Two ex-business associates and I took the opportunity this week to have lunch on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at three new-to-us barbecue places that I got from right here on chowhound. For a baseline, all three of us are long-time fans of Memphis Minnie's. The places we ate were Uncle Frank's in Mountain View, and Johnson's Barbeque and Cliff's Bar-B-Q & Seafood in the city. We didn't order the same things in each place and I didn't write notes as we ate, but anyway here goes in the order we hit them...
- Uncle Frank's - We had ribs, brisket, and links. It all arrived sauced. The ribs and brisket were both quite good. The brisket was probably fatter than I like, but it was good. The sauce was OK but I honestly dont remember much about it (didnt write this down until too much later). I don't "get" links, since I can easily cook good sausage any time I want so I won't comments on the links. I ate them and assume they were fine. The sides were cajun corn (probably canned corn with some spices, pretty forgettable) and pineapple yams (interesting and pretty good). All in all, real barbecue and if I lived or worked near there I would frequent it.
- Johnson's Barbeque - We had beef (I assume it was brisket) and pulled pork, both of which arrived sauced. The beef was very ordinary, with no indication of being smoked and virtually no flavor. The pulled pork was much better. The mild sauce was quite good. Id call it a Kansas City-type sauce with some sweetening, maybe molasses, my favorite type of sauce, with a small but noticeable trace of hot. You can add the hot sauce (we got that on the side) to make it hotter. Sides were baked beans (pretty standard and not to my liking; much better after adding some bbq sauce) and cole slaw (a heavy mayo version, didnt like it much). I'd only stop there if I was nearby and would get the pulled pork (or maybe try the ribs).
- Cliff's Bar-B-Q & Seafood - They have four kinds of pork ribs, and also beef ribs. We had the baby backs and the Alabama ribs which he said were St. Louis style (spare ribs to me), and brisket and chicken. All the sauce was on the side. Both kinds of ribs were very good, right up there with the best Ive ever had. The brisket was sliced very thin and I thought a bit tough and chewy and without a lot of flavor. Maybe it was just because it was sliced so thin, dont know. The chicken was very good, but I usually dont order chicken at real barbecue places, preferring to eat things that require the special care of long slow smoke-cooking. The sauce, available in four levels of hotness, was a thin runny type, not my preferred style. The beans were the best non-sweet beans Ive had (I prefer some sweetness). The slaw was great, a very light mayo type of dressing with a lot of flavor. This place is the real deal. There are only three tables, but most of their business is take-out and we easily got a table.
The conclusions of the three of us were remarkably consistent, and I can summarize this way...
- Memphis Minnie's still wins with tied-for-first ribs, the best brisket, and very good pulled pork. And no one else has their South Carolina mustard sauce.
- Cliff's is a close second, with great ribs and less-than-stellar brisket. They don't have pulled pork. They do have a large menu of fish which we didn't try. Oh, we did get a sample of their hush puppies (a corn meal, corn, and spice concoction) and they were great. If you go, be sure to try them. Actually, we forgot to order them! Also forgot to mention that they were very generous with offering samples.
- Uncle Frank's - Third place, but a place all of us would happily go to if we were close by.
- Johnson's - Easily outclassed by the others. The saving grace for me was their sauce, which of course others might not like as much as I did. I'll probably stop some time and buy some sauce to take home.
576 Haight (between Steiner and Fillmore)
Cliff's Bar-B-Q & Seafood
2177 Bayshore Blvd
Cross Street: Blanken Avenue
2135 Old Middlefield Way
In the back of Francescas bar.
2646 San Bruno Ave