In the land where pork barbecue is practically a birth rite and hamburgers come a dime a dozen, it’s refreshing to see other proteins earn space on local menus. At Bonterra, Chef Blake Hartwick and team are delighting diners with a not-often-seen cut of lamb. Ribs. Not racks, ribs.
Inside this church turned restaurant off East Boulevard, the lamb rib appetizer might just make you see God.
Hartwick isn’t peddling your average Colorado lamb or even Australian racks. He’s working with Border Springs Farm, a small scale operation just across the North Carolina border in Patrick Springs, Virginia.
Craig Rogers, known to his devout followers as “The Shepherd” is producing some of the finest pasture-raised lamb on the market thanks to his keen understanding of grass and his hard working border collies.
Border Springs lamb feasts on a diet of high sugar grasses, perennial rye and red and white clover grass. The animals possess a much milder flavor than the average lamb product which can often hijack the palate with the taste of harsh mutton.
Hartwick takes a quarter rack of ribs and coats them in a dry rub (brown sugar, smoked paprika, cinnamon, red pepper, thyme, oregano, garlic and smoked sea salt) for 24 hours, which produces a sweet heat that’s down to caramelize when it hits a hot wood-fired grill.
Next, the ribs are smoked over oak and hickory wood before hitting the grill to seal the deal.
Hartwick brushes a fortified Cheerwine barbecue sauce on each rib and adds a schmear of tangy Alabama white sauce along with pickled onions and cucumbers to finish the dish.
Disregard the white tablecloths, tuck your napkin ‘round your neck and throw caution to the wind.
These ribs can only be eaten with your hands and reckless abandon. The rib is a layered mix of succulent, flavorful fat and tender meat with enough chew to invoke your primal tendencies.
You will want to tear every last morsel from the bone, caveman style, while chasing the richness of each bite with the cutting acidity of the pickle.
Don’t worry what that table next you is thinking as you sit in contentment with a glossy sheen lingering on your lips.
If they didn’t order the lamb ribs this time, they’ll wish they had.