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Gator’s at The Grill – Starting Next Week in San Mateo

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 .

The Grill
1855 S Delaware St, San Mateo, CA 94402

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  1. Great news since this place is 5 minutes from my house. Thanks for the heads up!

    1 Reply
    1. re: emmisme

      Lucky you, please do let us know how the food is. As of today, the revised launch date is next monday, 12/20.

    2. 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.

      1 Reply
      1. re: bayareatiger

        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.

      2. 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

        4 Replies
          1. re: L C

            I made a quick call to The Grill now, just checking in case there might be some bbq available today. Think I talked to the owner (male voice, vaguely Middle Eastern inflection) who said that BBQ would start on Monday. So sounds like things are on track.

          2. 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!

            1. re: alina555

              The restaurant seats 140 and is going to be a challenge size-wise, if things take off, let alone a complicated menu. But I do love the chef's wide interests and palette of flavors to dabble with. Should be a fun romp.

          3. Third verse --- Friday afternoon I stopped by The Grill on my way back to the City. Guess I needed not only to hear the chef’s voice but also to see the site and any signs of preparation for Monday’s launch. And there it was. A big banner displayed streetside announcing that Gator will be coming soon.

            Inside The Grill, I asked the cashier for Monday’s barbecue menu. Not ready yet, but she offered me a discount coupon showing what would be available. Here’s a photo of the front and back of the coupon.

            I spotted Chef Gator’s cousin, Brenda who said that they’ve been hard at it getting ready for Monday, December 20. She confirmed the planned menu, shown below, transcribed from the coupon.

            Gator’s at The Grill Southern BBQ
            (All plates come with your choice of (2) side dishes and honey cornbread)

            Note – Your choice of (1 meat - $10.00) (2 meat - $14.00) (3 meat - $16.00)
            Maple smoked beef brisket
            BBQ pulled pork
            BBQ mesquite smoked pork ribs
            ½ BBQ mesquite smoked chicken
            BBQ beef hot links

            Pineapple cole slaw, $4.50
            Grandma’s down home red potato & tomato basil salad, $4.50
            New Orleans style red beans and brown rice, $6.50
            Down home Southern collard greens, $6.50
            Mama Pearl’s fried cabbage w/bacon, onion & carrots, $6.50
            Chicken & Cajun beef sausage jambalaya, $8.00
            Extra corn bread (1 pc.) $1.50, (3 pcs.) $3.75, (6 pcs.) $6.00

            BULK BBQ
            Slab of pork ribs, $28.00
            Beef brisket, $10.00 per pound
            Pulled pork, $9.00 per pound

            9 Replies
            1. re: Melanie Wong

              +1. Great menu. Awesome work staying on top of this. I'll be checking it out the week after x-mas.

              1. re: mikeh

                Thanks. I doubt that I'll be in there the first week either, so somebody else will need to let us know how these intentions play out. Oh, and it would be good to start a new thread for reports.

                I'll mention that I did get an order of the dolmas to go. I saw them in the refrigerator case and thought that the price posted on the overhead menu, something like $4.50 for 5 pieces, seemed a bit high. But my serving had 7 or 8 dolmas in it along with an excellent green-tinged yogurt sauce full of fresh herbs. They're not made in house but the dolmas are very good.

                1. re: L C

                  I had asked Brenda if Chef Gator and Todd were working together on this new venture. She wisely sidestepped the issue and said that was between them.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Hopefully they made peace, at least during Xmas.
                    Happy holidays Melanie!

                2. re: Melanie Wong

                  I came by last night to give it a shot and was disappointed to learn that the BBQ menu does not go into dinner. The Persian folks behind the counter said it was only for lunch time. Does anyone know when it will officially go into dinner service?

                  1. re: alina555

                    Yeah, the BBQ is only open for lunch 11am-3pm, the cashier told me that dinner service starts next week. But who knows, they might decide otherwise because of the holidays. They don't do a good job about advertising or providing updates when they change their minds.

