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Smokey J's Q House - BBQ in Berkeley

Smokey J's Q House is a new barbecue restaurant in the Berkeley/Oakland border region on Shattuck Ave near Ashby. It is a one man operation (like neighboring Emilia's Pizza, could this be a trend?) run by a guy with great skill and passion for what he does. We saw the little sign while driving by and went back to get take out for dinner. The baby back ribs are indeed smokey and slow cooked with a spicy dry rub. Sauce here, mild or spicy is served on the side. The beef brisket is moist and fall apart tender. Yet to be tried by us are house made hot links and chicken sausages, pulled pork and whole rotisserie chickens. A few side dishes are also available but we did not get any. Prices are, at present, really affordable. Time will tell if Smokey J's remains such a great value. Meanwhile we will return to try the other items, encouraged by the best barbecue to hit this stretch of Shattuck in a good long while.

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  1. This is the funky place that was most recently Taste of Africa.

    http://www.smokeyjbbq.com

    6 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Stopped by last night. I ordered a 3 way combo with ribs, brisket and hot links with hot sauce on the side. With a side of roasted garlic potatoes the meal was $18 and enough food for 2 unless you want to "pig out". The meat was all great. The brisket was tender with good smoke flavor and lots of intense bark came in the order. The ribs were good, although not my favorite part of the meal. The hot links were as good as Ive had, and the hot sauce had a very nice flavor and heat level. Also dont miss the potatoes. They cook them in the rotisserie under the roast chicken and they taste great. All in all I like this place better than others in the area like Tomms, Uncle Willies and Phat Matts.

      1. re: slipson

        I went the weekend before last, so excited to have a new BBQ spot in the area. They didn't have the rib tips when I was there, I hope they will next time because they sound awesome to me. I got the ribs and brisket, which came with some slaw. Sadly my ribs were way overdone, kind of like pork jerky, that being said, they were still much better than the mushy ribs I've gotten from a few Oakland BBQ restaurants. They had a nice smoky flavor, again, better than the mushy steamed bbq places. And the spicy sauce was terrific, I like that they have it on the side instead of trying to hide the meat under the sauce. That's a mark of a good bbq place to me.

        The brisket was really great, best I've had in the bay area. It was moist, smoky & tender. It did have a lot of unrendered fat, but that was easy enough to pull off. The slaw was very simple, seemed like just cabbage and vinegar, it was under the meat so it got some fat on it, which wasn't a bad thing at all. I will definitely be back.

        1. re: rosie7477

          Have been here twice already. Both times I had the brisket sandwich - ok, I'm no BBQ expert but this was fantastic. I liked the fat but my buddy thought it was a bit much - he had ribs which he praised - weren't overdone like previous poster's. The roasted potatoes are also delish. Will be curious to try the smoked whole chicken. Stop by and support this hard-working chef! (note, now closed Mon-Tues.)

          1. re: rosie7477

            >It did have a lot of unrendered fat<

            That doesn't sound good at all to me. Cooked correctly, slow and long, it wouldn't have that unrendered fat left, would it?

            1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

              I've definitely had ribs with a layer of fat. However the ribs at Smokey J's had very little fat -- at least when I tried them.

              The potatoes are cooked under the rotisserie chickens! They include lots of whole, soft garlic cloves. Rustic, but good.

              The spicy sauce is quite hot and very thick -- thick as mole.

              I'd give the place a solid B. Good prices, too.

              1. re: Glencora

                Ribs aren't cooked nearly as long as brisket to melt off fat. The fat on brisket can also depend on how closely its trimmed before smoking and before service. Personally, I prefer to trim the post-smoking fat off myself. Too many places around here cut off too much.

      2. Four of us went last night. Between us we sampled the brisket, pulled chicken, pulled pork, pork ribs, and poultry sausage. Loved everything except the pulled pork, which was fine but on the dry side. I can't comment on the sauces; I had the fall-apart brisket, used the shaker of dry spice rub at the table and loved the clovey, exotic taste. One dining partner detected smoked Spanish paprika. I ate every last piece of my side order of crispy potatoes with garlic and onions, but since they come in a pool of chicken fat from the rotisserie, it's a major calorie bomb and not for everyone. Cole slaw, on the other hand, is mayonnaise-free, healthy, and sweet-vinegary. Both sides were delicious.

