked ox tongue which is an unusual dish to find on the menu at an American BBQ place.This was surprisingly one of our highlights of the night. The meat was deliciously smoky and tender and matched perfectly with the BBQ sauce on the side. A very under-rated cut of meat.
Cornbread Donut ($5.00)
The last starter that we tried was the cornbread donut, which was done with a maple and bacon glaze. The glaze was well matched to the flavour of the cornbread is often slightly on the sweet side in any case. We are always supportive of venues looking to apply a creative twist to classic dishes and overall we thought that Ike’s cornbread donuts was an interesting and successful take on a classic American side dish.
Pork Ribs ($21.00 half rack/$38.00 full rack)
With the starters consumed we then turned to the main event, for which we selected a half rack of pork ribs and also the beef rib. For those who are particularly hungry there is a rib platter which combines pork, beef and lamb ribs into one meat feast however we weren’t quite game on this occasion.
Having tried ribs from all of the major American barbecue places in Melbourne we can safely say that the pork ribs at Ike’s were the best that we have had so far. The meat had excellent flavour and came easily off the bones which were relatively small giving us full value for the amount of food on offer, and there was an absence of gristly/overly charred meat that you often find at the ends of a rack of ribs. While we normally prefer our ribs unglazed with just a dry rub so that we can decide how much sauce to add in this case the glaze was great and really enhanced the flavour of the ribs (and could be further augmented with the house-made barbecue sauce).
Beef Rib ($29.00)
The beef rib also lived up to the high standards set by the pork ribs and was in the upper tier of the American-style beef ribs that we have tried. The rib itself was imposing to behold which is an important aspect of this dish, the meat was tender and came easily off the bone, there was very little fat and the flavour was excellent and combined well with both the glaze and the supplied barbecue sauce which we applied liberally.
Prince’s Biscuit ($17.00)
For something a bit different we also tried the Prince’s Biscuit, which is essentially a fried chicken sandwich comprising chicken tenders, bacon, bbq sauce, American cheese served in a buttermilk biscuit (for anyone who isn’t familiar with an American-style biscuit think of the consistency of a scone but with less sweetness). This dish was a bit difficult to evaluate for us as the ingredients were all excellent and combined well (the chicken in particular was cooked well and came out both juicy and flavoursome), however we found the biscuit to be too dense for this type of food and also a little dry/crumbly – we think that this would have been better done as a more conventional burger. The fries were also a bit too salty for our taste.
We left Ike’s both satisfied and full – the sides and sandwiches were a little hit and miss however the ribs more than made up for this (the pork ribs were definitely the standout) and the drinks list means that you could easily make an entire night out of a visit. We look forward to heading back to take on the challenge of the rib platter!
Ike’s Rack Shack at The Beaufort
421 Rathdowne Street
Mon – Thu: 5:00pm to 1:00am
Fri – Sat: 1:00pm to 1:00am
Sun: 1:00pm to 11:00pm
Last sitting at around 8:30pm