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Jun 16, 2009 02:34 PM

BBQ Smokehouse in Sebastopol – Opens June 16, 5pm

Since trying Chef Larry Vito’s BBQ last month at the contest in Healdsburg, I’ve been wanting to taste ribs made to his own spec, instead of the contest’s materials.

I was in the Sebastopol area a couple Fridays ago and swung by. I figured that as a caterer, he might have weekend gigs and some extra ‘cue on hand to sell. Lucky for me, this hunch was right, and Chef Vito was checking on some ribs when I dropped in. He said they’d be ready in about an hour if I could come back.

He has two smokers now: a portable rig in the back parking lot and Little Red in the front just behind the counter. He was smoking chicken and racks of ribs in Little Red.

Returning at the appointed time, he had a rack of ribs wrapped in plastic and then foil for me. I was a little surprised at the size, about 5” at the widest point and a little over a foot long. These are trimmed in St. Louis style. When I asked him which regional style he follows, he explained that he did a lot of trial and error on his own expression of barbecue that is close to Memphis style. He spoke for a long time about real barbecue vs. faux ‘cue, and gave me a bottle of his sauce but discouraged me from using much because, “it’s all about the meat”. He offered me a couple of chicken thighs to try as well. The rack of ribs was $18. That’s all he wanted, but I left him with a twenty.

I was prepared for a drop-off in quality from what he served at the competition. But if anything, these ribs were better. The cut is meatier, and the smoke penetrated even more. The texture of the ribs was perfect for me, offering some tooth. Chef Vito likes apple wood for a finer, sweeter smoke, and it suits his style quite well. I also like the idea of using apple products here in the middle of Gravenstein country for a terroir signature. The chicken was delicious too, and it's not usually my thing. The pink and moist meat looked and had a texture almost identical to ham. The skin wasn’t crispy but was well-rendered and was so delicious from the apple smoke, dry rub, and a light glaze of his own non-sweet tomato based sauce. I didn’t add more sauce to either the pork ribs or chicken, they were indeed delectable as is.

I also asked when the place would be opening as a restaurant. As you can see in these photos, the décor is in place. Chef Vito was working on the signs, menu board and getting the patio cleaned up.

Besides ribs and chicken, he’s also planning on offering a pulled pork sandwich and brisket. He said that after smoking for 14 hours, his brisket yield is only 42%. Classically trained in French technique, he described the sauce he served with the sliced brisket as a reduction of the beef drippings and aromatics. I asked him if it set up as firm as demi-glace. He said that it wasn’t “solid enough to stand on like demi-glace” but plenty concentrated for bathing the brisket. He’ll also have a couple sides and is trying hard to keep things affordable for everyone.

The BBQ Smokehouse opens today, Tuesday, June 16 at 5 PM, confirmed late last night via email from the Executive Event Coordinator. It’s a stone’s throw from Whole Foods, located across the street from the police station, just off the Gravenstein Highway, and shares the building with Patisserie Angelica.

BBQ Smokehouse
6811 Laguna Park Way, Sebastopol, CA 95472

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  1. I read on Chowhound that this place was opening soon and I stopped by for a look. To my surprise, my wife and I were invited to be seated for dinner. I discovered that they were having a practice/training session and most of the diners were friends or employees of their, get this, not 1 but 2 catering companies. I had no idea this place was even here. Years ago it used to be a Pizza restaurant but they told me they had been catering from that location for almost 10 years. By the end of the meal I felt like family! The Que was great. I honestly haven't tasted anything as good since I attended South by Southwest last year in Austin. They certainly were not "practicing" with the food. Service was a little slow because they were taking pictures of each plate as it was made so that the cooks would make each plate the same way. I saw this being done on a reality TV show once of a restaurant opening.
    I did learn that they were postoneing the opening until, the following Tuesday on June 23rd because they want to get some more practice sessions in and not be distracted from their catering operation. I heard the employees talking shop about what a busy season they are having. At least someone is doing well in this economy but I guess its understandable since barbecue is relatively inexpensive. if I was getting married this barbecue would be a no brainer.

    4 Replies
    1. re: PauliBee

      Thanks for the report, PauliBee! I'm glad you posted, as I was hoping to check this place out this weekend, but it looks like I'm going to have to wait for my bbq til next week. *heavy impatient sigh*

      1. re: PauliBee

        PauliBee, thanks a bunch for posting, glad you enjoyed the bbq. I had hoped to have lunch there today and found the sign saying that it would open for regular operating hours on 6/23. Hopefully others see your note and won't make the trek like I did. I did snap a photo of the overhead menu, not so clear since I couldn't get that close to it, but here it is.

