BERGLAND - For area diners looking for something different, John and Gale Wonsey, of Bergland, offer just that at their restaurant, JW's BBQ and Brew, in Bergland.
The restaurant at the east end of town on M-28 serves slow-smoked meats like St. Louis-cut ribs, chicken, beef brisket, sausage and pulled pork, along with sandwiches, steaks and burgers.
Aiming to have a "casual, comfortable atmosphere, we're offering something new and unique to the area in our barbecue product," Gale said.
John smokes the meats and ingredients for side dishes like jalapenos and baked potatoes at a low temperature for several hours in a smoker shipped from Mesquite, Texas. He prepares them with rubs made out of a blend of "very standard" seasonings, but hold the barbecue sauce - that's served on the side.
"If you have a high-quality product, you try to not cover it up. Enhance it if you can," John said. "It's flavor-enhanced roasting."
Three barbecue sauces are available: A golden, North Carolina-style sauce; a sweet and tangy, Kansas City-style sauce; and a chipotle sauce similar to Oklahoma and Texas barbecue flavors.
The smoker, which can cook 1,000 pounds of brisket or 170 racks of ribs at once, infuses flavor using local hardwoods like oak.
The result is a tender, moist, fall-off-the bone meat.
The smoked meats are incorporated into plenty of menu items from chicken wing and quesadilla appetizers to soups to breakfast skillets and omelets.
Just over two weeks after opening April 9, things have been busy and feedback has been excellent, John and Gale said. "The people are really enjoying this barbecue," Gale said. "People have been coming back because they want to try other things on the menu, as well."
Though there can be some bumps along the way when opening a new restaurant, customers have been patient and understanding, John said. And, the food has been "exceeding expectations," according to customer comment cards. All the menu items have been popular, with one customer telling Gale he ate the "best burger he's had in his whole lifetime" at JW's.
The Wonseys expect business to pick up even more once the weather warms, bringing with it summer tourists. They plan to re-open breakfast hours when fishing season starts May 15, serving food seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (EDT). With a full bar available, customers can enjoy cocktails up to and after 10 p.m ., with the restaurant staying open until bar close, as needed.
The couple talked about opening a restaurant for several years. Gale said when planning the menu, they wanted to offer something different. "We love barbecue, so we decided, 'Let's do a barbecue joint,'" she said.
They built the place from the ground up, constructing the new building almost all by themselves.
They received help from John's grandson and hired help for mechanical, plumbing and electrical work.
They most enjoy the people who eat there, mingling with them and making sure they're getting a great dining experience, Gale said. Hearing feedback is a plus, too. "Anywhere that we can improve, we want to do it," she said.
The venture also has a local focus, aiming to help the area, the Wonseys said. "We're happy to provide some much-needed employment," Gale said. Nine workers help the pair keep things running smoothly, hailing from the Bergland area and surrounding communities.
The bar and wine rack were built by a local craftsman and friend of the couple, Gale said. He also built a mantel shelf that hangs above an in-wall fireplace, giving the dining room a comfortable feel.
Pictures provided by the Bergland Area Historical Society adorn the walls, showing the town and north Lake Gogebic area from the early 1900s.
"This is about commerce," John said. "We would like to ... be able to have people stay in the area, ourselves included."
The employment and entertainment they help provide to the community is reflected back to them. "People have been very good," John said. "They're very supportive. We just like to see people come down and enjoy themselves (and) try the food."
With business going well so far and summer just around the corner, things are looking good for JW's BBQ and Brew. "We're very proud of it," Gale said. "We think it turned out really, really well."
For more information, call the restaurant at 906-365-5BBQ or visit the Facebook page by searching "JW's BBQ & BREW."