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Hugs and Tears of Joy at Pack Jack Bar-B-Que in Sebastopol


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Hugs and Tears of Joy at Pack Jack Bar-B-Que in Sebastopol

Melanie Wong | | Jun 19, 2012 12:01 AM

Thursday afternoon I tried calling the new phone number for Pack Jack Bar-B-Que one more time, and unlike all other attempts, somebody answered. I needed to know if it would really be opening on Friday, June 15. The answer was affirmative, open at 11:00am until 10:00pm. For background and news of the re-opening, check out this thread: “Pack Jack's BBQ up in smoke!!”

Where to have lunch on Friday turned into a no-brainer. As I got closer on the Gravenstein Hwy, I spotted the colorful pennant streamers strung over Pack Jack for opening day.

I wasn’t the only one, as other passers-by and old customers pulled in to see what was going on. As they came in and learned that their neighborhood barbeque restaurant had re-opened after eight years, there were excited phone calls to friends and family, hugs all-round, and many tears of joy. Like me, some had lost faith after some false alarms, especially after the passing of the family matriarch. Our mutual disbelief turned into celebration. We, eager first day customers, did a count off among ourselves. By arriving at 11:40am, I earned the spot of customer #4 in the hierarchy.

My first sight on stepping inside was the view into the kitchen. Front and center, a barbeque-lover’s vision of loveliness: a big hunk of well-smoked, swarthy near-black brisket under the knife. Bursting with juices, rimmed with fat and a smoke ring, this point cut brisket met the knife like butter falling off into steamy, supple slices. I knew what I had to order even though the sliced beef had never been one of my favorites here.

With no printed menus yet, Brendan, Donnie Harris’s grandson, recited the choice of meats to me: chicken, pork ribs, lamb, or sliced beef. No homemade hot links or beef ribs yet. The $15 combo plate would include two meats, two sides (slaw, potato salad or beans) and a couple dinner rolls and butter. For me, sliced beef (brisket) and lamb with beans and coleslaw.

This was decidely old-style barbeque with deep, dark smoky bark served up in an out-sized portion untrimmed of fat or tough edges. I asked for some of the hot and some sweet sauce served on the side.

Pack Jack’s lamb burned brightest in my taste memory and anticipation was high. Sadly, this first example was a let-down, but it was the only disappointment on this first day. Once I picked through the layers of fat and pulled off the heavily smoked, too tough to chew bark, the remaining meat was somewhat overcooked and starting to break apart. Still tasty, yet low on yield and it’s been better in the past.

The sliced beef (brisket) side of the combo fared better and was everything that my first drool-inducing sighting promised. Much heavier on smoke than anything else I’ve tasted locally, true to Texas style. A small inner voice of a KCBS Certified BBQ Judge protested that it was oversmoked and too chewy in spots, but no matter, I was nutty for this brisket. Sure, could have been more tender but the rich beefiness complemented by just smoke, salt, pepper, and rub was so very satisfying. I bought a pound to take home to share with weekend guests. One said that it was the smokiest thing she’d ever put in her mouth. When I offered up a choice of sauces, another remarked that he would not want to sully smoked brisket as good as this with sauce.

In a booth behind me, an unseen customer exclaimed, “I’ve been waiting eight years for these beans”, and I nodded in silent agreement. A touch sweet, quite smoky and meaty with a slug of black pepper and spice, I loved those beans too. The fresh, crunchy coleslaw, made with large shreds of cabbage and some carrot, was dressed lightly with a mustardy tang and minimal (if any) mayonnaise. Good marks on these sides.

I also brought home a whole smoked chicken, $15.95 a la carte, another of my past favorites at Pack Jack. It was as good as I remembered. Mahogany of skin with heavy smoke influence, not overbrined, too salty nor injected with sweeteners, again, this old-fashioned chicken, bringing together just smoke and meat hit every button. What’s old is new again, and the back to basics style was a welcome bolt from the past.

And about those sauces, the hot was plenty fiery but seemed not quite as incendiary as my recollection. Still liked it very much, many other flavors firing besides just heat. The sweet had good depth and a nice tang to strike a balance. And while I also had a cup of the mild version, I somehow missed tasting it.

By the time I finished lunch, the opening day menu print job arrived.

The young woman who was touching up the menus said she would be making the sweet potato and pecan pies, as the keeper of the family recipe. None were available on Friday, but should be soon.

For now, Pack Jack Bar-B-Que is open weekends only and plans to serve six days a week (closed on Mondays).

Pack Jack on opening day