Bonehead’s Brings BBQ Back to Lafayette
Bonehead’s adds some heat—and smoke—to Lafayette’s dining scene.
On a recent Thursday night at Bonehead’s Texas BBQ, my friend and I each polished off a three-meat combo plate of stellar BBQ. When I got back in line, my friend assumed I was ordering dessert—a banana pudding to share, perhaps. But I came back with a half pound of juicy brisket in a to-go box.
It never made it home.
While eating slices of the wonderfully fatty brisket with my fingers, I watched owner Dave Roberson in his dress shirt loading the smoker and wiping down counters. Well into the 12th hour of work, his white shirt is spotless. Similarly, Roberson takes a lot of pride in keeping Bonehead’s sparkling.
Roberson, who grew up in Texas and lives in Moraga, opened Bonehead’s in June. The space was formerly Bo’s Barbecue, run by the beloved Bo McSwine. Roberson spent 10 months gutting and resurrecting the restaurant, and like a phoenix rising from ashes of smoky oak, the joint is looking sharp.
Burnt orange and sky blue walls contain a casual space with Mason jar–capped Edison lights and a self-serve condiment and soda station. The steel-fronted kitchen counter, shed-sized smoker, and open ceiling (with a shiny new AC duct) have an industrial feel, and lend currency to Bonehead’s prominent steer-head logo.
There are several regional styles of Texas BBQ, but Roberson, who grew up in a farming community, didn’t get serious about smoking until he came to California—so he isn’t beholden to any of them. Still, with his focus on brisket (Bonehead’s sold roughly 800 pounds a week in its opening month) and by serving the sauce on the side (allowing the meats’ smoke and seasoning to shine through), Roberson respects the essence of Texas BBQ.
All the BBQ at Bonehead’s starts with a dry rub massaged into the meat. The smoke is moderate and the meat uncommonly moist: Even the pulled pork remains juicy. Meaty baby back ribs have a slight cling to the bone, and the organic chicken—thighs only—is tender and smoked skin on for extra flavor. The hot links have an ultrafine texture and a deep red-orange glisten. You can order a one-, two-, or three-meat combo, then choose your sides. It’s all good. The sauce here, offered hot or mild, is rich with a sturdy backbone and a twang that cuts right through the sugar.
Roberson stumbled into the BBQ business after volunteering to do parties for Cornerstone Fellowship, his church in Livermore. In 2008, while in his early fifties, he decided to give catering a go using a couple of smokers in his backyard. “I hated my job selling electronics so much that I wasn’t any good at it. So I told my wife, ‘We’re gonna go broke doing this, but we’re going to have a ball doing it.’ ”
The catering proved successful, and fortunately, Roberson’s love of smoke extends to cigars. Five of Roberson’s cigar buddies helped him purchase Bonehead’s and the surrounding property. A different cigar friend served as the restaurant’s contractor; another hooked Roberson up to a direct line for top-quality beef; and yet another aficionado selected Bonehead’s on-tap wine and beer. (Texas Shiner Bock, a dark lager, is the go-to brew for barbecue.)
Roberson’s side dishes have evolved through trial and error. The creamy mac and cheese is deadly rich. A mayo-less coleslaw cleans the palate as you move from meat to meat. The from-scratch baked beans are hearty, rich, and pork friendly. Bonehead’s potato salad was clunky on our visit, but our green salad came with lots of goodies, including sweet bell peppers. The corn bread is surprisingly good.
The servers project an upbeat, easygoing, and professional vibe, and truly seem to enjoy their jobs. Paper plates and plastic utensils keep the atmosphere casual, and create a picniclike feel when you sit outside on the sprawling patio, with its bright orange chairs and view of Mt. Diablo Boulevard.
But inside on our visit, the aroma was to die for, and sunbeams revealed wisps of smoke that permeated the dining room. Be careful: Those wisps can act like tentacles from the brisket, pulling you by the nose back to the counter—hungry or not.
Contact: 3422 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 262-4227, boneheadsbbq.com. Lunch and dinner Tues.–Sun.