Barbeque advice in the East Bay
I have a visitor coming from Texas this week who wants to sample the best barbeque in the East Bay. I have read a few older posts about Bo's , Smoke Berkeley, and Smokey J's and would appreciate any recent opinions on which of these is currently serving the best and most authentic brisket and ribs.
I was a fan of the old Flint's and have since bought a Fatboy and become pretty serious about my home-made que. As a result, I don't eat restaurant que that often and almost never in our area. On a trip to St. Helena last week, I probably had the best ribs outside of Texas that I have ever tasted at Farmstead. The Chef is from Kansas and was one of the founder's of BarBerQ in Napa. He left because he had no place to install his dream smoker which they allowed him to do at Farmstead (an Oyler Barbeque pit from Mesquite,TX). St. Louis ribs with just the right amount of hickory, perfectly rubbed, tender and juicy without being mushy, generous portions and a mild blue-cheese coldslaw that I found to be a good complement (the 'Napa Valley' touch :-). Overall, it was an impressive que experience and I will certainly be back.
Unfortunately, making the drive up to St. Helena is not an option for my dinner with the Texan this week, which is why I have posted this question.
I'm a Texan who grew up in a BBQ family (rig and all) living in the 510 for 4 years. Just took a crew of visiting Texans to Phat Matt's on Telegraph and all agreed it was delicious. Brisket is full-flavored, smoke ringed, and their sauce is delicious. Pulled pork is a hit as well though more Carolina style. Ribs are also really well smoked and meaty. No throw-away sides. My dad, who is in a traveling BBQ club, said it ranks high for him too.
J's -- tips are good, meat not as smokey as I would like - too light, no rings. Sometimes flavor seems on top rather than in the food. Have had some super great nights there.
Looney's -- I feel bad driving by. Just wasn't too my liking at all.
B-Side-- I'm waiting a bit. I trust Tany Holland implicitly though. Brown Sugar Kitchen just got better and better for me.
Tried Smoke on San Pablo. Liked my chopped beef sandwich, but need to go back to try more.
Just got back from my dinner at B-Side, so here are my impressions while they are fresh...
First a few impressions about the location and ambiance - while the neighborhood is not one of the better parts of Oakland, the restaurant is clean, well organized and nicely decorated. The staff is very friendly, enthusiastic, and eager to please. Service was excellent. The patrons are an eclectic mix that make the environment feel very comfortable and I would not hesitate to take another business colleague to eat there again. At least compared to the old Flint's, this is a much nicer eating environment (I know, I know - no one ever went to Flint's for the environment!) and I would give them an 8 out of 10 (at least for Barbeque joints) similar to the old T-Rex in Berkeley (but much smaller).
I was with a colleague from Texas and here is what we tried:
1 full order of brisket (1/2 each) - $18
1 pulled pork sandwich with hot vinegar sauce (split) - $8.50
1 half order Jerk Spiced Baby Backs (4 ribs - 2 each) - $9
1 half order Dark and Stormy St. Louis Ribs (4 ribs - 2 each) - $10
1 sideYukon Gold Potato Salad - $4
1 fresh berry tart with cinnamon whipped cream - $??
This was a perfect amount of food for the two of us but with three pints of beer total and taxes and tip, the meal cost $75, which struck both of us as too high. For a total of $50 or maybe even $60, we might have felt the food was fairly priced, but $75 struck both of us as too high by 20-35%.
Brisket - the B-Side brisket is the best best brisket I have ever had in a barbeque joint - nice bark, goo 3/16" smoke ring (properly pink), wonderfully moist and tender (the fat could have been slightly more rendered, but much better a bit too moist than a bit too dry), the seasoning was perfect, allowing the beef flavor to fully come through and the sauce on the side complemented nicely when desired. The sides were a small bowl of pickled vegetables including carrots and cauliflower (which was pretty nondescript but a pleasant diversion) and a thick piece of sourdough toast which was a nice starch complement. I would have to put the B-Side brisket right up there as competition-grade and I give then a 10 out of 10. At $18 it is not inexpensive, but for the amount of food and the quality, it is worth it (though for that price, I would have preferred a small portion of potato salad as an included side, rather than the piece of toast). If I go back to B-Side again, it will be for the brisket - this is their sweet spot. Both myself and my colleague from Texas (who knows brisket) rated the B-Side brisket as among the best we have ever tasted and gave it a 10 out of 10.
Ribs - both the baby back and St Louis ribs were a big disappointment. They get some credit for trying to spice them in an interesting and unusual way but these ribs were overcooked and dried out, over-spiced to the point that the pork could not be tasted, and there was very little meat on them.at $9 and $10 for 4 dried-out meatless ribs each, we both felt the ribs were a rip-off. Especially after having just come from Farmstead in St Helena where I have had the best restaurant ribs I have ever tasted, these ribs were substandard. Both my Texan colleague and I commented that we would prefer the average ribs from a Tony Roma's or any other chain to the ribs served by B-Side and we both give their ribs a 3 out of 10.
