The underground barbecue catering outfit, Sneaky’s BBQ, formerly delivery only, has settled into a permanent home in the kitchen of Rebel, a new gay bar/club in San Francisco. Yesterday was the public pre-opening launch and the place was packed when I arrived just before 4pm. Here’s the pre-opening menu for Presidents Day, February 21.
I ordered the four-meat combo to-go that includes four sides, $47. Pulled pork, Baby-back ribs, Kurobuta pork belly, Wings (with spicy sauce), Macaroni and cheese, Baked beans, Cole slaw, and Collard greens went into the automated order entry system with ease although it took some finagling to put in my request for all four sauces to be packed on the side.
While I was waiting, partner Pat [Wachter] came out to check on the crowd and I had a chance to talk to him a bit. He’s from Columbia, South Carolina, which explains the pork-centric menu, and Sneaky’s is his first foray into the food biz. Twenty-five minutes later my order was ready. I swaddled it in my laundry in the car to retain the heat and dashed down to Palo Alto to share the barbecue bounty with my brother. Everything was still pretty warm when I arrived 40 minutes later and the order was correct.
First up, the Wings: rubbed, smoked, fried then tossed with spicy sauce (blend of smoked jalapeño and habanero peppers) and served with blue cheese dressing for dipping. The order included drummettes and the middle wing joints. These turned out to be our favorite, packed with bold flavors even without the blue cheese dip, The white meat drummettes were overcooked and on the dry side but not hard. The smoke penetrated the silky, succulent meat of the wing flats playing well with the dry rub-crusted skin and hot sauce.
Pulled pork: pork shoulder dry rubbed the day before, smoked 15 hours to fork-pullable tenderness, then finished with the thin red vinegar and pepper BBQ sauce. Just eyeballing it, the half-pint portion looked really lean with not a speck of visible fat or glisten, and examining the cold leftovers in the fridge now, there’s no congealed grease at all. Yet the meat does stay remarkably moist, if a bit too soft for my taste. I just wish there were more smoke influence. Even the dark exterior couldn’t be considered “smoky” when I tried tasting it alone. The pulled pork and vinegary BBQ sauce are made for each other, and I added a douse of the Rooster sauce, the creamy version of the spicy sauce to add some fat and richness.
Kurobuta pork belly: 10 ounces pre-cooked weight, dry rubbed and smoked until the crust turned deep, deep brown verging on black. I was quite amazed that it didn’t taste burnt just looking at the color. The seasoned crust and richly striated meat were so delectably unctuous and stultifying, I didn’t want to sully ‘em with sauce. But I’m glad I did try avec sauce, as the vinegar contrast refreshed the intensely smoky pork flavors and counteracted some of the salt so that one could eat more than a bite. Disappointingly, more than an inch on each end of the strip was inedible, so dry and hard that I couldn’t poke a fork through the pork belly nor cut it with a dinner knife, which meant we lost about 25% of this precious meat.
Baby-back ribs: Sneaky’s signature pork ribs. Unfortunately, this batch was the weakest of the lot. Pale meat colored only by the rub tasted of little to no smoke influence. Worse yet, the meat was too tough and dried out to bite through easily or off the bone. Both William and I were perplexed by this, neither of us have ever been served a tough baby back before. Something went wrong, maybe the holding temperature was too hot. If we had been in the restaurant, we would have asked for a replacement.
As far as the sides, each was cooked competently but shared a similar bland and underseasoned tone. Maybe this was intentional to allow the customer to jazz up an customize the flavors by blending with the choice of sauces. The mac and cheese, made with soft elbow macaroni featured a lot of melted cheese with the sharpness of aged cheddar. Baked beans were pretty plain, cooked to a soft, creamy tooth, and mildly sweet. Cole slaw consisted of chopped green cabbage and a boatload of black pepper in a slightly sweet, non-goopy dressing. The collard greens still had their integrity but seemed to have been seasoned with only a little sugar. Adding the vinegar sauce and salt to the greens and baked beans, and similarly mixing some creamy Hen sauce into the slaw, helped a lot.
The highlights of this barbecue combo were the chicken wings and the part of the pork belly that was edible. Hard to say what happened to the tough meats and the oversmoking vs. undersmoking. With the switch in smokers, more practice might still be in order for man and machine to work things out. After more time in grade, the BLT made with the smoked pork belly will probably be my next taste here. The original BBQ sauce with vinegar and pepper, the spicy version, and the creamy cousins of each, handmade daily, were distinct, clean, and harmonious. The sauces along with the tasty rub are a real strength.
The Grand opening is scheduled for February 28. The plan is to serve BBQ daily from 5pm to 10pm, and also for lunch on Saturday and Sunday.
“Monday: Sneaky's BBQ Soft-Launches at Rebel”
1760 Market Street, San Francisco, CA
1760 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94102
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