                    1. re: L C

                      I was able to visit them for lunch today and asked about their schedule. It didn't really seem like they knew what they wanted to do, except that "down the road" they were looking at doing an all you can eat Southern buffet, and that dinner service would eventually become a regular event. Kind of lines up with what my experience at their Back Porch BBQ was - they would tell me they'd be open certain days/hours and then change their mind (or I guess Bayonne came into the picture). It boggles my mind how a chef/restauranteur with this much experience could still seem like such an amateur when it comes to business venture choices and decisions.

                      Oh, but the BBQ meal I had was good. :) A bit cold, but still good nonetheless. I was still able to taste the smokiness on my lips an hour later. I'm looking forward to trying out the full menu....whenever and whatever that looks like!

                      1. re: alina555

                        Nice update. I hope they get their act together, so that this venture lasts longer than the original Back Porch BBQ.
                        Have a Merry Xmas!

                3. Just finished having lunch at "The Grill" (soon to be "Gator's".
                  Loved it=)

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: klee007

                    We were just there as well and it was great! Gator said he's still ramping up and we hope to see his fried catfish and mac 'n cheese the next time we go.

                    1. re: timhu

                      Thanks to both of you for the quick feedback. Tim, what did you order? K, that looks like ribs with a side of greens and jambalaya? Pls tell us about the jambalaya, I've not had it.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        I had the beef brisket, collard greens and jambalaya. All were really tasty and reminded me of how long it has been since I had good BBQ. You could tell it was opening day, but everyone was in good spirits and Chef Gator seemed pleased in front of the weber.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          We had the jambalaya, Melanie, and it wasn't very good -- mushy and not much flavor. The other dishes, however, were quite good. I really liked the smoky ribs -- I also liked the hot links' coarse texture and good flavor -- Gator makes a really good sauce that complements both the ribs and the links. The collards were also good, and the red beans and brown rice was very tasty.

                          And, by the way, Gator told me that he was changing some other things at lunch. The burgers will be served on Brioche buns and he's adding some Southern breakfast items like grits, maybe even shrimp and grits (I hope!)


                          1. re: Nancy Berry

                            Good to have you posting again, Nancy. I asked my brother to meet me there on Friday for barbecue and we were not so pleased. Yes, this was the first week of operation, but perhaps the lesson is to avoid the days when Chef Gator is not on site until the staff have more experience.

                            I arrived at 11am, ahead of schedule, and parked right in front of the Weber smoker as shown here in the hookah tent adjoining The Grill in San Mateo. Not picking up any scent of smoke when I cracked open the window, I walked over to the grill to put my hand over it and poke my nose in. The coals were burned down and cold. There was no lingering smoke aroma. Granted it was a cold day, and it’s possible the smoker had cooled off that fast, but it seemed odd to me that the smoker would not be in use at this hour for lunch service. So, from the car, I called the restaurant to be sure that barbecue would be available that day, and if not, I could inform my brother to turn around. The person who answered the phone confirmed that barbecue would be served from 11am to 3pm.

                            Once my brother arrived and we went inside, I asked Brenda if the barbecue was cooked that day since the smoker was cold and seemed like it had not been used. She said that the barbecue was made today (Friday) so we ordered.

                            Using the coupon, we each picked a three-meat sampler with three sides and a drink and were able to try everything. For William: ribs, pulled pork, brisket, greens, jambalaya, and cole slaw, plus cornbread and butter. The cabbage and bacon side was not available. Sauce ladled over is standard operating procedure. http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

                            When I saw his plate, I rushed to the counter in time to have my sauce on the side.
                            My 3-meat combo: 1/4 chicken, hot link, brisket, red beans and rice, potato salad, and greens. And I helped myself to a couple pickled banana peppers on the side to add to the greens.

                            The highlights: both sauces were delicious. Greens were as good as ever with nice texture and a little bit of pepper vinegar brightened the flavor. Red beans were on the thick side but tasty served over non-brown rice. I especially liked the zesty potato salad, a blend of some mash with potato chunks, well-seasoned and crunchy with celery. The hot link didn’t seem to have spent any time in the smoker but was fine as is.

