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Weekly Dish: BBQ Boom

Our cheat sheet to the newest East Bay barbecue spots; bourbon dinner with a view at the Paragon; opening updates on Opa in Walnut Creek, and Hopscotch and Stag's in Oakland; a shout-out to the excellent El Aquila taqueria; all in this week's Dish!


B-Side BBQ // Photo by Lara Hata

Nice story in the Sunday Chronicle about the boom in Bay Area barbecue joints, which included a couple of East Bay spots—so with the absence of any earth-shattering food news this week, I decided to piggyback on that story and do a little local round-up of new barbecue spots for the BBQ inclined. And please keep in mind that I tried to narrow down this list to newer places, which is why I haven't included favorites like Maggie Ray's, Bo's, Back 40, Lawrence's, T-Rex, Everett & Jones, etc. That being said, would love to hear what is your favorite East Bay BBQ restaurant. CLICK HERE to comment below!

B-Side BBQ
Who: Tanya Holland, the former Food Network star and owner of the popular West Oakland soul food restaurant Brown Sugar Kitchen, opened up this spot on San Pablo earlier this year.
What: Just like at Brown Sugar, Holland brings a modern, gourmet twist to an old art form by using local, sustainable, and organic ingredients in such dishes as spicy baked chicken wings with Rogue Creamery smoked blue cheese, smoked brown sugar-rubbed brisket, and pulled pork sandwiches on a Semifreddi's roll.
Style: Holland's background and training span the world, including France, so she's not tied to any particular region, instead labeling her BBQ "Oakland style" (hey, she's even got barbecue braised tofu nuggets, which is just so Bay Area).
Contact: 3303 San Pablo Ave., Oakland, (510) 595.0227, bsidebbq.com.

Who: Travis Dickey started the first Dickey's in Texas in 1941 and subsequent generations expanded it into a franchise that now encompasses more than 100 locations all across the country, including Concord, Livermore, Pleasanton, and coming this June, Pleasant Hill.
What: Dickey's offers a range of barbecue from brisket to pulled pork to Virginia-style ham.
Style: Befitting its origins, Dickey's specializes in hickory-smoked Texas-style barbecue, the signature item of which is probably the chopped or sliced beef brisket. 
Contact: 5434 Ygnacio Valley Rd., Concord, (925) 689-5525; 1524 N. Vasco Road, Livermore, (925) 606-4200; 6654 Koll Center Parkway, Pleasanton, (925) 426-6800; dickeys.com

Burnt end sandwich with mac n' cheese // photo by Sheila grace, yelp.comSauced BBQ & Spirits
Who: Cousins Barrett Gomes and Brenden Scanlan debuted their hipster/barbecue joint to long lines and mostly positive reviews (minus those long lines) in April
What: Sauced offers a fun, diverse menu filled with plenty of options, including sandwiches and eclectic appetizers like the Hand Grenades (jalapeno poppers stuffed with pulled pork and cream cheese) and Renexican nachos (pulled pork with poblano queso, black beans, smoked corn, fresh jalapenos, pico de gallo, and hot sauce).
Style: Grill-master Scanlan is a veteran of the Georgia barbecue competition circuit so he is well-versed in various styles including Carolina pulled pork, St. Louis cut spareribs, and sliced angus beef, with four distinct types of sauces to choose from.
Contact: 2300 First St., Livermore, (925) 961-1300, saucedbbqandspirits.com.

Slow Hand BBQ
Who: Pleasant Hill-native Dan Frengs' Slow Hand BBQ has been available at Concord and Walnut Creek farmers markets for the last two years. Coming this July, Frengs will have a full-time place of his own when he takes over Smokin Oakie's BBQ at 1941 Oak Park Blvd. in Pleasant Hill.
What: Frengs seasons his meats lightly with just salt and pepper, preferring most of the flavor to come from the oak wood smoke.  
Style: Slow Hand is known for its Texas-style brisket, but Frengs says he offers a "mish-mash" of barbecue styles including a pulled pork sandwich with a tangy mustard and vinegar sauce and dry-smoked ribs.
Contact:  Slow Hand is set to take over at 1941 Oak Park Blvd in July. In the meantime, you can catch their barbecue at Concord's farmers market in Todos Santos Plaza on Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Walnut Creek's Sunday farmers market on North Locust St. from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. facebook.com/pages/Slow-Hand-BBQ/120036794696480

