Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Good local BBQ alert

The city of Hayward, located in the east bay, is full of 50 year old (plus) restaurant gems. It took me a few years of driving through to finally walk into one and now I want to try them all. If your into burgers Val's and 1/4 Giant burger are as good as it gets for simple no fuss burgers and shakes. But to my surprise Hayward is also home to an awesome rib joint, Emil Villa's Barbecue.

I was a little skeptical walking into a BBQ restaurant that coined themselves as "California BBQ". In my experience that term either ends up meaning grilled meats or half assed bbq. But to my delight it actually meant really delicious!

The style of BBQ that Emil Villa's acquired 60+ years ago was introduced to the founder by native americans (the technique was invented by the Kiowas, Arapahoes and Utes indians). Heavy on the smoke and mopped during the cooking process with a solution they called "lassyemma". Emil's serves their meats sauce on the side to showcase the bark and smoke ring they work so hard to produce.

The smoker at Emil Villa's

Ribs - Besides the pies this is the number one reason you come to Emil's. They serve three styles: Emil Villa's signature ribs (which are spare ribs), st. louis style ribs and baby backs. Their signature ribs are the most moist and flavorful out of the three. Although, all three styles are properly cooked. Tender pork that still has a little bit of chew so that it comes clear off the bone but doesn't fall off the bone. The bark is there, the smoke ring is pronounced and the smoky flavor is heavenly.

Tri Tip - Called "sliced beef" here was surprisingly good. In my experience with tri tip it is usually tough and chewy. They ask you which temperature you would like it. We said medium rare and it came out exactly that and wasn't at all chewy. Not sure if it was because it was slow cooked or very thinly sliced but it gave me a new appreciation for the cut. 

Smoked Pork Loin - Unfortunately the slices we received were extremely dry. Not their best showing.

Brown Sauce and Red Sauce - Your server will ask you if you would like these sauces to accompany your smoked meats. The brown sauce is a thick au jus that tastes of beef bouillon cubes. I didn't find a need for it anywhere in the meal. The red sauce however is a very tasty BBQ sauce. Sweet, smoky and vinegary with a hint of black pepper. Good for dipping ribs into.

Sides - Ive tried three sides here. All good. Pit smoked beans are nice and smoky with just the right amount of sweet and spice. The coleslaw comes with a horseradish-honey dressing ladled on top so that you can mix it in right there at your table leaving it nice and crunchy and not wilted from hours sitting in a reach in. Potato salad is also great here, red potatoes mixed with mustard, mayo and relish. Simple and well balanced.

24047 Mission Blvd
Hayward, CA 94544
(510) 537-0734
7am-8:45pm daily

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Strip mall BBQ. Good or Bad?

I was always one to shy away from chain BBQ restaurants. To me they lacked soul, personality and cooking technique. The chain that changed my mind a few years ago was Famous Dave's. They have restaurants all over the U.S. and last year at The Nugget Rib Cook-Off in Reno they placed first. Dave's restaurants are vibrant, fun and the food is actually really good (and also served on actual trash can lids). So because of Dave's I no longer shy away from trying out chain BBQ restaurants. Sometimes its worth it and sometimes you walk away with your original gut feeling, that they just don't have the same charm and love as the mom and pop shacks do.

photo from Shane Rib Shack's website

Enter Shane's Rib Shack. Shane's like Dave's has many many locations all over the U.S. We recently went to their Greensboro, NC location. From the moment we walked in it felt like a corporate operation. It had all the elements of a bbq shack, paper towels on the tables, house made bbq sauces, counter service and checkered table clothes. Yet it lacked anything that made it feel special from any other bbq shack and an overall personal identity.

Now I don't want to make it seem like Shane's is all bad. The place is clean, well equipped with everything you need (except beer!), has good service and pretty good food. But there is one more major flaw I need to point out that I am very confused about. Shane's says they slow smoke their meats daily. Yet neither the ribs or the pulled pork smelled or tasted of smoke and the ribs had no smoke ring. 

Shane's famous ribs were very tender and flavorful but like I said, no smoke flavor and a little overcooked and stringy although surprisingly moist. I actually did like them but not for the reasons why I like ribs from a bbq shack.

Pulled pork was the same story. Very moist and had good flavor but didn't much taste like BBQ. 

Shane's makes their own hot sauce which is pretty good. Similar to a Texas Petes.

