Saturday, February 28, 2015

Jamaican jerk shack in ritzy Menlo Park

I am a big fan of Jamaican jerk. I learned of Back A Yard Caribbean American Grill while watching Check, Please! one day. Since I work down on the peninsula most of the week I decided to pay them a visit for lunch one day before work.

The first thing I liked about this place when I pulled up was it's "shacky" appearance. When it comes to ethnic food or BBQ the "shackier" the better! (It usually means the place is family owned and authentic) It's a small joint, just a few tables both inside and outside, so the bulk of their business comes in "to-go" or catering form.

There are three major categories of the menu, Jamaican jerk meals, BBQ meals and seafood meals. The rest of the menu is compiled of a la cart items, sandwiches and salads all incorporating the jerk, BBQ and seafood items. Jamaican jerk meals all come with rice and beans, fried plantains, salad (with ranch dressing) and jerk sauce. Jerk items include dark and white meat chicken, pork shoulder, salmon, NY steak and tofu. BBQ meals are done more American style and come with a side of fries, warm bread and coleslaw. BBQ items include dark and white meat chicken, pork spareribs and Louisiana hot links. Seafood meals come with the same sides as the BBQ and include snapper, catfish and shrimp, all fried. 

I opted for the dark chicken and pork combo Jamaican jerk meal. Both meats were very tender and moist and had beautiful smoke and nice jerk flavor. Because of the spiciness of the meats I didn't need the jerk sauce which to me was a little oily anyway. The rice and beans were cooked with sweet spices and coconut milk and were a nice palate cleanser to the spicy meat. Fried plantains were spiced nicely and sweet but were not very crispy. There is also a very basic green salad that comes along side with commercial ranch dressing.  All of this for $11.95. Great value and bold caribbean flavors. Just wished they had a beer and wine license so I could have washed it all down with a Red Stripe!

Closed Sundays
1189 Willow rd.
Menlo Park, CA 94025
(650) 323-4244

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Great view and respectable BBQ at The Pub

If you're a San Francisco local you tend to stay away from Fisherman's wharf like it's the plague. But what I bet you didn't realize is that there is a hidden gem called The Pub down at Ghirardelli square right smack in front of you in clear view.

After a much needed remodel, The Pub is back open after being closed for 3 weeks. They have brightened the place up by removing the red paint and dark wood and replacing it with much lighter reclaimed wood, white plantation shutters and grey trim.

The backbar is completely made up of mirrors and glass now giving you a perfect view of the bay behind you. The Pub is a great place to come down and watch sports or enjoy some good BBQ while playing tourist. It also serves food until 1:30 in the morning everyday making it a great industry spot or midnight munchie haven.

The Food

On my last visit I was able to try a good sampling of some of the dishes they have to offer on the very extensive menu.

The first thing I had and the last thing I remember was their house-made jalapeño poppers. Let me just preface by saying I do not order poppers, I do not eat poppers and I do not care about poppers. Except for these ones. These balls of gooey, cheesy, spicy deliciousness were so damn addictive I could have put down the entire order myself, made myself sick and not even cared. They basically roast fresh jalapeños, mix them with 3 different cheeses, form them into a ball, bread them with panko and egg wash and deep fry them. They are then served with a garlic aioli that is flavored with pickled jalapeños. Freiken brilliant.

Another app I tried were the very innovative teriyaki pork short ribs. They are basically pork spareribs that have been cut across 3 times to yield these little 2 inch riblets. The Pub braises them and then tosses them in a sweet teriyaki sauce flavored with garlic, ginger and lemongrass.

In the BBQ department I had some legit smoked brisket that was super tender, had nice fat content and was brushed with a citrusy house-made BBQ sauce. I also tried one of their house-made (see a trend here?) hot link sliders topped with pimiento cheese and chow chow. And back in the innovative department, an "american" cassoulet full of smoked brisket, pork and hot links, chicken confit and cannellini beans all tied together with a splash of their BBQ sauce and fresh herbs.

To lighten up the meal a little bit I threw a beet salad into the mix. It was a refreshing break from the meat. Besides the beets the salad included shaved fennel, julienned carrots, arugula, goat cheese and red wine vinaigrette.

So next time your in the mood for some good BBQ and one of the best views in the city outside of The Cliff house restaurant, push your way through the hoards of fanny pack around the waist and cameras around the neck sightseers and visit The Pub. It's worth crossing the city for.