Smoke Berkeley // Photo by Kristina M., yelp.comSmoke Berkeley
Who: Owner Tina Ferguson-Riffe graduated from the California Culinary Academy and attended the Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts School in Paris—but was raised on Texas-style barbecue.
What: As the name implies, Smoke is all about the smoked BBQ and Ferguson-Riffe uses fresh, local, organic, and natural meats and produce.
Style: The Texas-style barbecue means there's an emphasis on the brisket, but Ferguson-Riffe's says her signature dish is actually her tea-smoked salmon.
Where: 2434 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, (510) 548-8801, smokeberkeley.com.

Speaking of heavy meals, Claremont Hotel's executive chef Josh Thomsen is putting on a whiskey dinner at Paragon this coming Tuesday that, as he says, "is not for the faint of heart." CLICK HERE for the full menu, but needless to say the lightest dish on the four-course menu (plus dessert after) is a wild arugula salad with blue cheese fritter and maple bacon bits. Chicken & wafflesThomsen will also serve up his 24-hour-braised pork belly, slow-cooked beef ribs, and an interesting Asian take on chicken and waffles (pictured right)—all paired with bourbons from New York-based craft distiller Hudson Whiskey. Not to mention those beautiful Claremont views... $79, Tuesday, June 5, 6:30 p.m. For more info and reservations, go to claremont-hotel.com or call (510) 549-8585.

The ever-busy Thomsen has plenty of other things going on as well. He's planning a craft beer dinner later in the summer and continues to put on Street Food Tuesday, his weekly take on International street food. This Tuesday's theme? "Jamaican me Crazy" with plátanos fritos ($6), slow-cooked pulled pork tacos (2 for $7), and jerk chicken ($8). paragonrestaurant.com

In case you're still hungry... downtown Livermore's quirky Chili Shooter Stampede is happening this Saturday, June 2, from noon to 4 p.m. In this third annual event, each downtown restaurant submits an original version of chili with an ethnic twist (Macho Ceviche from El Sacromonte, Italian Sausage Chili from Milano Joe's...). You can sample them all for $15; $25 gets you beer to wash it down. CLICK HERE for the details.

Openings, openings, openings. Some updates on a few upcoming restaurants...

Barbacoa chef Jason MonizBarbacoa, the Mexican concept from Table 24-owners Michael Karp and Victor Ivry, is just about ready to open its doors in Orinda's Theatre Square—likely in two weeks or so. The buzz is good, and I should have a few more details next week, but just as a reminder, former Tres Agaves and Flora-chef Jason Moniz will helm the kitchen, which will be anchored by a large wood-fired barbacoa grill. This will be more of a sit-down version of Mexican featuring very authentic dishes—Moniz has traveled extensively in Mexico and is passionate about keeping the menu true to what you'd find south of the border. Check in next week for more details.

Jenny Schwarz, co-owner along with former Yoshi's chef Kyle Itani of the upcoming Hopscotch in Uptown Oakland, said they are looking, hopefully, at an early June debut for their restaurant which plans a menu of "regional American fare with a Japanese bend." And as the name suggests, the bar will feature an ample scotch selection as well. 

