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Apr 21, 2001 04:56 PM

BBQ gem in San Francisco/Lower Haight

  • r

OK, I'm finally letting you know about a great BBQ joint that opened last September. The rumor is that my favorite BBQ place is going to be in the July issue of Gourmet Magazine. So I thought I should give you the chance to go before the crowds hit.

Place: Memphis Minnie's on Haight between Fillmore and Steiner. They smoke their brisket for 18 hours. Their red sauce rocks - its spicy and incredibly addictive. They also have a mustard sauce which is very good. Their sides are unusually good - their vinigrette coleslaw is so much more refreshing than the mayonaise-laden stuff you get at most places.

Backstory --
I'm insufferably picky/opinionated about my BBQ. In fact, for years I only ate BBQ when visiting family in Texas. Then when my fiancee and I decided to get married on the 4th of July and have a BBQ reception, I assumed we would have to have the BBQ shipped from Texas but I decided to re-research the Bay Area BBQ scene. Since half the guests would be Texans, I could only serve the best (not that Californians don't know good BBQ, Texans are just very vocal about subpar BBQ). I started by doing phone interviews with BBQ places within 100 miles of my house asking their smoking time, sauce philosophy and general BBQ style questions. Because I was looking for long smoking time and spicy sauce, I was able to quickly narrow it down to just a few places. (Note: I HATE that molasses sweet Deep South sauce that many Bay Area BBQ places serve.) Next we held a tasting that included many of the BBQ places mentioned on this board. I thought most were OK but not excellent. One was sooo bad, I fed it to the dog.

Then somebody told me about a guy who had lost the lease on his restaurant (on Polk St.) but was doing catering while he scouted out a new location. I hunted him down, tasted his BBQ and the rest is history. He catered our wedding and we patiently for him to find a new location. Then, finally, we heard the good news that Memphis Minnie's had found a new location...and we debated how far we would drive for the best BBQ in the Bay Area...then we learned he was opening ON MY BLOCK at 576 Haight!!!

So check it out and let me know what you think. Oh, and here's a url to a photo of the place on opening day and the third meal they served...Customers One & Two were really old black guy with a cane and a 500 pound guy, I was wise enough not to take them on for the privilege of being Customer Number One.

In the photo, you will notice that they do not smother their meat with sauce. They let you sauce it yourself, if you want. They understand that the meat should stand on its own!


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  1. I missed MM's original brief location in Mission but used to go to the Polk location, which kinda sucked because it was inside Johnny Loves. We favored the brisket, I didn't think the pork ribs were too good and something was wrong with the sliced pork, but I can't remember what. The brisket was addictive, however--I have not had anything like it around here. I was real excited to see the Haight Street place open. I went about a month ago and but was disappointed that the brisket was pretty dry. Will have to try again.

    The sauce is pretty good, but I still wish there were places that serve this real tangy type sauce (tomato, vinegar) that is served in a place near my parents house in Little Rock. I usually buy a quart to bring home. They don't bottle it, so I have to take a container and carry it on the plane.

    I have to say I love that you take pictures of you food, when you are on vacation! Great work, I loved seeing the food from Rome and will go back now to check out Chicago.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Anne H.
      Rochelle McCune

      My friend who used to go to the Polk location was a little creeped out by having to go into Johnny Loves. She said the BBQ freaks stayed to one side of the establishment, well away from the other kind of meat market in the nightclub.

      Sorry to hear about your dry brisket experience at the Haight location, in our numerous visits that has only happened a couple of times. Your Little Rock sauce sounds good. I am a big fan of savory BBQ sauces and love tasting any new combination.

      Our Rome Honeymoon was just the beginning of our food photo obsession, in Chicago we took a photo of every single thing we ate. I love being able to look back at the photos, especially the dinner at Charlie Trotter's, and "retaste" those dishes. We also have a ton of photos of SF eating experiences, but we just haven't had time to put them up yet.

      1. re: Rochelle McCune

        Thank you, Rochelle! I'm sorry I missed out on this 'cue experience during the Johnny Love years - right in my nabe - how was I to know?