They also make four style of BBQ sauce. Original which is sweet with hints of white pepper and vinegar, Spicy which is like original but just a bit spicier, Mustard which pretty much just tastes like a bottle of yellow mustard and Honey which was surprisingly tasty. Unfortunately they all tasted fortified with corn syrup.

All meats come with toasted wonder bread covered in margarine and a choice of two sides. We had creamy coleslaw, red potato salad flavored with mustard, mayo and pickles, syrupy sweet baked beans and crispy fried okra.

Will I keep trying out chain BBQ restaurants? Probably. Sometimes in any given city that's your only choice. But they will never beat out that shack on the side of the road, family operated, inside walls stained brown from wood smoke with a friendly toothless smile behind the counter. Nothing beats it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Whole Hog BBQ in Raleigh, NC

Downtown in the state capital of North Carolina resides the legendary The Pit Authentic Barbecue. They still make BBQ the traditional eastern North Carolina way, whole hog smoked over a pit of hard wood, pulled or chopped and mixed with vinegar sauce. In addition they also serve western style North Carolina BBQ which includes pulled pork, ribs and beef brisket with a tangy sweet tomato-based sauce. The hogs they smoke are free range from local small farms and the produce they use is locally farmed as well. You can tell by the quality of the food it has been handled with care from beginning to end.
photo from The Pit website

The Pit has a huge menu for a BBQ shack, luckily there where four of us so we were able to attack most of it. Here's what we had....

Chopped BBQ, eastern NC style - Seeing as this was what this place was known for I had high hopes. To my delight this was hands down the best thing we ate. Super moist, mixed well with eastern NC style vinegar BBQ sauce (although I gave it another good dousing) with a beautiful smoky flavor. All meats come with  the obligatory hushpuppies, a really great biscuit and two sides.

Beef Brisket - This could not hold a candle to their chopped pork BBQ. And ever since I had brisket in central Texas I have to admit that I'm sort of a brisket snob. Theirs was from the lean end, which is not my fave and was a little dry from lack of fat, all though tender.

Barbecue Chicken - Nice and moist with a glaze of their western style NC BBQ sauce.

Baby Back Pork Ribs - Great smoke and flavor. A little too fall off the bone but still moist and glazed with western style NC BBQ sauce. 

BBQ Sauce - In North Carolina there are two styles of BBQ sauce. Western, which is dark brown and thick consisting of tomato, molasses, vinegar and what tasted like apple butter. And Eastern which is basically distilled white vinegar seasoned with chile flakes, black pepper and garlic. 

Sides - All the sides where great. The vegetables where fresh and everything was properly seasoned.
  • Heirloom Cabbage Collard Greens - These were fantastic. The greens where cooked long enough so that they were tender but still held their integrity with a delicious tang of vinegar.
  • BBQ Baked Beans - Cooked with brisket burnt ends and a nice hint of spice. Again, beans where cooked perfectly holding there shape, not mushy. 
  • Mac & Cheese - The cheese sauce on the macaroni was a little grainy but flavor was decent and was covered with melted cheddar cheese.
  • Potato Salad - An excellent version made with relish, hard cooked egg, mayo and a touch of mustard. 
  • Coleslaw - Creamy style, not what I'm used to seeing in North Carolina but pretty good. 
  • Fried Okra - Tasty okra, breading could have been crispier.
  • Creamed Corn - Made in house with sweet corn. Really tasty. 

Desserts - Are HUGE here, but not the highlight of the meal. 
  • Banana Pudding - The vanilla custard was good but the sliced bananas were brown leaving it a little undesirable to look at. They make theirs topped with toasted meringue (I prefer whipped cream).
  • Carrot Cake - Iced with molasses cream cheese frosting and garnished with candied pecans and caramel sauce. 

The Pit Authentic Barbecue

328 W. Davie St.
Raleigh, NC
(919) 890-4500

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Unexpected dishes using S&S BBQ sauce and spice rubs

A friend inspired me recently when he used our S&S brand Ranch Rub to season beef for street tacos. It got me thinking about what makes dishes unique. Sometimes it's using heirloom vegetables from the farmers market, sometimes it's using different cooking techniques and sometimes (and in this case) it's just adding that unexpected ingredient that makes you go, "wow that really works!".

When we see BBQ sauce and spice rubs on the meat counter at the local market we think, grilled meats (or fish), deliciously sloppy burgers and BBQ right? But why can't we use those ingredients in a dish where you wouldn't expect it? A dish that makes your friends insist you make when you come to visit and then fly in the ingredients to make it happen.