        I dropped into the bakery next door, Patisserie Angelica, and asked about it. They said they'd been open for a couple days, then shut down to work out the kinks, and that customers were confused about what's going on. But it will be great to have 'cue and then grab a beautiful pastry next door.

        Chef Larry Vito is a very experienced pro. He was the award-winning executive chef at Fournou's Oven in the Stanford Count hotel when that place was the big deal in the city. When I talked with him about what was holding up his opening, he said that he wanted to be sure that the work flow and scheduling would go smoothly. He explained that in the hotel environment it was not an easy task to coordinate dining room, banquets, and room service in one kitchen, and he was trying to make sure that he could run a catering kitchen and a restaurant simultaneously here.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          I had a 9 am dental appointment in Sebastopol on Thursday and had high hopes for a BBQ lunch after my cleaning. alas, no "que" at lunchtime... but I did come home with the famed OD chocolate cookie, an almond croissant, Gateau Basque, and - my favorite - Parisien — not a bad haul for getting my teeth cleaned at the dentist's... and the friendly staff at the counter confirmed that BBQ Smokehouse had indeed opened on Wednesday evening. I won't wait for another dental appointment to try that -que.

          1. re: Cynsa

            Which no doubt will be sooner than later. Sonoma West times and News article. Sebastapol dentist secretly funds neighborhood pastry shop.

      2. Wow ... just wow.

        Those are the best ribs I've ever had. I just ate too much today and all I could do was taste everything. However, I did scarf that rib down unheated. It is not as large as you described I got the combo dinner with chicken drumstick, 2 ribs, three slices of brisket, two sides and cornbread, The mac and cheese was tasty cold. It has breadcrumbs on top. The cowboy beans, even cold were wonderful. They forgot the cornbread, or we might have mis-communicated.

        It is so good that I am going to actually follow his careful instructions for re-heating even though it is a real exception that I would be that careful re-heating something. However, this stuff demands respect.

        Here's the menu ... didn't get all the prices ... did the best I could

        House made chicken andoulle sausage $5.50
        Smoked Chinese ings 1/2 dozen $5.75
        Smoked trout with horseradish cream
        Smoked salmon
        New potatoes with asagio souffle $4.50

        Dinners (with two sides and cornbread)
        BBQ chicken $9.75
        4 ribs $11.75
        6 ribs $14.25
        Brisket $14.50
        2 meat combo $13.50
        3 meat combo $16.75

        Pulled pork sandwich $7.95
        Brisket sandwich $8.50
        Ziti dinner $10.50
        Mac and cheese dinner $6.75

        Caesar (half or full)
        add chicken

        Mac and cheese $2.75
        the rest were $2.25, I think
        Cowboy beans
        potato salad

        According to the menu "The world's best shortcake"
        Chocolate ice box cake with red wine buttercream

        There were also two specials. I forgot what they were, but they looked good

        Really tempted by desset, but it was a heavy sweet day. Next time. There will be a next time ... and soon.

        6 Replies
        1. re: rworange

          Wow, can't believe you did the Sonoma to Sebastopol run today. Chef Vito is really talented, and he's putting all that skill into making bbq now. When I mentioned in passing that a number of dinner house chefs have announced that they'll be making 'cue as a recession strategy, he wasn't too happy with the news. But I think his product will still be a stand-out . . . especially after reading about Wexler's today. We'll see what Town Hall comes up with. And Rudy Mihal at Odyssey has decided to close instead.

          Can you describe the brisket? That's what I'm most interested in learning about. Do be careful about reheating. After all the investment in cooking low and slow to achieve this end result, you don't want to heat it more than 185 degrees or you'll ruin it.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Well, Fremont Diner does open at 7am.

            I just had a tiny bite cold, so I'll post after I re-heat it. It was very tender with a thin layer of fat on the edge. Cold, it didn't pack the same smoke wallop as the ribs ... but some of the rib flavor is probably coming from the rub. Haven't tried the sauce/jus yet but looking so foward to it. It was jellied when I got it but melted after a while in the car.

            No kidding he discourages sauce for the chicken/ribs. It is a tangy sauce and I have to agree so far that the meat stands on its own. I'll find something else to do with it. The tomato sauce came in a plastic cup about twice the size of a thimble.

