My family laughs hysterically when I talk about California barbeque spots. In their neck of the uh-holler-ribs are a religion. Pulled pork gets smoked with as much gusto as a pack of Virginia Slims. And their sauce don’t taste like vinegar, ya’ll.
From Memphis to Mobile, how you sauce your barbeque is part of a complex regional and philosophical identity. Suffice to say, you don’t mess with it. Tart vinegar sauce in the Carolinas; a smoky and tangy in Tennesse; rubbed down hotter than hell down south; and teeth-achingly sweet in Kansas City.
So, maybe I’m being a bit picky–a bit too literal–and clearly flying my Midwest colors when I say that I’m not happy with any of the three sauces I’ve just ruined my sandwich with at BarBersQ. Napa’s newest foray into the haute-smoke-shack scene, the storefront restaurant opened about a month ago with former Mecca chef Stephen Barber at the helm.
Here’s the problem: All three of Barber’s sauces taste like vinegar. This might not be a bad thing, except that I HATE VINEGAR SAUCE ON BARBEQUE! For me, it kills the sweet, fatty, smoky wonder that is pulled pork or ribs. I want a hint of sweet, a hint of tang, and a hint of smoke all wrapped up in a nice tomato-based sauce. Not some clear, runny liquid that makes me pucker and cry.
So why all three of Barber’s sauces taste like vinegar, I have no idea. The good news? You can forgo the sauce altogether, because it’s served conveniently on the side. That or bring your own and get down to some serious business with one of BarBersQ’s otherwise killer pulled pork sandwiches. Spice rubbed meat piled impressively high on a fresh-made bun with a scoop of coleslaw (which frankly, I appreciate very much), it wants for nothing. Except a decent sauce.
Redemption at BarBersQ comes in the form of cornbread squares that are firm and sweet with (could it be?) a hint of smoky bacon–oh please, let it be bacon–and honey butter. Rancho Gordo baked beans are also on the menu, along with collard greens, veggies, cole slaw and potato salad. At between $3.75 and $5.75, you can easily rack up a pretty serious bill just on sides, however. Skip the BarBersQ fries entirely. I was misdirected to this side which is a boggling $5.75 and were actually less impressive and less seasoned that the frozen fries I force my kids to eat. For me, that’s an unforgivable misstep by someone as experienced as Barber. Dude, get the fries right.
With a meal as full of ups and downs as mine, I was understandably leery about trying dessert. Word on the street is that the key lime pie is very moist and the fried apple pie with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce almost intrigued me enough to order it. Almost. Becasue what I’m honestly jonesing for is a fried Twinkie with a fried Snickers chaser. Just like mom used to make. Hold the damn vinegar sauce.
BarBersQ, 3900-D Bel Aire Plaza, Napa, 707.224.6600. Open daily for lunch and dinner.