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Flint’s on San Pablo Avenue is opening June 1st & chicken ecstasy

rworange | Apr 29, 2006 12:14 AM

This was going to be my only short post. I planned just doing EOM. I’ve been to Flint’s a couple of times over the past couple of weeks and everything that needs to be said, has been.

Then I had the chicken tonight.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about BBQ on Chowhound, it is that it is inconsistent. Today’s juicy perfect ribs can be incinerated and dry tomorrow. Dr. Biggles has the dream of spending a day at a BBQ and sampling the Q every two hours to see how and if it changes.

So the disclaimer is that you might not get this chicken if you go tomorrow. I may never eat so perfect a BBQ’d bird for the rest of my life. But I’ll always have this memory and all other chickens will have this one to measure up to. If I go to Flint’s again and they duplicate this miracle, I may rent out an apartment next door.

The skin was a beautiful mahogany with flecks of black. The meat was all smoke ring, the prettiest shades of pink I have ever seen down to the bone. Even the bone had touches of pink.

And here’s the miracle, the meat was juicy and moist. I can’t say it better, so I’m putting a quote from a report Jim did on a trip to Flints long ago. Sorry, but I just cant say it any better … it’s that business about the perfect union of smoke and meat. Up to this point, that wasn’t happening with the other meats. Today I understand.

Maybe they have the smoke down right now. Even the beans had a nice smoky note that I didn’t notice on previous visits.

The chicken was too good to put any sauce on it. It would have been a sin.

I’ve tried all three sauces and my favorite is the medium. It has the best balance of the uniqueness of Flint’s, IMO.

Anyway, most people don’t follow links and scroll down, and since I don’t have to worry about copywright problems about quoting something on Chowhound from Chowhound, here’s what Jim had to say on one trip. Hope you don’t mind Jim. I just really thought it captured Flint’s.

Flint's was born again for the third time about a month ago. The recipes and Berkeley location remain the same. One of the other sons is running the re-opened Flint's.

Jim Leff on Flint's (circa 2000)

I had my first taste of great barbecue at Flints in Emeryville, California (one of several East Bay branches) in 1989. There's a palpable magic about serious food landmarks, and Flints was no exception: the scene inside appeared extra sharp and 3-D, as if you were looking through a Viewmaster. And the chow exceeded all expectations; their 'cue was a revelation to someone whose prior rib experience came mostly from Tony Roma's. My boat was floated, but I never managed to return for a second bite.

Since then, I've visited the standouts in Texas, Memphis, Kansas City, and the Carolinas and Deep South, but Flints continued to hold its own in my memory. With experience, I came to realize that their's was a hybrid version, with Texas-style meat (good cuts long-smoked, with an emphasis on beef and sausage, cooked without seasoning) and Deep South-style sauce (rich, thick, sweetish from molasses -- but not at all cloying -- and generously slathered).

A few years ago, all the Flints branches closed. Their Berkeley storefront was never re-rented; it remained a depressing vestige of past glory. The "coming soon!" sign they left behind was an extra sadistic touch, a dagger through the heart for those of us who'd loved it. But this sign, cursorily nailed to a heavily chained door, also offered a tantalizing absence of closure, the same sort of infinitesimal ray of hope against all odds that had kept so many of us going with Quisp.

Early last year, I surveyed the surviving East Bay barbecue hot spots (see my Chowhound special report), several of which claimed spiritual links to Flints, but failed to find grandeur. I started to question my faith; perhaps, as it was my first-ever taste of good 'cue, I had inflated Flints in my memory to greatness.

Well, it wasn't by any means "soon", but the sign hadn't completely lied after all. They did come back. On December 17, 1999, the Berkeley Flints resurrected, Phoenix-like, from its own aromatic ashes, and when I stopped by a few days after New Year's both the counterwoman and the meat itself proudly declared that the original people are in charge. It's every bit as great as I remember, and I use the word "great" without hesitation; this place ranks among the top tier of American barbecue. Their smoking technique is still a wondrous thing; Flints manages what only the very greatest pits achieve: a seamless unity of smoke and meat. You can't mentally separate the two; the meat doesn't taste "smoky" any more than a great Bordeaux tastes "grapey".

Their sauce remains an enigmatic marvel. Its burntish bitter tang and rich dark-flavored complexity make for an almost chocolaty quality, but meat flavor shines through with pristine clarity, a pretty impressive trick. Links are still coarse-grained and luxuriously flavorful, and pork ribs are somehow both crunchy and tender. But the sliced brisket is even better -- butter tender, and its soft, fat flavor undulates in your mouth. Such is the power of a zillion minuscule touches brilliantly applied by a masterful hand.

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