        Friday three of us had an exploratory lunch at Memphis Minnie's - one sweet pork sandwich with side of sweet potatoes, and one sampler with brisket, pork ribs and Santa Maria tri-tip with sides of greens and the slaw. The run-away favorite was the brisket, followed closely by the ribs. The pork was bit dry for my tastes and not as smoke infused as the other two. The tri-tip was just fine, but it's not realy 'cue.

        The sauces didn't do that much for me. In addition to the red and the yellow mustardy one, there's also a North Carolina vinegar based one that we tried, and then too late, we discovered a bottle of something that looked like straight chili sauce. The savory sauces were nice by themselves or with the cornbread, but didn't wrap around the meats. The meats were better unadorned - not a bad thing and speaks to the quality of the smoking here.

        Another thing we discovered too late was the selection of premium sakes (chilled). Will definitely try that combination the next time. It was great to talk with Bob and learn his views on bringing a pan-barbecue place to San Francisco. He makes the desserts himself too - we liked the chocolate chip cookie and had our eye on the banana pudding.

        Afterwards we headed over to Toronado (across the street) for a brew (enjoyed the Drakes ale the most), ordering a second lunch next door at Rosamunde's. Just a little one - a Hungarian sausage and the merguez on rolls. I especially loved the merguez with its strong gamey lamb taste buffered with abundant black pepper and red chiles - wow, what a mouthful! Tuesday's hamburger day at Rosamunde's ($4) and nearly everyone else was getting what looked like an absolutely fabulous 1/3# hand-formed patty topped with cheese and served on a toasted onion roll with green leaf lettuce, tomato, grilled onions and ketchup/mustard. Next time . . . what a great block!

        1. re: Melanie Wong
          Rochelle McCune

          Melanie, you're my kinda woman, eating two lunches!!!! Ha,ha.

          We were delighted when Rosamunde's opened. Jeff, the owner, was a bartender at Toronado for years before leaving open Suppenkuche (one of my favorite brunch places, its not as crowded as dinner and the menu has both lunch & breakfast items) so it was great have him return. We love his sausages, but also really look forward to hamburger day. Sometimes Wednesday arrives and we curse that we forgot to get our Tuesday hamburger. Both Jeff and Bob get their meat from the same place and I think its really high quality. Also, the chili that you can get on your sausage or hamburger is all meat, no beans - its pretty good but not as spicy as I would prefer.

          Toronado is my choice of the bars in the 'hood because of their great beer selection and I love that people bring in food from all the joints on the block for lunch or dinner. They just did a great "Belgian Beer Month" and even put together a beer & food pairing dinner. I didn't get to go, but heard it was fun.

          This is a great little 'hood for cheap, good food - Kate's Kitchen has great pancakes; Raja Indian is the "upscale" location of the people that own Zante's Pizza & Indian Food which is spicier than Indian Oven; the Ethopian place is a great cheap meal; the sushi place's selection is a little pedestrian but its good quality and while Ali Baba's atmosphere is a little funky for me, we frequently do to-go from them; even Mythic Pizza is pretty good if you order a whole pie. And then there's Indian Oven and Thep Phenom for the tourists -- just kidding, I think they're both excellent, just not where I go to pick something up when I'm too lazy to cook.

          Re: Memphis Minnie's - The brisket is my favorite, my husband's favorite is the sweet pork. I totally should have mentioned the sake, its a great pairing with BBQ. Also, Bob mentioned that this coming weekend, he's going to start offering an "Oyster Po'boy" - I'll let you know how it is.

          1. re: Rochelle McCune

            I hadn't been to Toronado for about 6 years. We did order the featured Belgian beer of the day - made from ambient yeast with lots of cheesy, mushroomy, peppery, decaying meat kinds of aromas. I couldn't quite get into it.

            Thanks for standing watch on the Oyster po'boy - can't wait.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              You're probably talking about a lambic beer. They're often noted for flavors such as wet dog and horse blanket. An acquired taste, bot one worth acquiring.

              1. re: Jim Dorsch

                Yes, now I remember it was a lambic beer. Lots of brettanomyces in this one! Also extremely tart - is that typical?