Here are some non-BBQ recipes using our line of S&S BBQ sauces and rubs (including those awesome street tacos):

Carolina Style Bloody Mary

yield - 1 cocktail

1.5 oz. Good Vodka
5 oz. Tomato juice
4 oz. S&S Carolina Style BBQ Sauce
1 dash Celery salt
1/8 teaspoon Prepared horseradish
a squeeze of lemon juice
2 ea. Green olives, pitted
1 Stalk Celery
1 cilantro sprig
(and any other garnishes your lushy heart desires)

- Fill a 12 oz. high ball glass with ice. Add all of the ingredients and stir well.
- Garnish with a skewer of green olives, a stalk of celery and a cilantro sprig.

Jon Wollenhaupt photography

Ranch Street Tacos - (submitted by Shawn Thompson)

Beef Chuck, diced small
S&S Ranch Rub
White onion, diced
Kalamata Olives, chopped
Corn tortillas (street taco size)
Cilantro leaves
Avocado, large dice

- Saute the beef in a pan over medium-high heat with a tablespoon of canola oil until meat is cooked through. Season to taste with S&S Ranch Rub.
- Warm the tortillas over medium heat in a separate pan.
- Top each tortilla with the meat mixture, diced white onion, chopped olives, a few squirts of Sriracha, cilantro leaves and diced avocado.

Photo by Rob Warren

4 Peppercorn Pasta

Yield - 2-3 Servings

8 oz. Spaghetti, dried
1 stick butter, unsalted, cubed
2 quarts plus 1/8 cup water
1 Tablespoon S&S brand 4 Peppercorn rub
2 Tablespoons Parmesan Cheese, grated

- Bring 1/8 cup water to a boil in a small pot, remove pot from the heat and whisk in the butter. Season with 1 Tablespoon S&S brand 4 Peppercorn rub and set aside in a warm place.
- Cook the pasta in 2 quarts boiling salted water for about 9 minutes. Drain and toss the pasta with the sauce and grated parmesan.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Bittersweet Indiana BBQ

I recently took a trip to my Mother and Grandparent’s hometown, Evansville, Indiana. My Grandmother had passed away at age 98 and we were there to say our final goodbyes. One of the more vivid memories I have of her was when we would visit her house in Palm Springs and she would fix us Indiana BBQ. Shipped out to her in a mason jar was slow cooked pork in a sweet BBQ sauce. She would serve it to us on BBQ sauce soaked rye bread with a side of sweet pickles. Just like they did it back home. This was the way we started out every trip to Grandmas. And now I was in Evansville, IN about to have the real deal.

There were two places in Evansville Grandma liked to go to for Indiana BBQ. The first was Wolf’s, founded in 1927. It has since been remodeled and expanded but still serves the same fare that was served to my family in the 40’s and 50’s. 
Wolf's Bar-B-Q in Evansville, IN
Although we were mostly there for the pulled pork I was definitely intrigued to try there other smoked meats as well. Pork spareribs had good flavor and a sweet and vinegary glaze of BBQ sauce but the meat was a little dry. 
Pork Spareribs @Wolf's
On the other hand the baby back ribs were tender and moist and beaming with hickory smoke. BBQ chicken thighs were another good option, perfectly cooked with a light brush of their signature sauce. 
BBQ sampler @Wolfs
We sandwiched the pulled pork between slices of rye bread just like we did at Grandma’s and cleansed our palate with the sweet pickles that were served along side. 
Pulled Pork @Wolf's
Side dishes are abundant at Wolf’s. There were 3 different styles of potato salad alone. German style, which was bright yellow from turmeric, tasted of apple cider vinegar, sugar and mustard and was studded with pimentos. 
German potato salad (left) and sweet & sour slaw (right) @ Wolf's
Both the American and homestyle versions were similar mayo based potato salads but the American had hard cooked egg and the homestyle had sweet pickles and red pimentos. Sweet and sour slaw was diced finely and had a nice zip to it. Mac and Cheese was your typical BBQ shack style drowned in velveeta and the baked beans tasted like they were out of a can but were one of the most delicious sides of the bunch.
American potato salad (left) and baked beans (right) @ Wolf's
Pie is king out in the mid west so we had to end the meal with a couple slices. We sampled both their pecan and coconut cream. Both had good buttery crusts but the stand out was definitely their signature coconut cream with its velvety custard, mile high merengue and toasted shredded coconut.
Coconut cream pie @Wolf's
On our last day in town we made a stop at Farm Boy Food Mart to ship home jars of Big B’s BBQ, which was manufactured next door. The same way my Grandma’s friends would do for her after she moved to California. This was the exact stuff we had at her house as kids. But we would have to wait until it arrived in San Francisco to dip back in to that nostalgic meat.
Indiana BBQ ready for shipping @Farm Boy Food Mart

*Dedicated to my Grandmother, Valada Rice. The kindest lady I have ever known.