        I found the place and clientele a bit upscale relative to most BBQ joints I've seen. One wall is covered with framed clippings of media coverage from Chef J's previous stints cooking in Mumbai! Free watermelon after the meal, and free sweet tea with lime.

        3 Replies
        1. re: sandunga_rbb

          What time were you there? I went pretty early and found the potatoes not as crispy as they might have been, but also not greasy. Other people have complained about the meat being overcooked -- I wonder if that is more likely later in the evening?

          1. re: Glencora

            We got our food about 8:15pm. The potatoes were crispy in places and greasy throughout. But good!

          2. re: sandunga_rbb

            Two of us went on Friday, and again on Sunday.

            Friday - hours after we left, we were thinking about that spice rub. Delicious! We shared the ribs, brisket, pulled pork, rib tips (LOVED IT), pulled chicken, and garlic potatoes.

            Sunday - we tried ordering the rib tips, but were told they weren't being served that day. So we got a full rack for 3 and the frito pie. We didn't finish the rack, but even the next day - it had great depth of flavor and lots of smokiness.

            Note - if you don't like a lot of smoke, be wary of the pulled chicken. It had a lot of smoke flavor that I could see overwhelming some people.

            Also, I preferred the regular sauce to their spicy sauce. Regular has more vinegar tang and seems brighter.

          3. I happened upon Smoky J's yesterday and got their pulled pork sandwich. AMAZING! I was on the way to play a gig at the Starry Plough and wanted a cheap snack. Walked away with a sandwich I can't stop thinking about. The pork was pulled straight from the pork shoulder (as opposed to the typical pre pulled and thus dry and stringy pulled pork I find at most places). A nice bed of cole slaw, a little sprinkling of dry rub and a side of their bbq sauce (which I kept, it's in my fridge).

            I took it back to the club and all the boys in the band buzzed around me like flies. They tried to hit the spot after the show but it was closed.

            Yeah, Smoky J's kicks ass.....

            -----
            Smokey J's BBQ
            3015 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

            1. I got a 2-way combo with brisket and ribs for lunch today.

              Prices are pretty good. The 2-way is $11.99 and 3-way is $14.99. 1/2 rack - $7.99. Full Rack - $14.99. Sandwiches are $5-6 depending on meat.

              Neither meat had any noticeable smoke ring, but the brisket did have a nice bark.

              The brisket was the better of the two. Lightly smokey. It was falling apart tender like pulled pork. Some dry-ish pieces.

              I wasn't a fan of the ribs. Tender yes, but also on the dry side and pretty bland, despite the rub. BBQ sauce was a necessity, not an option.

              I thought it was just chopped cabbage under the ribs, but it was a light vinegary slaw which I liked.

              The woman manning the register and preparing the plates was very friendly.

              2 Replies
              1. re: drewskiSF

                I got the same combo for lunch on Saturday.

                The brisket was overcooked IMO. Fell apart completely but also quite dry. For me, the best brisket (i.e. central Texas places like Snow's, City Market, the Lockhart joints) still has structural integrity and also moist, so it failed on both accounts, at least on this day. I thought the smoke flavor was decent, though. BBQ sauce necessary or else not really edible.

                The ribs I thought were much better. Quite moist. Rub wasn't too bad, though a touch too sweet for my taste. But they were baby back, not St Louis cut, which I prefer.

                I know better than to judge any BBQ place by one visit. Reading all these posts suggests that they've got serious consistency issues, which is probably the hardest thing to do well for any BBQ joint. I hope they'll iron them out soon.

                1. re: drewskiSF

                  Got another 2-way combo. This time ribs with pulled pork.

                  The ribs were night & day vs. the last time. Their was a thicker layer of rub and the ribs were meaty, tender and juicy. Really nicely done.

