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Mar 31, 2007 05:05 PM

BarBersQ--New BBQ in Napa, a Review

Recently opened in Napa off HIghway 29 at the Trancas Street exit is BarBersQ--a new BBQ restaurant in the same shopping plaza as Target/Trader Joe's/Osh Hardware Supply (Bel Aire Plaza).

I ate there a few nights ago and enjoyed it. Let me preface this by saying that I am a Napa local, I work in the food industry, but I have the stomach of a chowhound and am unmoved by hype (unless it is backed up by good food!). I also grew up with BBQ in the Midwest and South, so I have some strong opinions on the subject.

The first thing I noticed was that the space is rather crowded, like something you would expect in NYC. When you walk in, you are only a few feet from the unfortunate diners seated at the tables closest to the door. Seating is so tight throughout the restaurant that there is barely space for the servers to pass between the backs of the chairs at the bar and the row of tables that runs the length of the bar.

The best part of the meal was an appetizer of cheddar biscuits with ham and pepper jelly. They were so delicious we ordered a second round, but found that the ham was cut too thick in the second order to be particularly eatable. They were also $8.50 per order for only two biscuits about 1.5 inches across, split lengthwise with less than an ounce of ham on each.. If the biscuits were slightly bigger, or the cost was slightly lower I would be significantly more satisfied.

I was amused to see a grilled cheese on the menu. It stuck out as the “vegetarian friendly” entrée option among the carnivore fest of pulled pork sandwich, corn-fed ribeye steak, and roasted chicken. There are a few other veg friendly options, like the “wedge” salad of iceberg lettuce, but it’s really all about the meat.

My companion had the pulled pork sandwich, which was small but under $7, and a side of fries (totally unimpressive—obviously frozen foodservice type and unsalted). I tried the half rack of bbq pork ribs. At $14 I was expecting a more impressive plate than I got. The ribs were laid unsauced on a white oval diner style plate with some cabbage and carrot slaw to make the plate look less naked.

There were plentiful sauce options on the table in a round sauce caddy filled with squeeze bottles. None of the bottles were labeled, but I heard diners at the next table explaining that the red top was hot bbq sauce, the blue top was mild, the white top was vinegar based. There was ketchup (for fries) and tabasco. I tried all of the BBQ sauces but was still confused as to there being any difference between the hot and mild. The vinegar based didn’t taste as vinegary as I would have expected (I’m a girl who has spent some time in the Carolinas). All of the sauces needed some salt. Disappointing that a BBQ restaurant can’t get sauce right.

They did, however, get the meat right. The ribs I had were delicious, cooked perfectly with right combination of sink-your-teeth-into-it-ness and fall-off-the-bone-ness. The pork on the pulled pork sandwich was tender and you could taste the quality of the pork. The lady at the next table had the ribeye. It looked so good I was seriously tempted to reach over at try a bite.

There are several options for sides that you can add on a la carte, but at $5 a piece it can add up to a costly dinner. We didn’t try any (except for the fries, which were unimpressive).

I do wish we had room to try dessert. By far the most ordered the night I went was the apple pie, which are two fried pies/turnovers that are dusted with powdered sugar, garnished with fresh mint, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. It looked so good I would be interested in going just to try it! I was asking our server about desserts and he said that all the desserts were made in the kitchen. But one of the dessert items listed on the menu reads “Model Bakery Chocolate Layer Cake.” Hmmmm, maybe he meant they are all plated in the kitchen? I made a note to investigate that one on my next visit.

Any one else been? I’m curious to hear what other hounds ate.

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      1. Thanks for that detailed report - gives me some ideas to try next time. I ate there last week and was also amazed at the crowds. 6:30 on a Thursday and there was a line out the door. I think we Napa locals are starved for anything new..... especially anything NOT French or Italian.

        I had the short rib sandwich, $14.95 I think, for a meaty sandwich on a good roll (did I imagine that the rolls are from ABC?) and a side of butter lettuce salad, nicely dressed and with sliced apples. The meat was tender but the sandwich could have used a sauce. Unfortunately, none of the sauces in the caddy did the trick. Overall, it was fine. Others at the table had the pulled pork sandwich and grilled cheese sandwich, both with the same salad. Good, not spectacular. The fries looked nice in the paper cone, but were bad - bitty pieces, not hot, undersalted.

        When we sat down the waitress told us it was Memphis-style BBQ, and then proceeded to point out the Carolina vinegar sauce. Identity crisis?

        8 Replies
        1. re: Junie D

          Hi Junie. I like your nasturtium.

          No, you did not imagine the rolls are from ABC--they had listed it on the menu when I was there.

          Did the side of butter lettuce salad come with the sandwich? I don't remember anything being on the plated sandwiches when I was there. Maybe they got enough feed back that they stared putting a small side of salad on the plate, too?

          I think they sort of have an identity crisis about their BBQ, but mostly in not having definitions for the general public who's general concept of BBQ may revolve around whatever chain is famous for the Babyback Ribs. Memphis Style BBQ refers to the meat being served up unsauced, usually with a dry rub instead, and frequently smoked rather than just grilled. I found the meat at BarBersQ to be excellent, but they really do need to work on their sauces.