6600 1st ave.
Evansville, IN 47710
(812) 424-8891

2761 N. Kentucky ave.
Evansville, IN 47711

Sunday, January 5, 2014

On the Wrong B-Side of the Tracks

In a not so desirable neighborhood in west Oakland past the hookers and crack heads there lies a gem of a BBQ shack called B-Side BBQ. Now, if you know me or read my blog on the regular you know that I am never scared to venture deep in the hood for smoked meat. A few years back Spencer and I took a 30 minute cab ride into south Chicago to a barred up BBQ Shack with a bullet proof rotating cashier window for exchanging money and food. We paid the cab driver to sit and wait for us while we got our food and bought him lunch so we could get the hell out of there as soon as we got our grub. This wasn't nearly that bad, but I still wouldn't look anyone on the street in the eye if I were you. Interestingly enough, B-Side is gearing up to move the restaurant to a better neighborhood. Apparently they are tired of their customers getting scared off by the "neighbors". Read more on that here.

Inside B-Side is very cozy. Friendly staff, lots of reclaimed wood, nice art on the walls and full bar. They have a decent beer selection but to my dismay no crappy beer for pairing with BBQ. That didn't bother me in the least however because I was really excited to try the food on the menu.

We started out with fried okra with creole aioli. Lightly coated with cornmeal and fried the okra still had a hint of crunch and the spicy aioli was the perfect dipping sauce.

There are 2 styles of ribs offered at B-Side. Jerk baby backs, which were lightly spiced and tender but not falling off the bone (which to me is cooked perfectly) and the Dark & Stormy St. Louis Style ribs that had a great sugary crust and smoky delicious meat. 

We also got the smoked brown sugar rubbed brisket which was the highlight of the meal. Thinly sliced, nice and tender with a vibrant pink smoke ring. It was served with a side of raisiny, smoky BBQ sauce on the side which was not at all necessary for any of the meats. 

Sides were great too. All meats come with Acme white bread that's toasted with garlic butter and a side of spicy house-pickled vegetables. In addition to that we got the mac & cheese that rivals any good mac I've had, smashed smoked yams that were buttery and silky smooth and buttermilk cornbread that was crunchy yet light and cakey. 

Desserts change often so you have to ask your server what they are serving that night. We chose the maple custard with candied pecans. It could of used more maple flavor in my opinion but it was still a nice smooth custard and the contrast of the crunchy sugary pecans worked together great. 

People ask me all the time "where do I get good BBQ in the bay area"? After that all they hear is crickets. I feel like now I finally have a spot to give them that I can truly say makes some honest BBQ. Just don't leave your valuables in the car. 

3303 San Pablo Ave
Oakland, CA 94608
(510) 595-0227

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How to brine a bird

It's almost turkey time and you're starting to put your game plan together. You've ordered your turkey,  written the menu and have your head count.  Now there's just a couple more things you have to do before the big day. Prep the bird.

Turkey Brining Timeline

1 week before thanksgiving - Start thawing out your frozen (if it is frozen) turkey in the refrigerator.

3 days before - Make your brine. You can use a store bought brine mix such as our S&S brand All-Purpose brine mix or make the brine mix yourself. For ours you will need 2 cups brine mix and 1 gallon water for a 10-12 lb bird or 3 cups brine mix and 1 1/2 gallon water for a 15-20 lb bird. Bring the brine mix and water to a boil in a large pot, turn of the heat and let cool on top of the stove. You do not need to refrigerate.

2 days before - Remove giblets and turkey neck from the turkey's cavity. Place your turkey in large bucket or brining bag and cover with the room temperature (or cold but never warm) brine you made the previous day. Seal bag or cover bucket and place back into the refrigerator and let sit overnight.

1 day before - Remove the turkey from the brine (discard brine) and rinse under cold water. Place turkey on a roasting pan with a rack and put back in the refrigerator uncovered overnight so that the turkey can dry out.

Thanksgiving day - Bring turkey to room temperature, season on both sides (we recommend our S&S brand poultry rub) and roast as usual.

photo by Jon Wollenhaupt