                  The pulled pork had a stronger smoked flavor vs. the ribs, but the meat was on the dry side.

                2. Had my first visit at lunch today, and the brisket was a knockout: moist, smokey, very flavorful.
                  Hot sauce on the table was quite good.

                  Hope they will maintain the good quality.
                  and hope they introduce some multi-grain bread... (even if it ain't authentic)

                  1. I've had the BRISKET SANDO twice and the HOTLINK once.
                    The first BRISKET order was really good ... the second was a little dry ... see fat discussion in this thread. I had to defer eating the HOTLINK so I cant fairly judge really ... it was ok but not a super fav ... not as good as I remember from from FLINTS. Might be a personal style preference. I think I'd probably have liked the link with a better condiment situation.

                    First day the were out of the ROASTED POTATOES, but just got some today ... they were great! I have to say I felt much better paying them $2 for this side than paying the EMPIRE BUILT ON $4 POTATOES at the other end of SHATTUCK (GREGOIRE).

                    The quantity of meat in the $6 sando is pretty respectable.

                    Will probably try the RIB TIP and NACHO PIE next.

                    Nice people.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: psb

                      Frito pie...Nacho pie just doesn't make sense.

                      1. re: psb

                        Went back again for some rib tips and frito pie. The rib tip sandwich is just huge, I had to basically eat it open faced, because i wasn't able to get my hands around it. Rib Tips had tons for smokey bark, ligaments and meat going from tender to crispt to jerky like. Probably not for everyone, but I loved the variety of textures.

                        And of course the Frito Pie. How have I not had this before!? Loved the combination of frito crunch with the great pulled pork, cheese, jalapenos and sour cream. topped with bbq sauce. and baked. Also a great value for the serving portions. Seems like great football watching food to me.

                        1. re: nicedragonboy

                          This is not the typical Frito Pie which is usually chili based
                          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frito_pie

                          1. re: drewskiSF

                            He did point that out when we were chatting. He said he was inspired by a similar prep he had at a joint in Texas when he was touring the South.

                          2. re: nicedragonboy

                            I drove by searching for this place a few times before I looked at the street view pic on Google and knew to keep an eye out for the much more brightly lit "Berkeley Psychic" next door! I finally found it last night.

                            I had the frito pie, which was much greater than the sum of its parts. I don't even like Fritos, for the record! And I'm still a little dehydrated today, but it was delicious. The pulled pork was a little dry, but the flavor was wonderful. In addition to the ingredients Nicedragonboy lists, there was also cilantro, of which I was dubious, but it really added something unexpected and delicious!

                            1. re: Constant Velocity

                              Since my last post, I've tried the RIB TIP SANDO and FRITO PIE. At the dish level F. PIE has probably been my fav item from these guys. I usually havent been the hugest fan of PULLED PORK, but I'm starting to think a lot of the PP I'd tried before was a little mushy ... this PP was great. RIB TIP was good but I felt it was a bit of a hassle to eat (messy etc) ... that's obviously a very parochial comment and isnt meant to reflect negatively on the product. The F. PIE will probably become my std order there ... and I usually cant pass up the $2 potato side, although they are better with something like sour creme (I didnt have any sour creme so ate them with Lebni).

                        2. New expanded hours: Josh is now keeping the place open 7 days a week.

                          1. Got a three-way with brisket, hot links, and rib tips. For brisket I prefer Uncle Willie's or Memphis Minnie's, and I like Everett & Jones's hot links better, but the rib tips were great. Hot sauce was first-rate, as good as I've ever had. Cole slaw was more like simple cabbage side, good. White bread is a good insulator. Next time I'll probably get a two-way with all rib tips. Good explanation of what rib tips are:

                            http://www.amazingribs.com/recipes/po...

                            Also got the potato salad. It's made with the roast potatoes from the rotisserie, so they're kind of dry and chewy for salad. Wouldn't order that again.

                            Pecan pie was good for that style with the sugar-pie layer. I prefer the nuttier version Angeline's sells.

