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New BBQ joint in Berkeley

Raced by the corner of Fulton and Bancroft on my way to a meeting that I had been unaware of 5 minutes earlier. The Thai restaurant Hua Hin (sp?) is closed and is in the process of being replaced by a new BBQ joint. It's run by a new player, but all I remember about the name is a lot of vowels.

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  1. saw their ad on Craig's List .... Looney's Smokehouse Bar-B-Que is their name. Also a mention that it is a high end franchising situation. Will have 200 seats. Will have to stay tuned for details about their food....

    2 Replies
    1. re: gordon wing

      It's hard to imagine 200 seats in that building, even with two floors. It at one time housed an EBMUD office. Is downtown Berkeley gentrifying? :)

      1. re: gordon wing

        Yeah, I also saw that on Craigslist. I hope they can cook better than they spell.

      2. First of all, good riddance to Hua Hin...it's a nice space, but they let it get grimy.

        A barbecue place sounds promising. Along with that new Cajun place on Shattuck, this adds something new to the Berkeley mix (which is way oversaturated with Asian restaurants)

        What exactly is a "high-end franchising situation"?

        4 Replies
        1. re: Agent 510

          I imagine in this case "high-end franchising" would mean something like Outback. Weird location to try that, though.

          Hua Hin was the place with the phony waterfall? We went in there once, the smell from the water was so nasty that we left without ordering.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            I am actually sorry and a bit surprised to see Hua Hin go. We tried it about four times and never encountered any problems with grime or funny smells, and we loved just about everything we tried. Plus, it was the only place I knew where you could get a nice rib eye or t-bone marinated in Thai spices.

            Does anyone know if there any other Thai places in the Bay Area where you can get a full-on steak?

            1. re: Civil Bear

              One of the other merchants on the corner told me that the owners of Hua Hin were three couples and that one member of one couple wanted out, forcing the closure. I used to walk by on my way home to Rockridge at 7:30 and it was consistently full of students and others.

          2. Looney's is still handing out lots of samples, by the way, if anyone's in downtown Berkeley today (or even after that...I'm sure they'll keep doing it) Today, they had chili, potato salad, and hushpuppies.

            The guy who gave out samples told me they're shooting for mid-September opening.

            1. Update: They're open now.

              Space looks good, a step up from the last tenant, though it seems like more than half of the seats will be on the patio (which is still under construction). There's a big bar in front and a giant TV screen overhead. They kept the water wall.

              The North Carolina pulled pork sandwich was pretty good, topped with slaw and a nice vinegary bite. With such a big menu, I was concerned the food would be mediocre, but this is a good sign.

              1. Just back from the place. Right now they're only serving one page of their menu--of five total, I'm told.

                For that reason my friend and I were stuck ordering sandwiches. We shared the North Carolina pulled pork and the Alabama barbecue chicken.

                In a word, mediocre.

                The Alabama barbecue chicken sandwich was weird. It tasted like stir-fried chicken on a bun. There was essentially nothing "barbecue" about it. No sauce or seasoning that would identify it as such. Don't get me wrong: I'm very much a sauce on the side kind of guy when it comes to, say, ribs. But this was stir-fried chicken on a bun inferior to pretty much any grocery store variety, excepting I suppose the brand they happened to choose.

                The North Carolina pulled pork sandwich was substantially better, but that doesn't mean good. The sauce has a little vinegary taste to it, but is pretty boring. The pork itself was essentially flavorless. If I'd gotten it from my high school cafeteria, I'd have been pleased, but...

                Unless I hear FANTASTIC reports about the ribs (which weren't on offer), I will not be back.


                1 Reply
                1. re: Gerard

                  I have a buddy that is a certified BBQ judge who stopped by after the Cal/Minn game and his comments were much like yours -- the pulled pork sammy was mediocre at best.

                2. I have not yet eaten at Looney's. And for good reason. Having grown up in a restaurant myself, I know an important rule (and apparently well kept secret) NEVER eat at a restaurant in it's first month open. Well truly you should because they need the business otherwise they won't last. However your expectation should be low until after they've settled and established themselves. So if you've gone once, try again in another month. you may be pleasantly surprised.

