East Bay BBQ (and Fried Chicken): Brookfield Food Center in Oakland
After passing multiple times by the sidewalk sign promoting smoked bbq meats near the corner of 98th Avenue and Edes on my way to the freeway, my curiosity finally won out last Thursday. I pulled into the parking lot for a closer look at Brookfield Food Center. A big smoker in the back behind a locked fence seemed encouraging. The side of the building facing the parking lot is lettered in Spanish and I expected to find a Latino market inside. But no, more of a mix of stock reflecting the diverse neighborhood with a food prep area and deli counter lining one wall. The lady behind the counter with the head covering and henna’d hands that seemed like they would not touch pork did not speak much English so I had to hold off my questions about the barbecue preparation.
Displayed in a hot box, the product --- jojo potatoes, barbecue chicken, tri-tip and ribs as well as fried chicken wings and drumsticks --- had to speak for itself. At 4:30pm it was easy to tell that the racks of spareribs looked fresh-out-of-the-smoker and plump with nicely developed bark. The smoked hunks of tri-tip were tempting too. Fried chicken looked freshly cooked and not dried out. I ordered one chicken wing ($1.79) and a lunch size rib plate that came with potato salad, beans and a couple slices of wheat bread for a total of $12.81, including tax. I asked for both hot and regular sauce, on the side. The counter lady hacked the ribs into 2” lengths.
Miraculously, I got over the bridge and back to my place in less than 40 minutes. Everything was warm enough to enjoy without reheating. Still juicy, the chicken wing was very plain, just dusted in flour with little seasoning. Yet, it was cooked just right in fresh oil to yield crisp skin and tender moist flesh. A bit of salt and Crystal hot sauce jazzed it up.
The barbecue presented all the pleasure of a fresh well-cooked rib, juicy meat just tender enough to bite off the bone. The hacked pieces included the chine bone, cartilage tips and all so took some doing to get to the meaty parts. In all, about the equivalent of three spares. But the sweetly porky flesh tinged with light smoke was worth the trouble. Again, not much salt, the seasoning rub seemed to be just paprika, and a sprinkle of salt brought out more flavor. I appreciated that the ribs were not coated with brown sugar, having run across too many candy-sweet ribs lately. I can’t recall the last time I added salt to barbecue and mused that the style here was geared to diabetic and/or low-salt diets. The ribs benefited from a boost from the sauce . . . but anything would taste good in Brookfield’s sauce.
Deep with chocolate-y notes and dark brown in color, tasting more of torrefaction than tomato, the coffee-tinged sauce reminded me of Flint’s signature style. The moderate sweetness of the thick sauce was balanced by a pleasant tang. I preferred the hot version, flecked with chile flakes for a slow, moderately spicy burn that brought out more dimension.
The beans were tender without falling apart but a bit too smoky with a burnt note. Maybe another batch would be better. Potato salad was the mashed up type with minimal mayonnaise and specks of sweet pickles. Once baptized with the holy hot barbecue sauce, those simple potatoes opened up in song.
I’d certainly stop here when I’m in the neighborhood again. Probably only in daylight as this is a tough area. Timing before meal hour when the food is freshly cooked is everything for barbecue and chicken. And I’d plan ahead to have a quart jar handy to buy some of the sauce.
Brookfield Food Center
675 98th Avenue
Oakland, CA 94603