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Oct 29, 2013 11:02 PM

Bitters, Bock & Rye: A bar with 'cue [San Francisco]

Lots of buzz about this Polk Gulch bar that started a couple weeks ago as they were softly opening a new, expanded dining area. They are now offering a menu of house-smoked BBQ in addition to a handful of specialty cocktails. I stopped in for dinner and drinks prior to a GAMH show last week and was overall quite pleased.

Happy hour specials run from 4 until 7 and are quite good. Specialty cocktails are $2 off, All beer (drafts & bottles) are $1 off, and sandwiches are also discounted either $1 or $2 (can't remember as I didn't have one). I had a Smoked Jalapeño Margarita, which was nicely balanced, though the (smoked) paprika salt rim was gratuitous.

But let's get to the 'cue: I shared a three-meat plate with sausage, brisket (choice of fatty or lean, I chose the fatty), and pork ribs. All plates come with two sides, and we had collard greens and hush puppies, and opted to split an appetizer of mac & cheese (also offered as a side, but not all sides are offered separately). The mac & cheese came out in a mini-skillet and was beautifully creamy, though could have used a touch more seasoning. The meats were pretty good; the brisket shined best: beautifully smoky and fatty, as ordered. Sausage was well-spiced if not a touch overcooked, and the pork ribs suffered a strange duality of having an almost impenetrable bark with some decently moist and flavorful meat underneath. Collards had a great vinegary tang and the hush puppies were tender and flavorful, maybe leaning toward a touch too onion-y. Meats come unsauced, but a four-pack of housemade sauces arrives with your food, including (if I can piece them all together again) a mustard sauce, a NC vinegar sauce, a sweeter Texas bbq sauce, and yep, can't remember the other one.

Prices are reasonable, and the bar is well-stocked. Rumor has it they'll be brewing their own beer soon (you can see a couple of tanks in the bar area).

Eager to hear if others have tried this yet.

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  1. I stumbled upon this place during their soft opening phase with some friends. We had a great time. I'm looking forward to checking them out again. But to me the jury is out about the food.

    The cocktails were tasty, the beer selection quite good. Service was warm, friendly, and attentive. Our sides and starters were all very good. And of our four entrees, two were good, the shrimp and grits were just OK, and my ribs were disappointing. Overcooked and over smoked, to my tastes - and I don't normally object to a heavy hand with the smoker. It was not a case of an over tough bark, just dry and overdone. We arrived late, around 10:00, so maybe the ribs spent too long in the oven? Like I said, we enjoyed ourselves and I'm looking forward to trying them again.

    1. BBR has been on my list to try since your posting. Then this notice of Friday's Crawfish Boil finally pushed me over the threshold.

      After 10:30pm on Friday night, the Tap Room was nearly full. The quieter restaurant and bar side had plenty of table seating. I liked my Grandpa's Mule, $8, to wash away the week. And the ginger beer baseline turned out to be a refreshing cocktail to accompany the food.

      Deviled eggs to start, 3 halves for $5. For our choice of topping, we got one of each: chow chow, pimento cheese, bacon marmalade. Even though I don't normally like pickles with deviled eggs, the chow chow was my favorite. The pimento cheese was too spicy and not enough contrast with the yolk, and the non-crispy bacon could not overcome that starting deficit. The eggs were on the small side, perhaps Medium grade.

      Fried okra with jalapeño aioli, $6.25, was our favorite of the night. Made with fresh okra, sliced lengthwise, somehow this moderated the slime better and gave them a fry like shape for easy dipping. The golden brown batter was very light and flaky. The serving's too big for only two people to share, a good problem to have.

      We had a long debate over which barbecue plate to try. Ultimately we picked the brisket, $16.50, because a choice of lean or fatty was offered and the menu said that it's served without sauce to show off the smoked flavor. My brother said it was great to not face a blank stare from a server when requesting "fatty". I did ask for one piece of lean for comparison. All were tender enough, a bit overcooked (judged via the pull test), and not cut across the grain but rather on the diagonal or with the grain. This changes the taste and makes the texture mores stringy. The fatty was indeed as named and the lean had a strip of fat on the edge but was otherwise pretty dry. But we found the beef lacking in seasoning rub or much smoke even chewing directly on the blackened crusting. I tried the Texas sauce and the BBR sauce made with beer and liked them both. I forgot to sample the Carolina sauces.

      Cole slaw was decent. We especially liked the collard greens, slightly sweet and cooked with ham hocks. These still had some integrity, not cooked down to mush. The baked beans with bits of brisket were undercooked and too hard. On the side, some pickled jalapeños and shaved red onions were provided.

      The main event, crawfish boil with smoked sausage, corn, green beans, and potatoes, $15.75, was big enough to share. And being out of practice on sucking and pinching, half a portion was enough work for me. The crawfish were on the small side, so the payoff was small too. But this was quite enjoyable, and for once, this came with plenty of drawn butter dusted with spice. The sausage had given up everything to the pot. The yellow corn and the creamy red potatoes were that much tastier for its sacrifice. The green beans were too old and starchy. I asked the source of the crayfish, but the chef had already left for the night and no one could answer my question. Our server said the previous week's came from Louisiana.

      I'd love to hear other reports.