Restaurants & Bars

California BBQ Road Trip Napa Valley Trip Report San Rafael

Bagle Street Cafe, San Rafael & Mo's BBQ, SLO - Napa Road Trip Report #7


Restaurants & Bars 18

Bagle Street Cafe, San Rafael & Mo's BBQ, SLO - Napa Road Trip Report #7

Chino Wayne | Apr 14, 2002 06:20 PM

While Mrs. Chino Wayne’s intention was a visit to the complimentary breakfast buffet at the Sheraton, when Friday morning did dawn, Mrs. Chino Wayne decided that sleep was a higher priority. Chino Wayne, usually never one to pass up a breakfast buffet opportunity, acquiesced to the Mrs.’ wishes, because as an inveterate ‘hound, he had a Plan B ready.

So after loading up Heather and checking out of the hotel at noon, the Chino Wayne’s proceeded across the road to Bagel Street Café. Bagel Street Café is one of many shops in this Safeway shopping center just off Highway 101 at the Freitas exit in San Rafael. This is a clean, simple shop, with no adornments on the walls, a few bakery cases, a cold case, and tables and chairs in the shop and on the side walk outside. (For those abdominally advanced ‘hounds, like Chino Wayne, the inside tables and chairs are substantial wood objects, the dining furniture outside is green plastic resin material, which brings up memories of Chino Wayne squashing a resin chair in a futile wait for a table at a Cheesecake Factory.)

As previously posted by Chino Wayne on the S.F. board late last year, the bagels at this establishment are simply wonderful. These are not the oversized bagels on steroids that seem so common with the bagel chains, but rather, decent, classic bagels. The bakers here must have studied with a true Jewish bagel master. These bagels have been properly washed in a water bath prior to baking, and have a nice, tight, light brown exterior, and a very nice, relatively soft and chewy interior. These bagels are not gummy doughy masses like the chains turn out, but have a great initial bite through the exterior walls and a wonderful mouth feel and chew on the interior. The bagels have a definite hand-crafted look and feel to them, and unlike the chains, they are not constantly turned out of some industrial oven every 20 minutes. It was apparent to Chino Wayne, that the very nice people behind the display cases, were probably the very same people who arose in the wee hours of the morning, and with obvious care and respect for the food stuffs, mixed, kneaded, bathed, and baked the day’s batch of bagels. A very wide selection of bagels is offered, but once any one flavor selection is depleted in the bakery case, there will be no more of that selection for the rest of the day, so it would be wise for ‘hounds hungry for a great bagel experience to get there early in the day.

Mrs. Chino Wayne had her favorite, a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel with a schmeer, a cup of cut up fruit and coffee. Chino Wayne had a tuna salad with lettuce and mayo on a toasted poppy seed bagel and a whitefish salad with lettuce on a toasted poppy seed bagel with an iced tea. The cinnamon raisin bagel was quickly dispatched by the Mrs. No sample was proffered by Mrs. Chino Wayne to her provider. Likewise the fruit salad. The fruit in the cup did appear to Chino Wayne to be high quality pieces of fruit, melon and grapes, it looked fresh and ripe. The tuna appeared to have been through a food processor and was of a pate like consistency, slightly moist, by dry enough that it held together and was not falling or dripping with moisture. The tuna had a nice, clean tuna taste, and as is usually the case, worked very well with the toasted bagel. The whitefish salad was nirvana to Chino Wayne who has many fond memories of life at home when he was a tyro ‘hound enjoying smoked fish Sunday breakfasts. The consistency of the whitefish salad was close to the same consistency of the tuna salad, however, with more moisture, and Chino Wayne had the foresight not to order mayo with this sandwich. The taste of the whitefish salad was pure heaven, usually when Chino Wayne dines on lox, white fish, et al, he leaves the meal with a definite fishy, smoky, spicy aftertaste in his mouth. Not with this bounty from the sea, the whitefish salad had a wonderful, subtle smoked whitefish taste that was just perfect, with no lingering aftertaste. This was truly an extraordinary paring of fish salad and bagel.

The people behind the counter at Bagel Street Café are very nice, friendly people, obviously with a lot of pride in the fine products that they prepare and serve. They seem to have and know a lot of regulars by name. While not crowded at the noon hour, there was constant traffic in and out of the establishment while the Chino Wayne’s dined. The bagel selection ranges from water bagels (“plain” to those of you who are not from the ‘hood), to egg bagels, to poppy seed, sourdough, cinnamon raisin, strawberry, banana nut, cheddar, jalapeno, onion, garlic, etc. and bialys. Mrs. Chino Wayne had a hankering for banana nut, but was too timid to try the banana nut bagel, and instead opted for a banana nut muffin (among a selection of other assorted muffins). So Chino Wayne acquired a banana nut muffin and the last, remaining onion bagel of the day and the Chino Wayne’s hit the road. Chino Wayne did inquire of the master bagel baker who was the staff member who had made the whitefish salad, and was informed that it was imported from New York. Chino Wayne is going to have to start querying the New York board to find a source for this truly wonderful delicacy which he anticipates spreading on many toasted bagel halves in the future, some day far, far in the future, when he is paroled from The Liquid Diet. The bagel with the schemer, the two bagel sandwiches, the fruit cup, one coffee and one large iced tea were approximately $15.00.