            He said as far as the brisket, it could be heated on the stovetop on low. This fortunately is an area that I excel at. I will have to post on home cooking one of these day about my slow-cooking / frying method. I say this with no undeserved praise ... with absolutely no modesty ... I am great at this. That little chorizo crawl I did had its benefits. I know I will cook that brisket to perfection.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              In the end, i didn't heat the rib or chicken. I knew despite my best efforts heat at this point would just ruin the wonderfulness That is saying something that the chicken and rib cold was better than any I've had warm. The mac and cheese isn't the oozy cheesy type, but it tasty. I like those cowboy beans a lot and they are great with Russian River's Pliney the Elder. However, anyone looking for baked beans, these small white beans in a light tomato sauce with heavy accents of celery ... well, these are not sweet baked beans.

              The brisket ... I'd be interested in what you and others think. Though i did an excellent job of heating it ... yes, i did ... I will also be interested in trying the bristket sandwich at the restaurant to see what the intent is.

              It reminds me very much of Gracies in Vallejo where the beef doesn't have a speck of fat in it, there is only a thin layer of fat on the edges and there is minimal, almost undetectable smoke.

              For me, so far, the rib's the thing ... with the chicken next. Looking forward to trying the pulled pork.

              1. re: rworange

                I was in Napa this weekend and decided to check out the new BBQ place. I thought it surprisingly charming, lovingly cooked (high quality meats, smoked for hours and hours!), and overall well executed. I'll be interested to hear what other eaters say. While we felt it was a good, well done bbq, it wasn't something quite yet for me to insist upon my friends with. As a point of reference, I do actually drive to Calistoga for Busters at least twice a year. I think Buster's also has good meats but additionally a sauce that is addictively hot.

                For we two bbq seekers, it was good, but a bit anti-climactic. My co-taster this trip was a friend from the Kansas City area whose personal favorite is LC's in KC. We called ahead, but the answering machine had no indication if it was open or not. I think the website said they were. Turns out they were indeed open, and they do take credit cards.

                Chef Vito's brother was operating the cash register. He said the place just opened (yesterday?) and he was absolutely friendly and took us through the options. We ordered the 3 meat platter--which has all three of their meats: memphis ribs (recommended by them), brisket, and chicken. We got two sides with it (mac and cheese, potato salad) and ordered a third (beans, which were recommended). We got the sweet tea and lemonade (with pureed strawberries).

                Thing we loved:
                Dining environment--semi-outside with clean, red checkerboard (laminate) table tops. Very charming. Clean. Definite feel of "how did you find this place!" Pleasantly cool breeze and shade despite 100 degree weathers on the road outside. Service was great. New local customers were popping in to try it out.
                Cornbread with honey butter. We inhaled this one. Moist, delicate, delicious. It went great with the bbq. I will order more next time in advance.
                Strawberry lemonade: Sweet, cold, and refreshing

                Pretty Good:
                Brisket (very tender and high quality--the poster was correct not to put sauce on that as it was delicate on it's own).
                Baked beans (the good stuff is on the bottom, where the sauce is). I added a bit more bbq sauce, and it definitely tasted great that way too.
                Sweet tea with mint
                Chicken (very juicy and tenderly pink in a good way--tasty). The more I think back on it, the more I liked it... Poster is also correct here that bbq sauce is not necessarily with chicken either).
                Memphis ribs (lean, great toothfeel: firm but tender, definitely long smoked). I could never have executed this at home as they've smoked it for hours upon hours. We ate about half of the ribs (meaning we did not devour them)--dipped it in the two sauces (Carolina vinegar style and regular) to try both. I appreciated the quality, but didn't feel compelled to recommend it to others quite yet. It doesn't have the addictive scrumptiousness for me.

                I'll skip next time:
                Potato Salad (curried? with bits of cucumber--interesting/gourmet, sort of ate it, but stopped eating it once we started filing up.
                mac and cheese: Looked great and creamy. But tasted a bit "old" somehow. Only one bite of this one.

                Checked out the farmer's market a short walk away, and the bbq had a stand there as well. Yes, the restaurant is just starting out, but the family involvement and attention to service makes it well worth supporting, at least to say hi and appreciate foods that have been smoked over long times. I look forward to more knowledgable bbq eaters posting their experiences.