Opening right around the same time (tentatively mid-June) nearby, is Stag's Lunchette, a "cruelty-free, hormone-free lunch counter" from Alexeis Filipello, the owner of the popular Bar Dogwood on Telegraph Ave down the street. I finally had a chance to catch up with the busy Filipello, who told me a little about her interesting-sounding new project. Stag's will serve five sandwiches a day, two salads, plus have a deli case full of other healthy vegetarian options. Almost everything there will be made on-site, and that includes the meats such as pastrami, suckling pig, and porchetta (she'll have a rotisserie grill), sauerkraut, New York-style pickles, cured salmon, aioli, dressings, mustard—you name it. Filipello is especially excited about the pastrami, which she says is made from grass-fed brisket that is cured for two weeks and then sous-vided. Sounds good to me... Stag's will be open for breakfast and feature a simple, light menu, but as Filipello says, "the lunch is going to be the star... We're really excited. We're doing everything by hand, so I think people will be happy to have a place where they can get an interesting sandwich that they know is from a good source." 362 17th St., Oakland, Facebook page.

Finally, Opa!, the Greek restaurant with three South Bay locations is getting oh so close to finally debuting in downtown Walnut Creek. According to GM Dan Vunegas, Opa should be open in less than a month, and probably closer to three weeks (the same time frame as Citra Gill up the street). Occupying the former Cafe Delle Stelle space on North Main Street, Opa will have the same menu of Greek specialties as its other locations (CLICK HERE for the menu), plus a full bar and brunch on the weekends.

Breakfast spread at the newly website-ed Sideboard // Photo by Cindy ChewA big congratulations to Sideboard, which finally got a website. The great Danville coffee house and kitchen might have been the most popular Contra Costa eatery without a website (and possibly the whole East Bay since Adesso and Dopo came online last year). I've always wondered whether it was a calculated statement by owners Ford and Erin Andrews (sort of a retro, anti-technology thing), or whether they were just way too busy to deal with it. Well, according to Ford, it was a combination of the two: "we made a conscious decision not to spend any money on marketing except by word of mouth. So, we just finally got around to it: it only took us four years." It got me thinking about my other favorite East Bay spots that remain website-less. Here's my, admittedly, Walnut Creek-centric list. CLICK HERE to comment below and let me know what restaurants are on your list. sideboarddanville.com

The always-good 6 3/4 sandwich at Morucci'sMorucci's Si Mangia Bene This classic, popular sandwich shop has its own cool line of t-shirts—but still no website. 1218 Boulevard Way, Walnut Creek, (925) 939-2426
Koreana Kitchen Awesome hot pork bowl and grilled mackerel—no website. 1546 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek, (925) 938-5959
Nama Sushi Ocean-fresh sushi and casual, friendly vibe—zero website. 1502 Sunnyvale Ave., Walnut Creek, (925) 932-9540
Millie's Kitchen This old-school breakfast spot has no website and is cash-only—but still packs them in with its corned beef hash (among other dishes). 1018 Oak Hill Rd., Lafayette, (925) 283-2397
Every single taqueria in Concord It's amazing: they're all great and I don't know if one of them has a website. yelp.com/c/concord-ca/mexican

And by the way, Ford Andrews said that Sideboard is submitting expansion plans to the city to take over the entire first floor of the old Danville Hotel building it occupies. While the menu won't change and there will only be a few more seats added, it will mean a little more space in both the dining room as well as the kitchen, which they hope to expand significantly.

If the nice weather has you in the mood to start mining the area's natural bounty of fruits and veggies (we really are lucky to live here), consider a new CSA based right in Clayton. I spoke with Gary Crandall, who is the new head gardener for Buttercup Farms Garden, a non-profit based in Clayton devoted to providing a supportive environment for people with emotional, mental or physical challenges. Buttercup Farms happens to have an on-site organic garden that had been used to supply produce to such restaurants as Chow in Danville and Lafayette. Crandall, who brings two decades worth of gardening experience, recently took it over and is starting a community-supported agriculture program that will deliver a box full of Clayton-grown produce on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. It's $20 per box and you can expect standard products like carrots, lettuce, radishes, squash, as well as some twists such as heirloom tomatoes and different kinds of chilis. Plus, you're supporting a good cause, and, as Crandall points out, it's about as eco-friendly as you can get. "Being in Clayton, I think we are the most local CSA supplier in the county. Most of these other ones are coming all the way from Brentwood or the Capay Valley by Davis. So our carbon footprint is much lower." He makes a good point... For more information and to sign up, go to buttercupfarms.org or call (925) 672-1474.

