When I was younger, if I wanted BBQ, I'd go to Flint's in Oakland, CA. It was perhaps not on the nicest block in town, and you could smell it from blocks away. Inside the door, there was a formica counter with a broken black-and-white tv, and most of the back was taken up by the brick BBQ with iron doors. You'd stand in line (always a line, even at 2am) and when you got to the counter, a huge woman with arms the size of hams would say "next!" without turning her back. If you didn't bark out your order immediately, she'd yell "I said NEXT!" and maybe even turn around and glower at you. She wielded a giant meat cleaver, and cut up your ribs, sliced beef, chicken or hot links, "whack! whack! whack!" If you were consistently polite (as you were expected to be, yes ma'am) she might even give you a smile when handing you your order. The sauce came in three variations--mild, medium, and hot. The potato salad was fluorescent pre-packaged stuff. Newbies would be given two slices of wheat bread, but if you were known, they'd give you white bread. Sweet potato pie was available for dessert, but who could eat one after a plate of Flint's? You'd get your plate of 'Q, bread, and potato salad wrapped in a paper bag, and on the drive home you'd get your steering wheel and pants all greasy after sticking your finger in the bag and tearing off just a little, because it smelled so good. It was the real deal, best I ever had. I knew people from "famous BBQ" towns like KC who said the same thing. I think Flint's is still there, but Mr. Flintroy is long dead, and I think his relatives have all moved on, and sadly it's gone downhill.
Since then if I've wanted real BBQ I've pretty much had to make it myself, with best results by following Bruce Aidells' advice for cooking pork ribs and making "Oakland-style" sauce (I think he was in line with me at 2am), until now. If you've gone to the Saturday Farmer's Market on Bainbridge recently, you've probably seen (or smelled) Bainbridge Island BBQ's big ol' BBQ rig. Greg Epstein grew up on Bainbridge, and came back after working as a chef in Seattle and Santa Monica to start a local BBQ business. The difference between most BBQ businesses and Greg's is that he has no retail storefront other than at the Farmer's Market.
Greg makes a mean rack of pork ribs, slow-cooked until the meat falls off the bone. Pork ribs are always my litmus test for good BBQ. Anybody can make beef ribs, because you just cook them until they're done and make sure you don't burn them, but making good pork requires patience and the right amount of heat and smoke. Greg's are great. He also has beef ribs, chicken, and salmon.
There are two sauces available: Whiskey Brown Sugar, which is a sweet, dark sauce, and Chipotle Honey, which is a red sauce with a bit of kick. Sides available include a really great potato salad, cole slaw, pinto beans, and creamed corn. The salmon isn't served with sauce, but is just glazed and roasted, and it's very tasty.
Greg stands behind his product--last week we ordered salmon and some pork ribs, and Greg called back later to say that he wasn't happy with how the salmon turned out, and he'd give us a free one if we came by. I think he might have gotten a bad piece to try, because he made it with wild-caught copper river salmon, and mine was really great, with that buttery copper river texture that we all love so much.
By the way, if you make your own BBQ and don't feel like taking several hours to make sauce, the best store-bought sauce in my opinion isn't one of the fancy brands, it's Safeway Select Original. Add a little red pepper flakes and you're on your way.
BIBBQ - Delivery Tue-Sat 1-8pm (225-1215 or 842-RIBS)
9-1pm at the Farmer's Market.