Mon-Fri 11:30am-1:30am
Sat & Sun 10am-1:30am

851 Beach St. 
San Francisco, CA 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Jamaican me hungry

Recently I was inspired to make an authentic Jamaican dinner. After a little research I discovered that because of a few ingredients and supplies I couldn't find here in San Francisco I couldn't technically create a 100% authentic Jamaican dinner but I could get pretty close. Here is my city-que version...

City-Que Jamaican Jerk Chicken

yield - 6 servings

6 ea. Whole Chicken legs, bone in, skin on (for more authentic use whole chickens, butterflied open)
2 1/2 cups Jerk Marinade (recipe below)
1 cup Mesquite wood chips, soaked for 30 minutes in water then strained.

- Marinate chicken in jerk marinade for 2-12 hours in the refrigerator.

- Take chicken out of the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature while you are preparing your grill.
- Make a fire in your grill with mesquite hardwood lump charcoal. (For a more authentic jerk chicken grill you would make a fire with coals and lay green pimento tree wood over the top of the grate, then the chicken would lay on top of that and be covered with a large sheet of metal)
- Once the coals are grey (you are looking for roughly a 300 degree grill or smoker) add your wood chips.
- Remove the chicken from the marinade and place on the grill. 
- Grill Chicken for about an hour, turning and basting with the marinade every 20 minutes until it is cooked through. When you are not basting make sure the grill or smoker lid is on so that you trap in the smoke.
- Let chicken rest 5 minutes on a cutting board. 
- Remove chicken from the bones, discard the bones (save the skin!!!) and rough chop.
- Serve with fresh lime wedges and Scotch Bonnet pepper sauce.

Jerk Marinade (yields 2 1/2 cups)
3 Tablespoons S&S brand Jerk Rub 
5 each Scallions, chopped
5 sprigs Thyme, stems removed and chopped
1 each Habanero chile, chopped, seeds and all (for more authentic use scotch bonnet pepper)
1/3 cup Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Canola Oil
1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1 each Yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup Orange Juice, fresh squeezed
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
2 cloves Garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon, Ginger, smashed

- Puree all ingredients in food processor until smooth.

Jamaican Rice and "Peas"

Yield - 6 servings

2 cups Water
1 can (13.5oz) Coconut milk
2 cups Long grain jasmine rice
1 cup Kidney beans (recipe below), (for more authentic use pigeon peas)
2 cloves Garlic, minced
4 sprigs Thyme, chopped
1 each Habanero chile, whole (for more authentic use scotch bonnet pepper)
4 each Scallions, 2 crushed whole, 2 chopped
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

- Bring water and coconut milk to a boil.
- Add the rest of the ingredients, except 2 chopped scallions , return to a boil then reduce to a simmer.
- Simmer covered 20 minutes.
- Fluff rice with a fork and garnish with chopped scallion.

Kidney beans (yields 1 cup)
1/2 cup Dried red kidney beans, soaked overnight
3 cups Water
1 Bay leaf
10 Thyme sprigs
2 cloves Garlic, smashed 

- Put all ingredients in a small pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
- Simmer 1 hour until beans are tender.
- Let beans cool in the liquid and then strain, remove thyme sprigs, bay leaf and garlic cloves.
- Season beans with salt and pepper

Jamaican Steamed Cabbage and Carrots

yield - 6 servings

3 Tablespoons Canola oil
1/2 each Bell pepper, chopped
1 each Yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 each Cabbage, chopped
2 each Carrots, grated
2 Tablespoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon Black pepper
1/4 teaspoon Allspice, ground
5 sprigs Thyme, chopped
1/2 each Habanero chile, chopped (for more authentic use a scotch bonnet pepper)
1/4 cup Water

- Cook the onion and bell pepper on medium heat with canola oil until soft.
- Add the rest of the ingredients, sauté 2 more minutes then cover and steam for about 30 minutes until cabbage is tender but not mushy.

And here you have it a City-Que Jamaican Dinner.....

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Best in the West Rib Cook Off 2014 Recap

The smoke has cleared, the cookers have all packed up and the results are in. This years annual rib cook off in Sparks, NV was among the best I've been to. I'll start with the official results and move into my personal favorites and opinions of the ribs we tried.........

