Gator’s at The Grill – Starting Next Week in San Mateo
- Melanie Wong Dec 10, 2010 06:33 PM
When I read this post that Gator’s Back Porch BBQ was back in action,
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6843... , I dropped an email to Chef Gator Thompson via Bayonne’s website to see if more details might be available.
Chef Gator responded that he’s been hired as chef consultant/partner at The Grill, 1855 South Delaware St. in San Mateo. He’ll be introducing his BBQ concept there and revamping the place. He plans to expand the menu later. He said that he’s ready to fire up the grill and will start-up some time next week.
He will continue to run Bayonne in San Jose. He also stated that another party is using his name and that he is no longer associated with Gator’s Back Porch BBQ. His own business is Gator’s at The Grill.
This is great news for fans of his BBQ in the mid-Peninsula. I’ve noticed The Grill’s distinctive building in the parking lot it shares with Trader Joe’s and Rite-Aid, just off Hwy 92. Here’s the website for a picture of the A-frame orange roof on the newest BBQ target, http://www.pengrill.com .
1855 S Delaware St, San Mateo, CA 94402
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This is great news Melanie! I last saw Gator a month ago at Bayonne, (which is quite good), and was bummed when he said they would no longer be serving weekday lunch there. I was able to introduce several of my good customers to his menu, and they all loved it! Can't wait to try the new place! As a south Looziana native I really wish there were more good Cajun/Creole places around.
That means a lot coming from you. Talking to him this evening, he seems to be well aware of the criticism that he's California-ized the food too much. He was a line cook at Oliveto during Paul Bertolli's first couple years and considers Bertolli his mentor. Chef Gator said he'd be using Fra' Mani chorizo and andouille. He was weighing adding a muffaletta using Fra' Mani cold cuts, maybe a word from you would push him toward that decision.
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Second verse --- when I saw the post in the other thread linking to an announcement that Gator’s Back Porch BBQ opened on Dec. 12, I shot off an email Monday afternoon to the chef again and heard back from him that the notices were not from him. I asked him to give me a call if he had some time. I heard from him right away, as Bayonne is dark on Mondays. Recognizing his voice was real reassurance. With the rumors flying around, I had started to wonder if his emails were truly from him.
We wound up talking on the phone for nearly an hour about his plans, while I tried to scribble some notes on a shopping bag in my parked car.
Chef Gator said that The Grill’s new owner used to own Family Market, the Persian grocery store right by Dollie Marie’s. After Gator’s Back Porch BBQ/Dollie Marie’s closed shop, many of the customers came into the store wondering how to find him. The market owner figured out that he had a big following. Sachin Chopra, chef/owner of All Spice who took over Dollie Marie’s space and bought his equipment, suggested that he talk to Chef Gator about consulting for The Grill. Chef Gator said he’d just shaken hands, signed the agreement and was ready to get started.
I asked if this would be a pop-up or side operation to the diner’s breakfast, lunch and dinner currently served there. Not at all, Chef Gator said he would have control of the entire menu and the whole kitchen. He’ll be introducing his recipes and training the existing staff. He expects to be working at The Grill during lunch service nearly every day. He said his staff at Bayonne are experienced enough now to handle early dinner prep without him.
He expects to launch his barbecue on the menu on Monday, December 20, at 11:00am for lunch through closing. After a month, he plans to revamp the breakfast menu, introducing his signature corned beef hash (Roberts corned beef, organic sweet potatoes and bell peppers), Fra’ Mani chorizo, and other specialties, and a Southern-style all-you-can-eat lunch once the buffet line is constructed. Then he’ll turn his attention to sandwiches for the lunch crowd. He expects to keep the kabobs currently on the menu for the Persian owner and switching to brown basmati rice. Jokingly I asked him how he makes koobideh (Persian ground beef skewers), then learned that he worked at a Persian restaurant in Fremont early on and is quite comfortable with the cuisine. He knows how to double grind the meat, and matter-of-factly said that while his koobideh is great, the lamb kabob is out of this world. And, while he is interested in using halal meats, the restaurant does serve pork and has a beer and wine license.
I asked what kind of smoker he’d be using. Since this new deal has come together in a matter of days, he’ll be starting off with a big Weber grill so the product might be different than what we’d had at Back Porch. While I was skeptical, Chef Gator insisted that he has perfected a fast smoking technique using a mix of mesquite charcoal and oak for a light touch. He says he’s coming up with his own style of barbecue. He explained to me that he starts off his pulled pork in a bath of Coca Cola, orange juice and milk to retain the juices, then finishes the cooking in the smoker to layer on flavor.
We talked a lot about his journey to healthier cooking, most of which has been reported elsewhere (see bio link). I did wonder how the AYCE buffet fit into that scheme, but to him that presents an opportunity to highlight and rotate through more vegetable preparations and seasonal dishes. Besides changing the line-up of Cajun/Creole-inspired dishes with the seasons, he’s planning on seasonal barbecue. That kind of stumped me, so I asked how he’d barbecue a Dungeness crab. Turns out he is working on a Dungeness crab for his New Year’s Eve menu at Bayonne. The crab’s grilled, seasoned with Cajun spices and jalapeño chiles, then roasted and served with black-eyed peas and drawn butter. The price would be more than what’s in the works for The Grill but he might do one on request there.
Committed to using organic produce, he’s trying to shoot for the top dollar item on the menu to be the three-meat combo at $16. He said the smoked meats will be available for sale by the pound, as well as racks of ribs. He also emphasized that he’ll be selling vegetables by the pound too.
Did I mention that The Grill now has a late night hookah lounge? Chef Gator’s first restaurant venture was a taqueria, so he’s also contemplating adding some Mexican flavors to the plate. It was great to talk to him at this stage when all kinds of new ideas are ricocheting through head and nothing seems to be off limits.
To close, I asked Chef Gator what he’d be doing Tuesday on his first day. He said he’s was going to clean, completely strip down and reorganize the kitchen at The Grill; call his wholesaler, Del Monte Meats, to find out which products can be supplied halal; change the fats in the deep-fryers to rice bran oil; and get an initial menu together to show his new partner. Big day ahead.
Chef Gator’s Bio
All Spice Restaurant
1602 S El Camino Real, San Mateo, CA 94402
re: Melanie Wong
Thanks for the update and in depth interview! Looking forward to trying it out. I'm hoping he's not trying to bite off more than he can chew - while my initial trysts at Back Porch were good, as he started to prepare for Bayonne, the quality of the food suffered tremendously.
Cajun/creole BBQ with possible Mexican flavors alongside koobideh and grilled-to-order crab? Sounds like it could be a hot success or a hot mess. :) I'm hoping it's the former!