T-rex good, not great...
Me and the Mrs went to T-rex last night after the chowhound board has recently glimmered with few positive reviews. Had a 1/2 order ribs and the brisket with some mac and cheese (we'll eat our double dose of veggies tomorrow). All the food was significantly better than the first few visits, but still not compelling. The ribs were meaty and moist with enough smoke to know they had been slow cooked. The sauce was fine but added little to the flavor of the dry spice on the ribs. The brisket was also moist and just smoky enough with a nice black outer crust. It was thick cut so it had a spongy texture but just fell apart with a fork. The mac and cheese tasted good but was super runny. The best discovery was the homemade hot sauce on the table - really flavorful and good level of hot spice - the hot lingers surprisingly long. Including two Racer 5s, tax and tip, total tab was $50.
Overall, T-rex is serving better than average BBQ in a nice setting with top notch beverage selection. Fun to go for anight out with with friends, etc.
But when I'm craving BBQ I'll go to KC BBQ for sliced beef and E&J for ribs.
Berkeley's BBQ tradition is great, but bayareafoodie sounds like an Oakland homer, so there you go.
Anyway, bayareafoodie is pretty much spot on about T-Rex's prices -- they're too high for the lack of service, probably due to the fact that there doesn't seem to be many people on staff. The three times I've been there, I've never had my order completed correctly and had to always wave down someone to get attention. Any decent restaurant really ought to make sure that each table is checked on within two minutes of being served -- as a one-time waiter at several restaurants, it's a universal rule of food service, especially when you're looking at $75-100 tab.
(And by the way, whoever that cook or manager was last time I was there -- if you're going to be yelling at your staff, do it outside, and don't keep doing it loudly enough for the entire restaurant to wish they didn't have to listen to you screeching for minutes on end.)
The food itself is good (if your order comes out right, anyway -- when I order spicy sauce, I don't want mild sauce, OKAY?). I can skip cornbread, but why no coleslaw? I mean, put a side of slaw on a $30 plate of ribs and you may blink at the price, but making it an additional cost is pretty much an invitation to be laughed at and not visited again.
Frankly, I'd might go back to T-Rex during a slow night when guests are in town. Otherwise, KCs or Everett & Jones is as good at a third of the price.
Finally tried T-Rex, as I have enjoyed the other restaurants from this group. The atmosphere was great--I love the building. The cocktails were fine, but overpriced, and heavy on the bourbon. Although this goes well with the barbeque theme, it's not like T-Rex is an authentic barbeque. The servers were nice and knowledgeable, but WHO was our server? We had no idea, since different people took our drink order, our food order, and gave us our check. We felt like we were at a banquet. Our food came to our table at all different times, and I sat with my food getting cold while waiting for the other food to arrive. The ribs and the brisket were very fatty, and were not served with a single side save for a lowly piece of bread. Come on--couldn't they throw in a piece of cornbread for 28 bucks a pop? The prawns were all head and served with a heap of guacamole sauce with nothing to put it on. The crab in the crab salad was awash in a sea of blandness. The two things we enjoyed were the short rib and the romano beans. The short rib was falling off of the bone and delicious. The romano beans also seemed in the spirit of more traditional barbeque joints and were really fabulous. Overall there was no coherency to the restaurant, and the prices were almost offensive. There are so many great true barbeque joints in Oakland--what is the concept of this place? Yuppie barbeque? Maybe that is because it is in Berkeley...
>> heavy on the bourbon
I can't believe I didn't know about the bourbon selection until now. Finally want to T-Rex. Is it the world's best Q? no. But, the brisket was fork tender on the inside, crispy on the outside. That's a nice sit-down plate of meat.
We sat at the bar, watching this amazingly efficient bartender turn out drink after drink--I really need to come back for brunch and sample from their bloody mary selection--with the back drop of the best bourbon and rye selection I have seen in the East Bay outside my own collection. Considering most bars have a row of scotch, the Jim Beam brands of bourbon (Booker, Baker, Knob and Basil Hayden), and maybe a Woodford Reserve for show, the bourbon selection was legendary topped off by a nice smattering of rye and canadian whisky. As I sat stunned at the selection of bourbon, the bartender brought me the whisk(e)y book. Her only mistake, she believed that all bourbon must be made in Kentucky--not true. Fine whisk(e)y, nice beer selection, and meat. What else do you need? We'll be back, and we'll sit at the bar--unless we bring the kids for brunch.
Also, ask for the cornbread without the syrup.
OK, this finally forced me to go KC. I had to try the brisket reported to be better than T-Rex which I considered one of the best I've ever had.
I can see why you wouldn't like the brisket at T-Rex because KC's style is the polar opposite of T-Rex .. the anti-T-Rex, so to speak.
KC's brisket is ultra lean and dense without a speck of fat and very thinly sliced. It has a visible pink smoke ring but the smoke is underplayed.
I always order sauce on the side in order to find out if the sauce is enhancing or hiding something. Really the main thing with their sauce is to offset the dryness of the meat. It is a tomato-based sauce, almost like a thinned catsup with a touch of vingar.I didn't detect any heat in the sauce.