1st Place ($7500) - Desperado BBQ rib co.
2nd Place ($3000) - Bone Daddy's BBQ
3rd Place ($2000) - Famous Dave's BBQ
4th Place ($1000) - Butch's  Smack Your Lips BBQ
5th Place ($500) - Checkered Pig BBQ

Best Sauce - Porky 'N' Beans
People's Choice - Back Forty Texas BBQ

Rib Eating Championship Winner - This years reigning champ was the world's #1 ranked competitive eater, Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, eating 9.27 lbs of St. Louis style pork rib meat in 12 minutes.

My friends and I tried 12 of the 23 cookers' ribs. Here's what we thought....

Carson City BBQ - 

It was a tough decision at times but these guys were our favorite and who we voted for, for the Peoples Choice Award. Even though they are Nevada's most award winning barbeque company and won our vote sadly they did not place this year. These guys smoke their ribs around 225-235 degrees with hickory pellets in a southern pride smoker for 5 hours and let me tell you the end result is heaven. Super moist and tender meat, melt in your mouth fat with great smoky flavor and a killer sauce.

Bourbonq - 

Out of Kentucky these guys were tied for 1st among my favorites. Although I was not a fan of their famous blue cheese coleslaw I definitely was a fan of their succulent ribs and delicious bbq sauce. 

Back Forty Texas BBQ - 

Based out of Pleasant hill, CA preparing my favorite style of BBQ, Texas BBQ, these guys were my 2nd favorite and also won the People's Choice Award this year.  They too had a very moist and tender rib with a nice bold, smoky and peppery sauce.

The next 4 cookers were all tied for my 3rd favorite...

Chicago BBQ Co. -

Chicago BBQ Co. has been around since the 80's. They have a great smoky rib with great fat content and serve their ribs without sauce (which they really don't need anyway). An excellent rib!

Pork 'N' Beans - 

Located in Port Saint Lucie, FL these guys won Best Sauce Award this year. I remember their sauce being on the sweet side and very good. Their ribs had a great chew to them and came clear of the bone.

Rasta Joe's -

From Rochester, IN Rasta Joe's uses a great dry rub and have excellent texture. We also tried some of their sides, a spicy cornbread, a tasty potato salad and baked beans that were mixed with shredded pork. 

The Barbecue Co. -

From Phoenix, AZ these guys had a nice smoky rib with a slightly chewy texture but came clean of the bone and a raisiny BBQ sauce. 

Our least faves of the group were...

Just North of Memphis -

The owner of Just North of Memphis was pretty bold coming out into the crowd boasting about his "dry rub only" ribs saying that they were the best in the competition because he doesn't "hide" behind his sauce. Although he did have a good dry rub the applewood smoked ribs were chewy and actually better when dunked into their vinegar sauce which was served on the side. 

Kinder's -

From Concord, CA these guys specialize in their sauces, marinades and rubs. Their ribs however were a little dry and in need of salt. They did indeed have a good sauce though. 

BJ's Barbeque -

From Sparks, NV their applewood smoked ribs had good texture but were a little dry and were served with a thin vinegar sauce.

Joey's Texas Originals -

Texas BBQ is usually my fave but in this case the ribs were dry and tough. The BBQ sauce which tasted of white pepper and allspice was not my favorite either. 

Johnson's Bar-B-Que -

I think the only reason these guys made my least favorite list is because their "thermo-nuclear" sauce was like explosive fire in my mouth and completely wiped out my taste buds. Needless to say I could not even taste their ribs. To the people of Chesapeake, VA my advise, order the sauce on the side. 

The Best in the West Rib Cook Off happens every year in Sparks, NV for s week surrounding the Labor Day weekend. Besides trying some of the best ribs in the country there's also live bands, shopping, gambling, great bars and plenty of other types of food to choose from. The weather gets very hot so dress cool and look for the fountains near the retail section of the fair. We like to dunk our heads in it when the sun gets to be to much! See you all there next year!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

BBQ at the Beach

Spending Labor Day weekend this year at my brother's in Santa Cruz. Between hiking in the redwoods and napping on the beach today I happily came across a BBQ joint called Mission St. BBQ. They keep their smokers right out front proudly displaying the fact that they do indeed smoke their meats with wood and fire.

I was one of the first in line at 11:45 am but by noon the entire place had filled up with locals. I guess it's far enough away from the boardwalk that they don't get the tourist invasion. It's counter service so you place your order with the cashier and they bring it out to you when it's ready. Pretty big menu including plenty of good choices of craft beers and wine. I opted for the 3 meat combo which usually means you end up with a trash can lid full of food no single person could ever eat, but at Mission St. BBQ luckily this was not the case. I was able to choose from items like 1 rib, a bite of pulled pork, a bite of tri-tip, 1 chicken drumstick, ect. I thought the idea was brilliant. Especially for a person like me who never just chooses one meat.

