Famous Dave’s: the chain restaurant that doesn’t feel like a chain [classic article]

Famous Dave’s – with locations in Maryland, including Owings Mills – is a chain that doesn’t feel like a chain at all. There are lots of good reasons for that. The founder of Famous Dave’s, Dave Anderson, is a real person who creates all the recipes for the restaurant, including all the rubs, marinades, sauces. . . everything. He doesn’t rest on his laurels, either. He’s won over 500 bbq competition awards and keeps on entering!

There are several sauces available. Except for the brand new “Wilbur’s Revenge” – which is described as being “explosive”, the other half dozen sauces have heat, but aren’t crazy hot. They vary as to style – the Georgia Mustard sauce is that more vinegar-y, mustard-y, white pepper-y sauce, for example. The spices and sweetness level vary, but all have a commonality of having a natural, fresh flavor. None are goopy, overly sweet, or mask the flavors of the meats. They’re great with Famous Dave’s pretty excellent fries, too. “Rich and Sassy” is the original flavor. “Pineapple Rage” has Habanero peppers with pineapple. It’s a more fluid sauce than the other sauces and the fruit cuts through the pepper. It’s perfect with chicken.

Famous Dave’s has lunch/early bird special every day until 5:30. That’s a lot more convenient than places that only offer specials when you’re aren’t going to be there or something you have to set your weekend alarm clock for.

The music played – lots of Southern rock and blues – is culled from his personal selection of 3,000 CD’s. With antiques and lots of aged wood, it does seem like one of those mom-and-pop places you read about on Chowhound. In seasonal weather, you can sit outside on their patio. The bar area is attractive, too.

If your favorite atmosphere is at home or the office, however, you’re in luck. Famous Dave’s has a To-Go window and has a popular catering program. Fill out information online or at the restaurant for the P.I.G. club – “Pretty Important Guest”. You’ll get freebies, news, and bbq tips. I was very happy to sample some of Famous Dave’s specialties.

A very hearty appetizer to share is the sampler: spareribs, fried chicken tenders, catfish fingers, fried onion strings, and a choice between boneless or traditional chicken wings. It’s served with bbq sauce, blue cheese sauce, and a chock-full-of-goodies remoulade sauce.  The meats and fish are tender and juicy.

As you look around the restaurant, you’ll see a bunch of people ordering what seems to be their own party: Dave’s Feast. Served in a garbage can tin – paying homage to the garbage can smokers that Dave started with – it’s a terrific amount of food for a terrific price ($34.99 for 2-3, $58.99 for 4-6). The standard feast – the larger size – has a full slab of St. Louis-style spareribs, a whole chicken, 1/2 lb. of either Texas beef brisket or Georgia chopped pork, coleslaw, fries, “Wilbur Beans”, four corns-on-the-cob, and four corn bread muffins, served family-style. St. Louis style ribs are meatier and more tender than spareribs. The chicken was perfectly moist and plump. I sampled brisket, served on thick Texas toast. It had a delicate smoky flavor, tender. Famous Dave’s coleslaw is made fresh daily on site, in the chunky style, which I prefer. Try it on top of bbq or brisket! “Wilbur beans” are baked beans loaded with smoked pork, brisket, hot link sausage and jalapeño peppers. They’ve got a meaty taste (well, natch), but also a substantial kick from the peppers. These are baked beans all grown up!


Another side that you’ll definitely want to try is their mac ‘n’ cheese. It has 4 cheeses, including Cheddar and Parmesan, along with a bit of jalapeno and corn! Corn with all those goodies! You’ll be wondering where this has been all your life and whether they’d considering delivery service for breakfast.

Something I hear from a little birdie that people do already eat for breakfast is their famous bread pudding. More custard-like than some of those tough bread puddings others serve, it’s smothered in a toasted pecan praline sauce, served a la mode. It was great at dinnertime, I’m sure breakfast would be swell, too.






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