Are you more of a DIY farmer? Check out Thursday's event at Oakland's City Slicker Farms celebrating urban farming experts, Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal's, recent book The Essential Urban Farmer. The two authors will answer pressing farming questions, and you can hear from members of leading Bay Area agricultural organizations; mingle with fellow local farmers; "and eat (bites from local chefs), drink (beer from New Belgium Brewing Company), and be merry—Oakland-style." Even better: it's FREE, with all proceeds from book sales going to support City Slickers and it's food justice efforts in West Oakland. 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., First Unitarian Church of Oakland: 685 14th Street, Oakland; cityslickerfarms.org; RSVP HERE.

For you chocolate lovers, the truly excellent San Francisco chocolatier Michael Recchiuti's Little Nib Pop Up store is popping up this Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (closed 1:30-2 p.m.), offering up Recchiuti Confections such as whoopie cakes, peanut honey batons, fleur de sel caramels, burnt caramel truffles, and malted dark milk revolutions (which are awesome, like a gourmet Whopper). Little Nib, 807 22nd St., (415) 489-2882, recchiuti.com. There's also a Chocolate Spin Art Demo at his Chocolate Lab next door on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

More chocolate... The Chocolate Addict Katreece Montgomery is teaching cupcake decorating classes in Orinda all this June, with students "learning basic chocolate decorating techniques, how to frost a cupcake "coiffure", make the latest chocolate fashion accessories du jour."  Classes are June 11,12,14 & 15 (M,T,Th,F ) 10 am-noon, and June 18,19, 21 & 22 (M,Tu,Th,F) 10 am - noon. Call (925) 253-4208 to register. thechocolateaddict.com

And more... This Saturday is Berkeley's annual Chalk and Chocolate Festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. CLICK HERE for all the fun details.


I still remember eating my first real taco. OK, maybe that sounds a little pretentious, but I grew up in New England eating Americanized Mexican food: stuff like nachos and burritos and tacos positively loaded down with salsa, sour cream, and guacamole to the point that you couldn't even taste the meat underneath (which typically had been overcooked to the point of flavorlessness anyway). So needless to say, it was a revelation when I went to a little taqueria in Redwood City (where I was working at the time) and tried their simple, tiny, and incredibly delicious, tacos. Just fresh-grilled meat of your choice on corn tortilla with a little chopped onion, cilantro, maybe some salsa, and a wedge of lime. My god, I must have eaten about ten of them, they were so good and so much better than what I'd ever tried before.

Anyway, those tacos came to mind when I tried the new El Aguila Taqueria in Pleasant Hill, which offers similarly simple, tasty tacos in addition to other specials. That's not to say there aren't plenty of places in the East Bay (particularly Concord and East Oakland) serving comparable products, but El Aguila is a little different in that they use organic or all natural, grass fed, hormone-, antibiotic-, and pesticide free meats. Plus, co-owner and chef Oscar Patlan brings years of experience cooking at high-end Italian restaurants and that shows in the dishes, which seem a cut above in both taste and presentation while exhibiting clean, even healthy, flavors—without losing that comforting, down-home Mexican food feel.

First of all, try the pork. The cochinita en adobo (roast suckling pig) is really good, as is the spicy and incredibly tender house-made chorizo: get 'em in taco form where you can really appreciate the flavor. I also tried a subtle crispy cheese and epazote mushroom quesadilla drizzled with sour cream and served with queso fresco, fresh guacamole, and delicious chopped nopalitos cactus. The burritos are ample and hearty, and served pretty-as-a-picture in a tucked paper envelope. And don't miss the tinga, comforting pulled chicken braised with caramelized onions and chipotle.

Check 'em out: they're located in a very unassuming spot right next to the Subway in a strip mall at Contra Costa Boulevard and Ellinwood Dr. 1300 Contra Costa Blvd., Pleasant Hill,  (925) 682-4444, elaguilataqueria.com.