It was a beautiful day in the Bay Area, with the temperature in the mid 70’s, so Chino Wayne rolled back Heather’s moon roof and the Chino Wayne’s proceeded south on the 101. Except for a brief interlude at the Golden Gate Bridge, which was a spectacular sight poking through the fog, the moon roof remained open to the elements. (The bridge interlude did border on a Keystone Kops moment as Chino Wayne tried steering the car while pressing two window UP buttons with his left hand, and the moon roof CLOSE button with his right hand, all to avoid Mrs. Chino Wayne’s coiffeur from frizzing out in the foggy air.) The drive across the bridge and through San Francisco, where there was no fog was very enjoyable, even for Mrs. Chino Wayne who has a slight reticence about crossing any bridge over a large expanse of water.

South of San Jose, right after another highway converges and the road narrows traffic became a crawl (when will this never ending road widening project be completed), so of course this was an opportune time to sample the banana nut muffin and onion bagel. The banana nut muffin, in keeping with the elegant simplicity of everything served at the Bagel Street Café, while not the size of a small, kid’s cupcake, was also not the size of some humongous, commercial/boutique muffin with a “head” the size of a nuclear mushroom cloud. This was a decent sized muffin, with a normal, perfectly proportioned ‘shroom head, with the walnuts scattered on top and not inside. The taste was of something fresh and not too moist and not too dry, with a very subtle, in no way overbearing, banana flavor. This subtlety of taste was consistent with everything served at the Bagel Street Café. The onion bagel was on a par with the previously consumed poppy seed bagels, with a subtle proportioned scattering of poppy seeds within the dough, and toasted onions on top of the bagel.

(The only quibble that Chino Wayne had with the onion bagel is that his preference in onion bagels, is to have the baker not put the onions on the bagels immediately upon placement of the bagels in the oven, but rather at some intermediate point in the baking process. In that way the onions do not become so much toasted, as softened and still retain some body, moisture, and onion-y flavor in them. Chino Wayne prefers toasted onions only when they are mixed in sour cream and served with some food apparatus suitable for dipping.)

The Chino Wayne’s pit stopped in Gilroy, Chino Wayne having the good sense to keep his passenger, Mrs. Chino Wayne, happy with an expedition to the Gilroy Factory Outlets. Little did Chino Wayne realize the magnitude of the Gilroy Factory Outlet situation, not one, not two, not three, but four outlet strip malls on adjacent streets. In between outlets, the Chino Wayne’s pitted at the adjacent In-N-Out. As usual the restrooms at In-N-Out were far superior in the cleanliness department than those of their fast food competitors. The Chino Wayne’s always feel obligated to make a purchase when they pit anywhere, sort of their way of returning something tangible to the establishment, then just the other deposits that they leave. Of course it is also difficult to pit stop at an In-N-Out without ordering anything. The Mrs. had a Coke, Chino Wayne had an iced tea and they each hand an order of fries. When Mrs. Chino Wayne questioned Chino Wayne why he was not ordering burgers, he told her “not to worry, I know of a place down the road where we can get a steak”. After this refreshment, Mrs. Chino Wayne commanded Chino Wayne to cruise the other outlet stores. Bargains finally in hand, the Chino Wayne’s left Gilroy an hour and a half behind schedule.

The drive south on 101 from Gilroy covered some magnificent scenery. At this time of year the grasses on the hills are all green in northern California, and it was so nice for the Chino Wayne’s to breathe in the fresh, smog free air, and for their eyes to dance upon the relatively pristine and green countryside.

Feeling inadequately sustained with beef throughout this entire road trip, Chino Wayne had visions of steaks at the Hitching Post in Buellton on his mind and in his taste buds. Unfortunately the traffic at the San Jose bottleneck, and the outlet excursion ate up so much unanticipated time, that arrival in Buellton would be too late for dining at the Hitching Post, without the resultant sitting up all night sleepless from an overly full stomach. True ‘hound that he is, however, Chino Wayne implemented Plan B. At approximately 8:15 P.M. the Chino Wayne’s and Heather pulled off the 101 in San Luis Obispo, and cruised Higuera Street.

