Driving into Fort Bragg from the town of Mendocino, I noticed The Q on the right side of the main road just before the bridge. Not having much luck trying random barbecue joints in California, I kept on going. However, my curiosity did take note of the sign offering “Fresh Grilled Salmon”. Then more than four frustrating hours later and still hungry for something worthwhile eating in this town, a note from a lapsed chowhound who visits the area regularly recommended The Q. Figuring that things couldn’t get any worse, I circled back to try it.
Here’s the wide-ranging menu (or check the website),
Another small menu board offers up the salmon specials. A half order (six ounces) of fresh grilled salmon plus one side runs $13 and a full order (nine ounces) of salmon plus two sides is priced at $17. I went with the half order with coleslaw as the side. And because this is a BBQ shack, for pity’s sake, a single St. Louis sparerib for $2.50.
Three barbecue sauces in squeeze bottles sit on the tables. I tasted through them before my food arrived. Memphis Sweet, Spicy Hot and Carolina Tangy, each quite characterful and well-balanced.
The rib came out first, served bare naked, the better to show off the smoky crust and tasty rub. The light sweet smoke of applewood and non-sugary seasoning highlighted and did not overwhelm the taste of the meat. One fault would be the fall-off-the-bone softness that nearly all restaurant ribs suffer from after prolonged holding, but that appeals to most eaters. Overall, quite delectable with a dot or two of sauce applied with each bite. I’ll make a point to return for the other meats some time.
The grilled salmon followed quickly. Served in a basket, the fillet of fish showed some nice color from the grill and was cooked exactly on point to a velvety smooth almost custardy texture. The mild whole grain mustard sauce and dill pickle spear were great accompaniments, adding acidity and a little bit of pungent bite for contrast. The colorful coleslaw was a fresh and crunchy style with long crisp shreds of red and green cabbage laced with carrots and no mayo. Masterfully done and deserving kudos all round.
Experiencing such a deft hand at cooking seafood, I was curious about the background of the cook and this place. On the way out, I heaped praised on Chef Carlos Villafania and asked how The Q came to be. He explained that he’d been working in kitchens for 11 years, starting off at Denny’s and making the rounds of the area’s top dinner houses (many now gone). Most recently he worked at Café Beaujolais and the owner asked him to help start up The Q. He said they’d gone through a lot of trial and error on perfecting the rub and the sauces, wanting the meat to be the star and not drowned in sauce. He seemed pleased that I appreciated the final result. He said the brisket is smoked a minimum of 10 hours and as much as 16 depending on the individual piece. I pointed to the wild boar’s head mounted on the wall and asked if it was sacrificed to make the boar burger. He laughed and said the wild boar meat is sourced from Arizona since California’s pest can’t be served commercially. As a footnote, because McDonald’s shares the same property, The Q’s lease says that it cannot serve beef burgers, so the wild boar bacon cheddar burger was born.
As I type this now, 200 miles away, that wild boar burger is calling my name, and all the sides too. ‘Hounds please check out The Q and share your opinions here.
“Your North Coast BBQ Joint”
1064 South Main St.
Fort Bragg, CA 95437
Previous stop: Roundman’s Smokehouse