                            I love the vegetarian section of the menu: "coleslaw, water."

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Have you been to Uncle Willie's recently Robert? I haven't been since March, being reluctant to throw good money after bad given two horrible visits in which the brisket was not even a shadow of its former self, may not even have been brisket and may not have seen so much as a hint of smoke.

                              Both times I got grey, tough chunks of meat with no fat rendered or otherwise to speak of.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                I thought that the rib tips were interesting in that what I usually call the "soft bones" (cartilege, tendons?) were much more tender here that those I've experienced at more traditional rib places like KC. Possibly due to longer cooking.

                                My takeout container of roasted potatoes contained 14 1/2 cloves of garlic that I reserved and have put to use elsewhere. The potatoes made a nice salad with the addition of some tapenade from a Temescal farmer's market vender.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Tried the Frito pie. I was expecting something junkier, it's really good. Next time I'll ask for the spicy sauce and extra jalapeƱos. Too bad they close at 9, that would be great late-night post-bar food. Also got a two-way with a double order of rib tips, as good as before. Way too much food for two.

                                2. I've been here three times now. The first trip was some of the best ribs and brisket I've been able to get in the bay area. Was a little smokey but the bark was amazing and the fat was completely rendered. I was really happy with my meal and thought it would become my official go to spot for BBQ.

                                  Unfortunately, my second trip proved to be completely sub-par. The brisket had zero bark and was total fat. None of the fat was rendered out which I assume means they didn't smoke it long enough or cook it at the right temp for the right amount of time. On top of this I got the rib tips which maybe just aren't my thing but I found them to be overcooked and fatty too (I expected the cartilage).

                                  For my third trip I gave them the benefit of the doubt. Assuming maybe it was just a bad day. This time the ribs were fatty and not even juicy. None of the fat was rendered making them pretty much tough and not enjoyable to eat. The brisket was just a fall of fat without any meat. To me it was inedible.

                                  Overall, I think Smokey J's was a one hit wonder for me. I'm not willing to gamble the money on possibly getting those amazing ribs and brisket I got on my first trip. I'll stick to trying KC BBQ ribs down on San Pablo. I found them to be great.

                                  Ohh yeah, I do like the BBQ sauce at Smokey J's. It's very good with a nice a tomato consistency and balance of tang with sweetness.

                                  1. Hit the joint again on Friday. FIRST - they are open till 9 on the weekend which is BIG UP in that part of town. SECOND - their prices are great. Basically, you want to know if this place is good or not? Drop in, cuz you can try anything on the menu without much investment. I think you'll love it, if you love real dry rub style BBQ.

                                    When I was in on Friday, a group of three couples popped in. They seemed to be regulars, hooking up some food for maybe a dinner party. Just on their enthusiasm alone one could tell this place is the bomb.

                                    And it is. I wish them all the best, and I wish that they were in San Francisco. Please visit Smokey J's, BBQ fans need them to stay in business!!!

                                    -----
                                    Smokey J's BBQ
                                    3015 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                                    1. The three-way with two sides is now $21.99 - good amount of quality food but glad I had a Groupon. The nice worker, Nick, told me Sunday and Thursday (when they have a weekly special of mac n cheese) are their busiest days.

                                      1. I tried the smoked chicken this week. It comes hacked into pieces with dark, chewy, very smoky skin and fairly moist meat. Almost duck-like. The potatoes were greasy this time, with undercooked garlic cloves. I'd get the chicken again, though.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: Glencora

                                          I only just this week tried Smokey J's smoked rotisserie chicken and it is really good. Flavorful but not overwhelming smoke flavor, firm yet moist (heavily brined) texture, well priced ($12). The mixed meat chili is so finely chopped and thick as to be almost spreadable, with a kidney bean here and there, very smokey and rich, almost overwhelming but like the chicken, really good.

                                          1. re: flavorenhancer

                                            good to know. I might give'em a try again. The last few times I ordered the chicken, it was too dry and too salty to eat. So I gave up on it.