Friday, April 24, 2009

The Primatology of BBQ

"Foodie Friday" returns (a little late in the afternoon) with something mouth-watering.

The first week of April brought Fosco's friend Todd on his annual pilgrimage to the Bay Area. You may not know that, in recent years, Todd has become something of a BBQ expert. Because of his travels around this country (and a group of very food-obsessed friends), Todd pretty much has recommendations for good BBQ in almost any major American city. I never travel without asking Todd if there is a good BBQ place to visit at my destination. Todd was particularly excited this visit, as he finally had a lead on some good Bay Area BBQ. And so we drove to the small town of Pacifica, just south of San Francisco along the coast, to find Gorilla BBQ.

Gorilla BBQ turns out to be notable for several reasons. First off, there is its location in a bright-orange boxcar. Second, there is its theme song (listen to it at the website). Third, there is the fact that the owners spent $26,000 on a smoker. Fourth, the place recently appeared on punk bear Guy Fieri's "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives" on Food Network. And perhaps most interesting: one of the co-owners has the words "PORK" and "RIBS" tattooed on his knuckles. Indeed!

Let's check out the setup. This is boxcar (and over that hill is the ocean--that's Highway 1 right there).

The sign is perhaps slightly misleading, as I have yet to see much smoke coming from the place. Too much smoke is probably against local environmental restrictions anyway.

This is Jeff, one of the co-owners (and apparently the primary chef). Notice all of the monkey tchotchkes on the counter.

This is Rich (aka "Gorilla"). He's the one with the tattooed knuckles. He takes the orders.

As you can see, there isn't much space in the boxcar to run the whole operation. Of course, it's takeout only.

So let's talk about the food. The menu features the standard smoked meats: pork ribs, chicken, beef brisket, pulled pork, hot links. There are traditional sides (mac and cheese, red beans and rice, corn muffins, potato salad) and NorCal-inspired sides (portabello mushrooms, grilled eggplant). When Oz and I went with Todd, I opted for the three meat combo: brisket, pulled pork, and hot links. It came in two containers: one for the meat, one for the sides. Plus sauce on the side. Here's the meat:

The pulled pork is fine. The hot links are spicily delicious. The brisket is EXTRAORDINARY--crusty, smoky, tender, cut-able with a spork (yes, a spork is what they provide you to eat with...). The BBQ sauce (appropriately served on the side) is tart and wonderful--best I've had outside a hundred-mile radius of Memphis. One thing I liked: the attention to the sides, which were pretty much all delicious. The Mac N Cheese is absolutely awesome, and the corn muffins are the Platonic ideal of corn muffins--best I've EVER had. Seriously.

Oz and I were smitten and we returned the next week (with Todd in our memories...). This time, we concentrated all of our attention on the brisket and mac n cheese:

At this point, I am absolutely obsessed with this brisket. Apparently, however, I am not alone. This was the line at 11:45 on Saturday (for the opening at noon):

Sure, it may have taken half an hour to get to the counter. But it was worth it. Brisket!

Of course, Gorilla may not compete with the best of Memphis (or Texas and North Carolina, for that matter), but I suspect it's the best in Northern California--and that's not too shabby. If you are ever within 50 miles of this place, it is worth a trip.

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todd said...

I could go for some ribs and hot links right about now. Can you pick some up for me and drop it off at FedEx?

FOSCO said...

Why not, right? You need a spork?

todd said...

The correct answer to that question is always, always, "Yes. Yes I do."

Jeremy said...

So Todd (and Fosco), do you have a recommendation for Baltimore/DC? I'm fond of Big Bad Wolf's House of Barbeque in Baltimore, but maybe you have a better suggestion. Being technically south of the Mason/Dixon line, I feel I need to refine my appreciation of the barbecue arts....

My verification word: pubedef. I have the screenshot to prove it.

todd said...

I don't have anything noted in Baltimore proper, but Andy Nelson's in Cockeysville is pretty good, and Smokey Hollow in Laurel has been recommended to me.

todd said...

As for the D.C. area, Willard's in Chantilly, VA is good, but the real gem is KQB in Bowie, MD.

Jeremy said...

Thanks Todd! You're amazing, and I shouldn't be surprised. I'm intrigued by the "Swine Social Club" on Andy Nelson's website -- so I'll definitely check it out next time I head up there. About KQB I find nothing at all online, which is, I suspect, a good sign.

Anonymous said...

Fosc Olives! I did NOT know you were a fan of the 'que! How commoner. How pedestrian. How American. I expected your tastes to be more continental. You know, on account of being an elitist intellectual and all...

When in Memphis, ya gotta try Corky's. TONS better than Neely's (don't tell The Todd)

The BeeMaster

todd said...