          We had the fries, and I thought the fact that we got the short stubby ones was a fluke--perhaps we got the bottom of the box of frozen fries (I don't know for a fact that they use frozen fries, but they tasted like them). Ours were also undersalted.

          And I agree with you, Junie, that we Napa locals are starved for anything new that isn't french or italian. Bleaux Magnolia is next on my list.


          1. re: Non Cognomina

            Yes, the salad came with all three sandwiches. I was happy because I am not big on coleslaw or potato salad, which I expected to see. But then again I would bet money that a little green salad with apples is not typical in Memphis.

            Bleaux Magnolia is next, and have you tried the Lobster Shack yet?

            1. re: Non Cognomina

              Barbecue is always cooked in a smoker. Whether it comes out smoky depends on the kind of wood and how you fire the smoker. Some places add soaked hickory or other aromatic wood chips for a smokier flavor.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Uh oh, Robert. You are opening a big can of worms with the statement "barbecue is always cooked in a smoker...."

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Ha ha, what Non Cognomina said. Several years ago Bob Cantor, owner of Memphis Minnie's, recommended a book entitled Smokestack Lightning. I bought and read it and never again have I made a statement saying how real barbecue is prepared. The authors drove and ate barbecue across the country and the one thing I took away was how very regional barbecue is. And, yes, some places consider cooking the meat directly over a wood open-pit fire real barbecue, and I feel they have every right to do so (for example, Santa Maria).

                  1. re: Mick Ruthven

                    For the record, what does BarBersQ serve?

                    If I order "Memphis-style barbecue" and get served grilled meat, I'm sending it back.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I've been there once and the pulled pork seemed like it was slow-cooked in a smoker. Didn't see their equipment.

                2. re: Non Cognomina

                  From reading the below linked article in the local paper, I have gathered that the BBQ is not meant to adhere to a strict Memphis style or strictly to any style. Sounds like it's taking traditonal american BBQ styles and twisting them a bit to fit a CA/wine country sensibility. That is what the BBQ tasted like to me as well. And the BBQ is definitely done in a smoker.

              2. Based on the price point i take it that it is a higher end bbq option opposed to the typical shacks...cant wait to try the ribs and the pulled pork. sad to hear that the vinegar based sauce isn't up to par since i have spent time in the carolinas and virginia and have not found a decent place in the bay area with a quality one. thanks for the report

                3 Replies
                1. re: EnderWiggin

                  Have been twice now. Can't agree more with what has been said about the sauces. The hottest is barely hot at all for my tastes. Have tried the pulled pork, good, and the short ribs, very good, tender, full of flavor. Will have to try the ribs next time. The shrimp appetizer was disappointing however, 4 small shrimps for $12+. A good new addition to the local scene but needs work.

                  1. re: EnderWiggin

                    >sad to hear that the vinegar based sauce isn't up to par since i have spent time in the carolinas and virginia and have not found a decent place in the bay area with a quality one.<

                    Have you tried the North Carolina vinegar-based sauce at Memphis Minnie's? It's completely different from the one at BarBersQ, much more liquid-type. I don't like it but I'm not from North Carolina and have no idea what that type of sauce is supposed to be like. It might be authentic for all I know.

                    I actually liked mixing the red and vinegar-based sauce at BarBersQ :-)

                    1. re: Mick Ruthven

                      carolina style vinegar based sauces are supposed to be runny/watery. it goes great with pork dishes like the pulled pork sandwhich and not so much with brisket and ribs.

                      i went to boarding school in the south and it was amust to put some slaw on the PP sandwhich with the vinegar based sauce.

                  2. "Disappointing that a BBQ restaurant can’t get sauce right."

                    This is true of virtually every BBQ restaurant in the Bay Area. T-Rex in Berkeley (for example) spent over $100,000 dollars on a state-of-the-art smoker and then sauce their excellent meat with an insane, terrible, schizophrenic witches' brew in which they arbitrarily combine Texas, Kansas City, Carolina, Georgia, New Mexico, and Louisiana-style sauces. Yuck!

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: dlglidden

                      Good BBQ doesn't need sauce. In some places, it's almost an insult to served it "sauced".

                      That said:
                      "Memphis Style BBQ refers to the meat being served up unsauced, usually with a dry rub instead, and frequently smoked rather than just grilled."

                      For clarification, BBQ is never grilled, per se, as it should never be over direct heat or flame. BBQ is indirect, slow cooking with a little smoke. Memphis style may be described here as unsauced, but the "smoked rather than grilled" is a quality of all BBQ.

                      1. re: epicurious_sf

                        I agree with you that's how the world should be. However, in these parts, what's served as BBQ is often grilled over direct heat, unfortunately, or baked in an oven. I've learned to ask.

                      2. re: dlglidden

                        T-Rex serves sauce on the side, which given the excellent flavor of the spareribs is where it can stay as far as I'm concerned.