                1. re: creuset

                  How did your Kansas City friend think it compared to KC places (I've had a lot of KC barbecue)?

                  1. re: Mick Ruthven

                    When I asked her (a week later), she said she would gladly go back due to the pleasant eating environment and service--and if the farmer's market was going on that adds extra incentive for the long drive. She thought the food was better than the average, more carefully done, but not enough to drag her off her diet like some places in KC or TX (which is another topic all together). I do hope others try it so we can get more perspectives.

          2. I was near enough today that I went there for lunch. I'll go back because I still assume their barbecue is very good, but I couldn't tell much from the brisket sandwich I had. It came with a very small portion of chopped brisket barely covering a medium-to-small size hamburger bun. It was a really skimpy serving and (to me) chopped is no way to serve brisket. I asked and was told they serve the brisket in slices on the plates instead of the sandwich. As I said, I'll go back but I'll have the ribs or brisket plate, not the why-did-they-do-this brisket sandwich.

            Oh yes, I did like the slaw (a bit like the slaw at Memphis Minnie's but I think I like this one even better) and the pickled veggies that came with the sandwich.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Mick Ruthven

              I was wandering around before seeing a movie and couldn't help but to be curious when I saw a huge smoker next to the theater. I walked over to check it out and got lucky; it turned out they were smoking brisket and the cook said it had been in there for about 16 hours. Whoa. I digress. I asked them how they served the brisket and he said that they offered it sliced as a dinner and also as a sandwich. I wasn't particularly hungry, but after seeing all that meat I decided to spend a few bucks on a sandwich instead of popcorn. I walked around front, past Patisserie Angelica, into their dining area. The entire restaurant seating area is on a cozy patio with only about 25 seats or so. They had some great decorations: everything from saddles to wagon wheels to this funny picture that said something about cowboy poetry. Definitely unique. They had a very friendly girl working behind the counter that was all smiles and after talking with her I confirmed my suspicions that the brisket sandwich was the way to go. I sat down at one of their red-checker tables and relaxed for a few minutes while I waited for my food. I'd been running errands all day and was surprised how quickly I could relax. The patio overlooks a peaceful section of Laguna Park Way and a wooded area that was quite pretty. My food was ready a few minutes later. It arrived in a red basket with paper that was remarkably similar to the tablecloth. Hmmmm. The sandwich was sitting next to a pile of coleslaw and an onion-carrot-cucumber blend that turned out to be a pickled. Kind of a bread and butter pickle taste, but far superior. Oh man, they were good, I'd buy that stuff by the pound if I could! The coleslaw was also a variation on the regular kind; there wasn't any mayo in it and was crunchy, light, and fresh. As I ate the coleslaw, I discovered a small serving of onions by accident. When I asked the girl at the counter, she bounced over and explained that they were brined onions that go on the sandwich. To heck with the sandwich, I could eat them by themselves! I took her advice and put some on the sandwich, just to try it. Ah, the sandwich. It was served on a good sized sesame seed bun and oh boy did it hit the spot. The brisket was tender and smoky and the sauce was perfect. I tried the onions on it and the counter girl was right; they were delicious and went superbly with the brisket meat. As I was eating, the cook that had been unloading all the brisket came out of the kitchen, walked over to me, and asked what I thought of the size of the sandwich. I told him I had no complaints, it was plenty big enough, not to mention the meat had great flavor and texture. Then, his ulterior motives surfaced. He explained that a few people over the past couple of weeks had complained, one had even called back after opening a to go order, that the sandwiches were too small. I assured him that this sandwich was plenty big enough, especially with the $8 price tag and tasty sides. He thanked me and hustled back to the kitchen. I finished up my sandwich, licked my fingers, and hustled back over to the theater. I'll definitely be heading back ASAP to get me some of that fresh brisket.

              1. re: SantaRosier

                That brisket sandwich sounds encouraging. With mine, the bun was barely covered with the way-too-small portion of chopped brisket. Sounds like they've fixed that.

                1. re: Mick Ruthven

                  Yeah the chef seemed to be nervous about asking me, like he had taken some flak about the sandwich before. He said the portion had been made bigger, along with the bun. The only problem was that the meat kept falling off the bun, but I just mixed it in with the slaw and onions and ate it with a fork.

            2. My boss & his wife tried out this place earlier this week.

              She had the chicken, found it too dry for her taste and thought it might have been left over from a previous day (thought it was a 3 on a scale of 1-10). Don't know if they ate it there or took it back to their Sebastopol home & reheated.

