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Restaurants & Bars

Yes: BBQ at New Sweet Home Church, East Palo Alto

David Sloo | Dec 3, 200503:00 PM     1

It's been a while since anyone posted about this barbecue, and logistics have changed slightly. Quality remains high.

On Fridays and Saturdays, you can get barbecue chicken, ribs, and links in the parking lot at New Sweet Home Church in East Palo Alto.

The executive chef, Mike, uses an eight year old, four-bay, two-firebox trailer cooker -- the kind that looks like it is made largely out of oil drums and scraps from a Texan welding shop. He keeps the interior temperature between 300 and 400 deg F. Once ribs are cooked, he puts them inside a bin with a little water in the cooler part of the cooker to, as he says, tenderize and keep getting smoke flavor.

Mike learned to cook from his father, who served as cook in the merchant marines in the mid-20th century. He and his father had a barbecue pit in Napa.

And from his dad, Mike learned: always include some fruitwood in the firebox. Mike has landed on a particular secret fruitwood. I won't divulge the species, but there were still some of the fruits and leaves on the branch he put in the firebox while I watched. And the particular fruit make the moniker 'Napa-style barbecue' appropriate. (But it's not grapevines.)

The ribs are flavorful, with smokiness all the way through. Although not 'falling off the bone', they are tender. I also sampled some of the rib-end scraps while I was there. These pieces offer more surface area for browning and good fat rendered internally, so they are tender.

Chicken -- in leg quarters -- has a deep brown color and shares the ribs' thorough smokiness.

The sauce is a surprising blend of homemade and store-bought. The homemade recipe is that of the late pastor of the host New Sweet Home church. The blended sauce is aromatic, quite tart, and rich. It is mildly spicy, with a long finish.

And the barbecue is delectable without the sauce: tender but with that kind of 'medium-rare-to-medium' juiciness that is hard to achieve.

Sides, sauce, packaging, and money are handled inside a trailer. The trailer is up on blocks, lending a welcome air of permanence to this barbecue gem.

Note: no longer open from sunrise, and days of operation may be irregular. I got there at 10:30 on Saturday, and Mike suggested I return half an hour later so that the chicken and ribs would be tender. A full rack of ribs is $24. A one-meat plate with five or so ribs and sides runs $12.

Bar-B-Q, New Sweet Home Church, 2184 Capitol Avenue, East Palo Alto. This is a block from the freeway-side Ikea store, University Avenue exit from U.S. 101. You'll need to go around the block via Cooley or University if exiting from the freeway. Check a map or open your window and use your olfactory guidance system.

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