Here's what I grubbed on......

The St. Louis style pork rib had a bright pink smoke ring, a light glaze of their bbq sauce (which was really tasty St. Louis style) and a cracked black pepper rub. They were still slightly chewy not coming clean off the bone but were definitely not dry. All in all a good rib.

The tri-tip was surprisingly good. Not because I didn't think they could pull it off, just because most of the tri-tip I've tried in the past has been tough to chew and dry. Their's was not melt in your mouth but it was moist and not tough. Again with a vibrant pink smoke ring and that nice crunchy black pepper rub. They didn't put sauce on the meat and it didn't need it.

The Chicken thigh was nice and moist and tender with a good glaze of sauce that I appreciated. The skin was a little chewy but you can tell it was probably nice and crisp when it first came out of the smoker. It had really great flavor that I kept wanting to come back to.

The sides don't hold a candle to the meats but were good for a little palate cleansing. The slaw was basically just chopped cabbage with maybe a little vinegar on it. I didn't taste much seasoning. The garlic bread I believe might of been on a ciabatta roll and was prepared Texas toast style.

If you are in the area or a local I definitely recommend this place. There's even parking, a city girl's dream!

Mission St. BBQ
1618 Mission St.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(831) 458-2222

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Turkeymania in Greensboro,NC!

It just goes to show you that you don't always have to have a sit down, dine in, full service meal to receive great service. This was exactly the case at Hickory Tree BBQ. We left there, got back into the car to drive home and eat our food and said "that was so much fun, I can not wait to eat this BBQ!".

Hickory Tree BBQ has a long history. It was founded by Joe Rountree who unfortunately went through a heart attack, surgery and transplant right before the restaurant was about to get franchised. Because of these events Joe had to close up his smoker. Luckily for us Joe's wife Joan encouraged Joe to get back to it after he started feeling better. He started with a food truck (which he still operates) which eventually grew to him opening up another brick and mortar location in Greensboro. Joe is known for his eastern Carolina style turkey BBQ.

On the day that we came in pitmaster Rhonda was manning (or "wo-manning") the smoker and taking orders. Her outgoing and warm personality led us right into a conversation about where we were from, why we were there, how is the turkey cooked?, what's your specialties?, ect. She proudly opened up the smoker so I could take pictures. I even ended up on the phone with the current owner Mike who was equally as nice to talk to and (thankfully) talked me into getting the turkey ribs. Talk about going well above and beyond to give your customers great service. To reinforce this they have a poster on the wall that says "smiles and conversation for free", right above a photo of founder Joe Rountree with comedian Mike Epps, who got Hickory Tree BBQ to cater for him backstage before the Greensboro comedy concert.

It took us 15 minutes to get home before we could eat. The smell coming out of that to go bag was intoxicating and I could not wait to tear it open.

As I said this is a turkey BBQ joint so pretty much everything on the menu has to do with turkey. Menu items include turkey BBQ sandwiches, smoked turkey legs and wings, fried wings, fried livers and gizzards and even turkey ribs! Never in my life have I heard of a turkey rib. Basically it entails removing the scapula bone and its associated muscles (meat) from the turkey carcass. And even though technically it is white meat it had a moist tender texture reminiscent of dark meat. These were smoked with hickory and finished with a delicious tangy BBQ sauce. A very memorable first turkey rib experience.

Next we tried the smoked turkey wings. A beautiful almost pink hue compliments of the hickory smoke, tender meat that still had some bite to it and a deliciously salty flavor. Maybe they brine them first?

The turkey BBQ sandwich is also really good! I could totally see myself annihilating a couple of those on a night when I have knocked back a few. It's finely chopped smoked turkey, slaw and vinegar BBQ sauce on a squishy bun. So simple and satisfying.

And just for good measure (and to eat our vegetables) we got some turkey collards. Collard greens slowly stewed with pieces of turkey. We added a little bit of the vinegar bbq sauce to give it an extra kick.

Rumor has it they will be at this year's The African American Cultural Festival of Raleigh & Wake County with their food truck. So if you are going to be in that area during labor day weekend check them out! And if you are ever in Greensboro definitely check out their take-out restaurant. Tell Rhonda and Mike Sarah and Spencer sent you!

Hickory Tree BBQ
2804 Randleman Rd.
Greensboro, NC 27407
(336) 392-3680