On Higuera between Osos and Morro, Chino Wayne spotted Mo’s Smokehouse BBQ. Parking is a bitch in downtown SLO on a Friday night, but the patient hunt for a parking space was well worth the effort. Mo’s was founded by a restaurateur with twenty years experience, who in his words “…decided to open a real barbeque restaurant.” Mo then made a 3,500 mile road trip through the barbeque belt, performing field research in 10 states and 80 ‘Q joints. Mo has obviously done his homework. Everything the Chino Wayne’s sampled was wonderful, authentic barbeque. Mrs. Chino Wayne had a half rack plate which consisted of Mo’s “Sweet Carolina’s Pork Ribs”, a side of potato salad, a side of beans, a corn bread muffin and a Pepsi. Chino Wayne ordered a full rack of “Mo’s Memphis Port Ribs”, the same sides and a Diet Pepsi. The Carolina ribs must have been good, Mrs. Chino Wayne did not offer her provider any taste sample, and sucked every bit of barbeque succulence off the bones. When she was through, the bones looked like the bleached carcass of some vertebrate that one would find in the Mojave Desert after 100 years in the sun. The Mrs. did not eat any of the beans, wanting to avoid any disturbance in her lower gastro-intestinal tract. Chino Wayne, on the other hand, in true ‘hound fashion went for the gusto, and consumed everything on his plate, and the Mrs.’ beans.

The Memphis ribs are one of Mo’s specialty’s, and as paraphrased from his menu are “…meaty tender Pork Ribs (spareribs –C.W.) hickory smoked and barbecued with Mo’s BBQ sauce then sprinkled wit a sweet vinegar and topped with Mo’s special seasoning from Memphis, Tennessee.” Contrary to the menu description, these ribs appeared to be prepared in the classic Memphis style of being dry rubbed, then smoked, and then having some sauce applied to them. These were very nice, meaty ribs, the meat was tender, but not quite falling off of the bone. It appeared that the ribs might have been finished near an open flame, or maybe just very close to the heat source, as the edges and ends were charred, and made excellent pork bits. The flavor of smoke was very subtle, not overpowering. The potato salad was the best that Chino Wayne has had in any dining establishment in recent memory. It tasted like homemade, uneven chunks of potato boiled to the perfect point, soft and tender, but not falling apart or mushy, mayonnaise, celery, what appeared to be chopped green onion, and other flavorings. One of the other reasons why the Mrs. passed on the beans is because she and Chino Wayne have a preference for the thick, dark, molasses based baked beans, and these beans were in the style that Chino Wayne equates with southwestern cowboys. There were three types of beans, Kidney, Pinto, and then a white bean that was smaller than the Pinto beans. The beans were in a thin sauce, which had chunks of cooked tomato and barely cooked onion in it, and little bits of barbequed beef could also be tasted. This bean dish was almost the consistency of a soup, and Chino Wayne finished off the beans by up-ending the little bean cups and pouring the bean nectar down his gullet. The corn bread muffin obviously was not from a commercial bakery, was of a medium density, had good corn bread taste and was accompanied by honey butter.

Chino Wayne rated Mo’s very high on his list of preferred BBQ joints. It was obvious that this is a local hangout. The routine here is to line up at the counter, place your order, get your drink from the counter person and find a table. There seems to always be a line at the counter, but it moves very fast. By the time the Chino Wayne’s stopped to load up a container of Carolina BBQ sauce and a container of Mo’s hot BBQ sauce and found a table, their BBQ plates were being served to them. Hot sauce ‘hounds take note, Mo’s BBQ sauce is definitely very pedestrian, and seems to get it’s heat from classic Tabasco. There were bottles of Tabasco abundantly available for adding more heat.

Mo’s menu includes the following sandwiches: shredded pork, shredded beef, hot links, sliced tri-tip, rib sandwich (ribs over white bread), BBQ chicken breast, BBQ turkey, hamburger, and shredded chicken. Plates come with a half, three-quarter or full rack of pork spareribs, as Philthy Phil’s (noted on the menu as “very tender and flavorful finished with a vinegar, brown sugar and mustard BBQ sauce with a bit of a kick”), Mo’s Memphis ribs, Sweet Carolina ribs, rib combo, shredded pork shoulder over bread, shredded beef (sans bread) BBQ half chicken, or a sampler with ribs, shredded pork and chicken.

If you have a hankering for good ‘Q and are anywhere near SLO, Mo’s is well worth a detour off the highway. Total tab for one half rack plate, one full rack plate, and two sodas was $37.43.

As Chino Wayne got up from the table to leave Mo’s BBQ nirvana with the Mrs. and head back to the highway, those very delicious beans made their presence apparent to Chino Wayne at the tail end of his gastro-intestinal tract (subtlely of course). Chino Wayne knew they were damn good beans, as their remnants were present all the way from SLO to Chino, for the next three hours. Fortunately it was a very subtle bean presence, without odor, so Chino Wayne did not discomfit Mrs. Chino Wayne, who has been known to flee the marital bead, not only to another room, but to another floor in the house, when Chino Wayne has consumed something ultimately disagreeable with his poor abused digestive system.

The remainder of the road trip was uneventful except for the Mustang driving maniac driving at about 90 miles an hour, who was encountered twice on the dark and winding highway. The Chino Wayne’s arrived home in the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, and the last morsels of food for the day were dispensed to their faithful and lovable cat Binky, in return for some kisses from his little pink tongue.

Bagel Street Café
208 Northgate One
San Rafael, California 94903
(415) 479-5000

Mo’s Smokehouse BBQ
970 Higuera St
San Luis Obispo, California
(805) 544-6193

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