              He thought the staff was still inexperienced -- "I should know better than to try a place that been opened less than a month". He advised me to give them more time before trying it for myself.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Stephanie Wong

                This is my first post. I’m not an expert or food critic, ok I do love food and have traveled to almost every US state, in Mexico, and parts of Canada in my 41 years of life. So here is my review:
                I was reading the free paper Bohemian today and noticed and article about Larry Vito and his new restaurant. I dropped by there today for I’ve been looking for a good Que restaurant for a long time now. I’ve tried most of the ones I can find in Sonoma County and this place is by far the best. After learning about true BBQ, when I lived in TX for 5 years and traveled the south, I’ve always been on the look out for a place near home. You know when you have something that is rated to be the best and you always compare everything else to that one time/s? That is how I’ve been rating BBQ since.
                My wife and I had some people over today so this is what I ordered:
                14 Hour Texas Beef Brisket dinner plate: Yes this meat reminded me of the first time I tried it.
                Id say very good and the meat was tender, high quality, juicy, with a nice smoke flavoring to it. As said by previous posters, do not put sauce on this. Real BBQ doesn’t need to be masked by sauces, and this stuff is authentic. Came with 2 sides and Au Jus.
                North Carolina Style Pulled Pork: This meat was very, very, very tender. The meat had a great flavor like the brisket and no sauce was needed.
                Memphis Style Barbecued Pork Ribs: After eating some brisket and pulled pork did not have much room for the ribs, but I did eat two ribs. These ribs are very lean, tender, and have a wonderful smoke flavor like the other meats. The ribs were by the pound and not sure the price but seemed reasonable, bought $25 worth of ribs and got a pretty large rack. I would definitely say worth the money.
                Alex Vito did hand me two sauces, we opted not to use the sauces on everything but I did try it on a few bits. We just preferred to eat the meat the way it was cooked. The sauces were a Carolina vinegar style and regular. The Carolina had a nice kick to it
                The sides we had:
                Larry's Cornbread: Was nice and hot, not too dry or moist, just right. Perfect plain or with butter.
                Texas Coleslaw: Im not a fan of this stuff, ok I dislike it, but my wife loves it, so I asked her opinion. She said it was different since she is used to the mayo versions out there. She did say it was better than normal than what she is used to, it had a really good flavor.
                ► Cowboy Beans: Ok these had a nice bbq flavor to them, but sweet and spicy all at once. I loved them.
                ► Macaroni and Cheese: My two girls devoured this stuff and it seemed to have the right amount of cheese to it. My wife said the noodles were cooked to perfection and it wasn’t overly cheesy.
                ► Red Potato Salad: This is made with red potatoes and oil and vinegar but my wife and I agreed that I was missing something, not sure what but felt lacking. I did drive there for the meat so one little side not perfect was fine by me.
                Over all I think this place was great. Easy access, was just a short drive from Santa Rosa, the dining semi-outside; tables were clean, floor was clean, seats were clean. Next door to the restaurant is the 5 star pastry shop Patisserie Angelica. They made our wedding cake years ago, so I am a bit biased to them. And also next door is a movie theater.

                1. re: Dayesleeper

                  Thanks for the report. I read the Bo article as well, and we're so there, soonest!

                  1. re: Dayesleeper

                    Wow, I feel like I had a completely different experience that most of the posters. I live in Marin and was desperateIy looking for some good BBQ. I went here for lunch yesterday with my SO and it seemed seriously depressing. The staff was arguing with each other while we waited to order. There were just a few other people there. Considering it was 94 degrees out, it was not too unbearable because the tables are shaded. We got a brisket dinner and a pork ribs dinner to share (they do not offer combos) which came with 2 sides and cornbread - I also got a strawberry lemonade (btw they have no ice). The total was $33. I would say you get more for your money with the ribs (the portions are not large), but they were so dry, they don't seem to actually cook the food there (they do microwave though). The poster who mentioned that her kids liked the Mac and Cheese should have tried it herself - no cheese - just a mild creamy sauce and fairly overcooked pasta. The potato salad is just weird and the coleslaw was fine. The best thing on my plate was the cornbread and honey butter (which fares better pre-cooked). I have no reason to go back there. We noticed that they also had a booth at the farmer's market across the street and I wondered if they were just stretched too thin.