                            The letdowns: brisket, chicken, ribs, pulled pork, jambalaya, and pineapple slaw. The brisket was overcooked, dry, and fell apart when I touched it with a fork. The pulled pork was parched, leathery, and had the cardboardy flavor of meat that has been reheated too many times. I chewed on the dark ends of both the brisket and pork trying to find some smoke flavor on the edges and couldn’t taste any. The chicken drumstick was OK with papery, well-salted skin and a bit of grilled flavor. The meat of the chicken thigh had no smoke penetration or flavor of any sort, and was mushy, falling apart and devoid of moisture. The ribs were quite meaty and mostly edible. However, the ribs’ bark (outside crust) was too tough to bite through, and there was no smoke influence. The bland slaw had no salt, acid, or hint of pineapple. The jambalaya was muddled and had no personality. The cornbread no longer had a honey glaze and was the dry, gritty style.

                            This shows the leftover food we left behind, much as I hate to waste food. The pork, chicken and brisket were DOA and dumping sauce on them wasn’t going to make them palatable.

                            Day 5 of the BBQ launch at Gator's at the Grill in San Mateo was pretty disappointing. The brisket and ribs I tried in February showed a lot of promise. What we were served was nothing like that.

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              I really wanted to like The Grill, but my first experience left a lot to be desired. I went there a week ago Friday. Here's my story sad, but true... Running around doing errands in San Mateo. It's lunch time. I'm hungry. Didn't I hear Chef Gator is cooking at The Grill? Two menus are up as I enter - one Middle Eastern the other BBQ. The owner is in a very heated discussion with Chef Gator. Hostess hands me what she says is their new menu and says to sit down and someone will come take my order. I sit and decide. 5 minutes goes by and still no waiter, no water, no cuttlery. I look accross to the other side of the restaurant (owner and Gator still arguing) and see people over there who seem to be eating. 10 minutes has gone by and I'm thinking maybe I should move to the other side of the restaurant. In a couple more minutes 4 guys show up, looking like they came out of an office somewhere. The same hostess walks them over to a table near me, brings them their menu and asks whether she can get them something to drink. Another waitperson comes over immediately and brings them napkins and cutlery. I'm very irritated now. Picked up my things and left. Noticed on the way out the argument was over, but the owner was sitting right opposite Gator watching every move he made.
                              Disfunctional... rude..
                              I will go back and give them another try and hope this was just a bad day.

                              The Grill
                              1855 S Delaware St, San Mateo, CA 94402

                              1. re: dbrosin

                                Whoa, that must have been unpleasant! As much as we foodies love the scene, nobody wants to see dirty laundry in public. More than enough to keep me away!

                                1. re: dbrosin

                                  Crazy and unprofessional, out-of-control chef egos. Hard to see where this consulting relationship will go and what, if anything, will ultimately happen to the menu. Rather than "quixotic" as the e-mail headlined, Gator seems a little more like the phoenix rising out of the ashes of the previous places. Sad...

                                  1. re: heart2bake

                                    Do you think you may be speculating a little?

                                    1. re: poser

                                      Perhaps, but I am in the industry and know some history here.

                      2. Chef Gator started his 9.99 AUCE Southern lunch buffet and 12.99 dinner buffet which includes two hand carved meats. Drink and dessert included. Go check it out now.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Todd510

                          Can you give us some idea of the spread of side dishes and desserts available? Is it in the same location (The Grill)?

                          1. re: mikeh

                            Yeah same location as the grill. 9.99 Lunch special includes two proteins fried catfish and oven fried baked chicken. Sides. Mac and cheese, cheesy grits, collard greens, red beans and rice, greens beans and diced tomato, jambalaya, green salad, few more he rotates em out daily with other sides. Dinner you get the same as lunch plus two hand carved meat. Oven roasted turkey and roast beef is what I've seen. Says he'll rotate those out to but who knows. That's 12.99 for dinner. Dessert is just plain chocolate cake. Drink included in the price. The BBQ will be back up to par here shortly as well.

                        2. The gator drama continues. He is no longer involved with the grill in san mateo. Or Down Home Buffet. And is pulling his product from the location.