            2. re: Rochelle McCune

              BTW, Kate's Kithen is open for dinner too! Just stuffed my face there. Had fantastic hushpuppies with honeyed butter. Dinner entrees (like the meatloaf I had) come with salad (had this with a mildly pungent and sweet honey mustard) and hot off the oven biscuits with chives and pepper. Noticed lots of creole/cajun stuff on the dinner menu - jambalaya, gumbo etc... Cheap, delicious and mountains of food. (Kind of what you'd expect given their performance at brunch.)

              1. re: Limster
                Janet A. Zimmerman

                So where exactly is Kate's Kitchen? Sounds like a place we'd love.

                1. re: Janet A. Zimmerman

                  It's in the lower Haight, on Haight just east of Fillmore.

                2. re: Limster
                  Rochelle McCune

                  I would highly, highly recommend Kate' for breakfast given the high quality, good prices and good service, but I consider lunch and dinner "risky". (Their hushpuppies, which I agree are good, are also on their breakfast menu).

                  I have been there after breakfast twice. First time, I had a sandwich which was ok, but nothing special. Second time, I had beans & rice with a side of greens. It was so bad, I could not eat it and that is extremely rare for me. The seasonings were so off-base they were not even vaguely creole or cajun (I am very familiar with what is "authentic" and even vague approximations are ok with me). Also, the greens were unbelievably bitter and tough. It was almost like whoever made those items had only read about them but never tasted real cajun/creole/southern beans & rice and greens. It was really weird. Maybe it was a really bad day or I ordered badly but given the plethora of good food down here in LOHA (Lower Haight, ha, ha), I doubt I will order anything cajun or creole off their menu anytime soon.

                  I will go try their meatloaf and the other "comfort" foods on their dinner menu because I do wish them well.

                  Last - I usually just cook it at home so if anyone has any recommendations for good cheap cajun/creole food in SF, let me know.

        2. I discovered Memphis Minnie's, in its old location at 18th and York, the day I moved to Bernal Heights and needed to find a place where I could by dinner for the friends who helped me move.

          I recently had lunch at the new place, where my partner-in-cholesterol and I shared a Minnie's Taster: brisket, "Memphis sweet smoked pork," and chicken, along with potlikker greens and smoked beans. And cornbread.

          All the meats spend a consideable amount of time in the smoker. The brisket spends 18 hours. This long cooking melts away much of the fat, resulting in meat that has slightly drier texture than some other barbecuers produce. I happen to like it a lot. Two kinds of homemade sauce are served in big bottles on each table.

          The greens were very good, but I'm not a good judge -- I don't think I've ever met a bowl of greens I didn't like. The beans are wonderful -- smoky and rich, with little bits of sausage.

          Bob Kantor, the owner, is a man who as far as I can tell is dedicated to two things: his craft, and his customers' happiness. I haven't tried every barbecue place in the area, but of those I have, this is the best. The only drawback to the new place is that if you eat there, you will smell like smoke for the rest of the day.

          1. Hi Rochelle!
            Thank you, oh, thank you for telling us about Memphis Minnies. I never would have found it on my own. We went there Friday night and had the brisket and pork plates (wonderful, see other descriptions in this thread), with Potlikker greens, cole slaw, mac & cheese, cornbread and sweet ice tea.

            Next time, I might just double up on the greens - terrific. The coleslaw is vinegar salad style - no mayo. Since the greens have some vinegar in them, I'd say the best choice might be either/or. Cornbread was delicious, if a little dry, and a little small. Not that I left hungry -- far from it.

            I'm not sure I did much chewing, just wolfed the meal with great delight. Heads up everybody when you go there: there are three sauces. The vinegar sauce with red pepper flakes was great. I'm a real lightweight in the spicy food department, and it gave me hot mouth that sent me back for more tea.

            The owner commented that we had ordered well (It sounded a little like the old Kung Fu show with David Carradine. I expected him to add ...Grasshopper.)

            I blush to add that we went back and ordered the banana pudding (with whipped cream and Nilla wafers) and a giant chocolate chip cookie (Dense and sweet, strongly vanilla flavored.)

            The music in the place was a fun assortment of Blues and Zydeco (Dr. John) so it really felt like a party. By the look of it, a lot of the people there were regulars. I will include myself in that category, and will qualify by returning soon. Yes, we smelled of smoke and had to lie on our sides when we went to bed because our tummies were still too full -- but we were grinning like satisfied chowhounds.

            What a find :-)