Pulled Pork Sandwich - I have only occasionally had pulled pork in a restaurant and it has never come close to the pulled pork I smoke at home, so my standards are probably higher than most. That being said, the pulled-pork sandwich was very average for a restaurant - very stringy and slightly dried out and overspiced to the point that the pork flavor could not be tasted (which might be partly our fault as we selected the 'spicy vinegar' sauce). At $8.50 it was fairly priced for the amount of food but we both gave the pulled pork sandwich a 5 out of 10 as being nothing out of the ordinary.
Potato Salad - another disappointment. More 'spiced mash potatoes' than potato salad, the flavor was good but the texture was wrong (completely blended like mashed potatoes rather than chunky as it should be) and was also too dry for my taste. The flavor and spicing were good enough that I will give it a 5 out of 10, but for $4 a helping, they should be able to make a much better potato salad than this.
Berry Tart - this was their special of the evening and I am happy to report that we ended our meal n a high note - the berry tart was excellent - fresh, tart, complemented nicely by the cinnamon whipped cream. I am not sure what we paid for it as it is not on the menu I took home, but it was a delightful way to end the meal and it was probably the best dessert I have had in a barbeque joint. 9 out of 10.
As I have already said, I will go back to B-Side again but only for the brisket. The pulled pork sandwich for lunch may be worth an occasional try as well but the brisket is where you can find a heart-of-texas barbeque experience here in the East Bay. Avoid the ribs until they learn how to cook them to tender without drying them out and tone down the spice so that you can taste the flavor of the pork (I had asked for my sauce on the side but they 'don't do it that way). Overall, I really liked this place and I am rooting for them. If they can learn to perfect ribs the way they have perfected brisket, they will develop a growing and loyal clientele. For the prices they are charging, they should review the sides they are including and the size of the portions (especially the ribs) since we both left feeling a bit ripped-off (except for the brisket) and that is never a good way to build a successful business...
I'm a Texan who has lived between Texas and the Bay Area for a long time, and I totally agree with fafrd's review of B-Side. Brisket: Awesome. Everything else: Not so much, especially considering the price. I'll add that the collard greens were way undercooked and weirdly spicy to the point of being inedible. Still, I would go back. Only for the brisket though.
I'm not sure that's the best use of a Texan visitor's stomach capacity. Might be a little like taking a Californian to Dallas's best dim sum.
I haven't had any really good spare ribs or St. Louis ribs in the East Bay since T-Rex went downhill.
I was impressed by Smoke's brisket. Lunch only. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/820072
I've had great brisket at Uncle Willie's but haven't been there in a few years.
Smokey J's not so much, I liked their rib tips but they dropped those from the menu. Now they make only baby backs. Why does anyone make baby backs? Brisket was not as good as Smoke's. Fantastic sauce. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/789133
The latest buzz is about B Side in Oakland, I haven't been there yet. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/823501
I haven't tried Great American in Alameda, either.
Looney's did not impress me at all.
Relatively recent report on Bo's: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4848...
There are so many regional traditions that simply saying "authentic" doesn't mean anything to me.
re: Robert Lauriston
Robert, thanks for the toughtful and comprehensive reply.
My Texan colleague and I have eaten ribs together in Melbourne, FL at a place called 'Smokey Bones' and while we both rated them as very average (and typical), I'm sure we can do better here in the East Bay. He's heard so much about good Oakland BBQ (probably from Flint's glory days) that I need to do the best I can. From the recent reviews it sounds like BO's has gone downhill (and I was not thrilled about the idea of driving to Lafayette for dinner anyway), and Smokin J's sounds like it is very inconsistent and can be hit-or-miss... So I think we are going to try BSide, both because it is relatively new, does not yet have too many reviews, and what I have read, sounds pretty promising. Will let everyone know what I think after our dinner...
p.s. if you have not yet been to Farmstead in St. Helena for St. Louis ribs, I highly recommend it. Finally managed to upload the photo I took of their smoker... It's too long of a drive to make a trip just for the BBQ, but if you are ever up that way I do not think you will be dissapointed
Flint's went downhill around 15 years ago, that's a long time for Oakland to be coasting on its repuatation. The only place I know to get ribs close to that good around here these days is Memphis Minnie's.
Have you seen the reports about Double D? Seems like one of those places where you have to be lucky or magic to catch them open.
I think Smokey J's is consistent, they just don't make spareribs and there's better brisket around. Their Frito pie with pulled pork is awesome.
Everett & Jones makes great hot links. Their other stuff's passable but not impressive.
re: Robert Lauriston