Good Q? I give up...
I got tired of hit-and-miss trying to get good Q, so I tried to systematically judge my favorites. I regret to say I did not find anything very good.
This is my scorecard:
Below average: Bo’s (Lafayette), Everett & Jones (Berkeley), CJ’s (Richmond)
Average: KC’s (Berkeley), Loonie’s (Berkeley), Big Nate’s (SF), T Rex (Berkeley), Doug’s (Oakland), Pittman’s #2 (SF), All American BBQ (Alameda)
Above Average: Minnie’s (SF), Roadside (SF)
Apparently closed: Cliff’s (SF), Lilly’s nee Brother’s in Law (SF).
(even though none are very good, I list them in case you want to add them to your check list of places to try. I know there are many other BBQ places, but, at this point, I give up).
My Survival Rules:
-Toss Out the Sides: I take one taste, then into the garbage. If it is especially good, or plentiful, I doggy-bag it. I am not interested in their rendition of cole slaw, the slice of soft bread in a plastic baggie, or the slice of stale pecan pie they bought at the bakery outlet store.
-No Sauce Please: it is hard to taste the meat when it is swimming in sauce. A surprising large number of the sauces have too much sugar; I wonder if some places are trying to hide rather tasteless meat with a sweet sauce. I discovered that with sauce, much of this BBQ tastes identical. Another way to put it: can you choke down a whole plate of this stuff without resorting to sauce with only a brewski as your aide? Too often, the answer is no.
-Beef Brisket Only: I decided that I prefer beef, so is the only dish I judged. This is important, since few places will do all things equally good (or equally bad, for that matter). Everett & Jones does fantastic links; Doug’s, the thing to have is smoked turkey. However, have beef or ribs at either place, and you will be disappointed.
Flint’s in Berkeley: this is their story as I know. I came to Berkeley in the late 70’s, and this was the place to be. Every Friday and Saturday night, there would be long lines, traffic jams in front of the place, and people eating sitting on the sidewalk and in their cars (it was heavenly, and the memory of this fantastic food inspired my re-evaluation of Q here in the Bay Area). After a few years, both the good food and crowds disappeared (although I have heard various rumors over time, I do not really know why). A few more years, it was open, but only sporadically. Last year, I saw an official health department certificate in the window indicating it was closed. It is now open 7 days keeping regular hours. Despite their menu (which has been unchanged all these years), the only thing they seem to have is grape soda, links, and chicken. The meat is rather flavorless and not always cooked correctly, and the sauce too sweet (tastes like supermarket BBQ sauce, slightly doctored). Flint’s does not appear in the chart above, since I have never been able to order the beef (or ribs, for that matter).
I think part of the problem with barbecue in the Bay Area relates to lots of other cuisine choices and a generally healthier diet which leads to low(er) turn-over which leads to inconsistency.
I have no scienctific or wide anedotal proof but every place I've gone to (basically all of your list except Loonie's) seems to have small or no lines, and the product seems to be sitting around. Or in reverse - when a place has high demand product turn over -- consistency tend to work together, sort of a chicken and egg effect. Compared to other places in the country, Q joints sell thousand of pounds of product a week. in the Bay Area...maybe hundreds. I think this relates to the final product. Your example of Flints back in the day, with long lines, pretty much fits this model.
Any way, I wrote about Flints and from my experience the meat and smokiness was very close to the same - but the sauce was off.
P.S. Anyone been to Leon's on Fillmore recently?