To me, KC's brisket almost has a chewy jerky quality to it. If you like the ultra lean, dense, no fat type of brisket, you might like Gracie's in Vallejo. The meat is the thin slice and a little more tender and velvety with a deeper smoke. The sauce is more sweet than tomato-y though at Gracies.
Back to KC's we got the three-way combo. We WOULD have got the four-way combo but they don't offer one. They have four meats - beef, pork ribs, links and chicken, but they won't offer a four way combo.
So the chicken was sacrificed. Given how KC's goes for a dry meat, it might have been the right decision since I am not into dry BBQ'd chicken.
The links also needed the sauce. They are a combo of pork and beef with a very fine grind. The beef taste is the dominant one. The sauce brought out the peppery spice in the links.
This is the only BBQ place I've been to where not only did I use ALL the sauce rather than as an enhancement, but I needed more. I eventually mixed the baked beans in with the meat. Both the links and beef are just too dry for my taste.
I really liked the ribs at KC's which were juicy and had a little fat. The meat was a nice pink, almost ham pink. The outside had a bit of a nice crust while the inside was tender. The meat let go of the bone with very little persuading. The ribs had the most smoke flavor, but not overly smoky. I didn't put any sauce on these they were so good.
The little baked beans in two sizes were good, again in a catsup-based sauce. The potato salad tasted like potato salad but was the consistancy of mashed potatoes. It worked with the meat, IMO and I liked it.
KC's is a very cool place with lots of tables in the middle of a thrift-shop reject decor - tons of old stoves, radios (the big cabinet kind), tv's, furniture, photos, knick-knacks and even an old wagon. There are two big long tables that seat about 12. Seems like a great place to take kids. In fact, there was a group of kids at one of the tables.
This isn't the cute, old-timey decor that some chains go for. This is the type of place an eccentric hoarder might live in. Sort of Sanford & Son chic if anyone remembers that show ... if Fred moved the entire junkyard indoors during the rainy season.
It reminded me of some of the stuff in my grandfather's house ... in terms of of the furniture, not the abandoned storage locker feel. Even down to the three large mason jars of green beans on one shelf. There were these canned green beans in my grandfathers cellar that were stored there before I was born and when we sold the house when I was 16, the beans were finally thrown out ... of course, they COULD have wound up at KC's.
KC's is the least expensive of all the BBQ places I've visited. Here's the link to their webpage:
Love the chicken with the hatchet at the end of the menu.
This Bay Guardian review on KC's was spot-on to me -
"The straightforward, tomatoey sauce is nothing to write home to Arthur Bryant about ... The ribs are perfectly smoked, Patsy Cline-ing to the touch of your teeth. You don't even need teeth. Gums will do. I'm not even sure you need gums. The meat might fall to pieces on your tongue and melt into it like butter ...
Amazingly, for pig meat this tenderly smoked, it doesn't lose anything in succulence. In fact, K.C.'s ribs may well not even need any sauce ... But you know, barbecue's hard to get right consistently ... so you gotta have the sauce, just in case.
And it's the BRISKET you like at KC's?
hello, bbq is an american heritage food; "applehome"(related to you?) who often posts on other ch boards has articulated eloquently on the theme. Kansas City has been one of the handful of most prominent formulative centers for it, of course. Likewise for the american heritage music, "jazz", specifically in the Pendergast era (he mentored HS Truman, probably your granpa's hero) in the Prohibition-Depression period. so I look at the interior of kc bbq as an homage to that town's golden age, there's a consistency and focus to the smoking of the ribs and the furnishings, rather than an eclectic hodge podge (getting back to the original subject, a contemporary re-creation like T-rex usually ends up as such). cheers
I do like the KC BBQ Brisket - and yes it is very different than T-rex. I do not like KC's regular sauce - way too sweet for my taste. I ask for their medium sauce. And yes the lean meat requires the inclusion of sauce. Style-wise I enjoy both the lean thin slices and the richer chunked brisket. I've had much better richer chuncked brisket from home smokers than I had at T-rex this week. I enjoy T-rex as an overall restaurant experience but don't crave their BBQ.
I imagine T-Rex will always have to fight the perception by some of not being a "real" place for Q since it's not a hole-in-the-wall serving exclusively BBQ that qualifies as comfort food.
This is somewhat analagous to getting a burger at an upscale restaurant as compared to a "real" one in a shack/diner.
Depending on my mood, there will always be a place for both.
Besides, how many other places can you get Q with
access to a full bar, oysters on the shell, a side of shitake and spinach, options for your pescatarean friend (or someone not in a primal mood to chew off bone), and be able to finish it off with dessert not limited to sweet-potato or pecan pie?
I think they are getting better and better. My first couple of visits when they opened, I was very disappointed in what was coming out of the kitchen and smoker. They recently started doing weekend brunches and I had a great leisurely afternoon that included a lamb sandwich, de'lish oysters, and a duck dish topped with eggs.
One thing they still really need to work on though is consistency in their featured specialty cocktails and whisk(e)y list. I've had some great labor intensive fizz'es (that Sunday afternoon again), and I've had some of the worst balanced cocktails ever on a couple of the nights I have visited. Way off! Who ever was bartending then needs to go back and hit the books/bottles.
I agree that the bottled hot sauce is a welcome addition. Their bbq sauces are getting better, but I hope they continue to tweak and perfect.