Emil Villa's, Hayward vs. Original Hickory Pit, Campbell
- Melanie Wong
A month ago I stopped in Hayward intending to have lunch at the Fijian buffet. But Sonam's was closed, perhaps permanently. I'd passed Emil Villa's on the way, so I doubled back to eat there instead.
The history of the local chain was printed on the menu, which was enlightening for a first timer to Emil Villa's like me. The first location started in 1928 in Oakland. The secret baste painted on the meats, called Lassyemma or "pyrocure", originated with the Kiowa tribe and was "discovered" by Tom Walkingstorm. I've googled all those key words and not come up with any more information -- would be grateful for any other background on this.
Anyway, back to the chow. Monday-Friday, 11-2, a value lunch for $8.29 offers soup or salad with a choice of entrees and one side. The Cobb salad option, made with housesmoked turkey and thick cut bacon sounded great, but I was here for 'cue and refocused on those choices. Two pork ribs is on the value lunch, so I got the Emil Villa-style ribs with a green salad and a side of mashed potatoes and gravy. When my server asked, "red or brown sauce", I was puzzled then remembered the discussion of the unique sauce here and asked for a little of both.
Crisp and fresh, the green salad wasn't special in any way but was a good start. The pair of ribs came out with a pickle spear, potatoes with gravy, and two ramekins of sauce. At first I regretted ordering the gravied mash potatoes creating a sauce overload on my plate. Then I was glad to have the other gravy as a reference point for EV's brown sauce, and the mashed potatoes were good, btw. The brown sauce is indeed a different thing, darker in color and not as emulsified. It had a well-browned meatiness with a toasted/roasted nutty flavor wrapped around it, almost like a well-made Creole roux would impart. Not spicy at all, the impression is savory meat mingled with dried herbs, and it wasn't salty either. I liked the red sauce too, non-sugary, mild and tomatoey with a nice tang.
The meaty ribs were beautiful with a well-browned dry crust and deep smoke-ring. Fairly moist, I liked the non-parboiled texture with some bite to it. They were really smoky, but undersalted with little other seasoning coming through. With the brown sauce, these were a pretty bland package. The red sauce had the lively tones to bring thise smoked meat to life and was the better match. I appreciated the hot wash cloth provided.
For dessert I indulged in a slice of fresh peach pie that anli has posted about, called "hunk o' pie" on the menu for $3.29. This summer time special needs to go on a list of best things to eat for change back from a fiver. Normally I don't like thick pie crust, but the uncooked peach filling is so bountiful the extra heft to the crust is needed to have enough for each bite. It's in between flaky and a cookie crust, sort of like a tender shortbread made with shortening instead of butter. This pie wasn't perfect, as it had too much goopy glaze (as shown below) and a few slices of peach were somewhat underripe and too firm. But the REAL whipped cream in soft folds lavishly topping the pie made up for these small faults in my book. This was a splendid commercial effort at an affordable price.
I had told my brother about the ribs and pie, and a week later he came home with both the Emil Villa-style and St. Louis ribs from Original Hickory Pit in Campbell, plus a WHOLE peach pie. He only had the red sauce so I couldn't do a complete cross-comparison. I'd read that Emil Villa parted ways with the group taking some locations and the remaining ones were renamed Original Hick'ry Pit.
Both styles of ribs were less smoky than Hayward's. The formerly called Emil Villa-style were especially lackluster not having the power of smoke to pull them through. The St. Louis ribs had better flavor from the seasoning but were dry and stringy. My rib lunch at Hayward was better than either of these.
But Campbell takes top honors with the peach pie. The crust was as thick but lighter and more flaky. The pie had less of the glaze, just enough to barely coat the peaches. Maybe the extra week into the season helped, as the peaches were riper and more flavorful. And, the fabulous whipped cream on this pie was piled even higher.
Emil Villa's California Barbecue
24047 Mission Blvd
Hayward, CA 94544
Original Hick'Ry Pit
980 E Campbell Ave
Campbell, CA 95008
I'm glad you liked the peach pie! It definitely is better as the season progresses. Although I get my pie from the Original Hick'ry Pit in Walnut Creek, it is good to know that the recipe is well represented in the South Bay. Last May, we had a fresh strawberry pie that was also wonderful. We brought a whole pie to a picnic later in the day, and as soon as we took it out of the box, folks were lining up for a slice.
Ah, another shuttered-up place. We used E. Villa's on Pleasant Valley Rd in Oakland as a dinner option once every couple of months. While not that great, they had reliable fresh salad, steaks and ribs. They also had pecan pie I liked. No longer.
It's not good enough to make a special trip south or east, though. Perfect when it's a mile away from home.