                  Also, I have met the owner of Looney's BBQ (His last name is actually Looney), and I would like to clarify that he is not opening up a 'high-end franchise' or a chain. He's actually an engineer with a good recipe and for that reason decided to try something new - restaurant business. Like I said I grew up in one, and I know how rough it can be, so i'm not sure why anyone with a decent living would TRY to open up a restaurant, but to each his own. Looney has hired some BBQ conniseurs to cook in his establishment and has some unique ideas for his place. I say give it some time and it may be just what Berkeley needs... some good meat and hometown cooking.

                  1. I had the chicken fried steak, greens and cornbread for lunch. The cf steak was three good-sized chicken finger like pieces of beef in a substantial crunchy batter with a little cream gravy, which was salty tasted apart from the steak. A bit heavy with the pepper but the meat was beefy and relatively tender. I really liked the collards. They were not cooked to a mush and the leaves maintained most of their shape. Topped with a nice sprinkle of bacon. I think these guys are taking the smokehouse idea a little to far. The cornbread tasted slightly of bbq sauce and smoke. One piece was slightly underdone, which made it like a corn pudding which was good for me. The other was dry.

                    There were enough good things to bring me back. As noted in other posts, it's hard to come by chicken fried steak in this backwater, but Looney's version is very credible. Just not up to the standard of what I had in Wheatridge, Co. outside of Denver.

                    1. I think the Bay Area is really craving some BBQ, and that is why people will do anything to give a place a chance. The burger sounds good- I like the little things about a burger, and I just can't go high end and order a 15 dollar burger (even though the burger threads around here are pretty entertaining.)

                        1. re: edmartin75

                          The beef ribs, like the pork ribs, are incredible. But one rib is a meal! Huge!

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            I tried the spare pork ribs about a week ago for lunch, and have some bad news - these were the worst bbq ribs I have ever had in my life. First, if there was a spice rub, I couldn't taste it. Second, they appeared to have been reheated on the grill, leaving bitter scorch marks on the meat, which matched a somewhat acrid smokiness. The sauce was not very good. I like it either sweet, or vinegary. This was neither, but what was really off-putting was that it was the consistency of very chunky salsa that had no hope of sticking to the meat. Speaking of the meat, it was very mealy, almost to the point of inedible.

                            On the plus side, the sides were a step up from the usual. A nice selection, but still a mixed bag. I had the spicy coleslaw and garlic mashed potatoes. The 'slaw was good and very spice, which was nice, but it was minced to an inch of its life, and just swimming in sauce. It was almost a soup. The potatoes, on the other hand, where fantastic. My only complaint was that they were almost room temperature.

                            I thought the price was reasonable for a half-order of ribs and two sides. I'll probably go back to try something else on the menu (and get the mashed potatoes), but I won't ever be getting the pork ribs again.


                            1. re: brianc

                              Agree about the scorch or char.

                              I'm surprised by your decription of the sauce. When I went, the sauce was nothing like "very chunky salsa," but rather was a thin, vinegary, fairly typical Carolina-style sauce albeit not an exemplary one. That's the spicy sauce if I recall. Did you get the "girly man" (their term) sauce?


                              My review:


                          2. I tried the baby back ribs last night. I like the prices, especially since you can get a third of a rack (which is great for one) with two sides for less than $10, including tax. The ribs weren't great, however. They were very fatty, the "spicy" sauce wasn't very, and the flavor was muted. The two sides that I got were cornbread and potato salad: the cornbread looked a little unusual, it seemed as if it was split in half or something. It tasted great, though, and had corn kernels inside. The potato salad, however, was awful: way too much mayo, too sweet, no seasonings to speak of. I'll probably try Looney's again if I'm in the neighborhood and craving barbeque, but I'm not dying to go back.

                            1. Ate there last night (Sunday). The decor (or lack of) was a little offputting. Sat in the atrium area, kind of like an enclosed porch that was all glass and a little chilly. View of Oxford and the back parking lot that is filled with junk.

                              Ordered 1/2 rack baby back ribs. Sauce on the side. Ribs came, 6 very meaty, pinkish and juicy ribs. Some char, but nicely done. Nice spiciness with the rub, didn't use any of the thin sauce. Tasted the sauce, had nice spiciness, just not my preference. These ribs were very tasty and very filling. Actually took 2 of the ribs home. The sides were mac & cheese and collards. Big portions, not memorable, but good enough that I filled up on them. Great value, would definitely go back.

                              Wife had the grilled chicken breast, probably wouldn't order it again. Not bad, just not great. She finished off her mac & cheese side.