On the tip of someone in a separate thread, this lifelong Southerner and recent Bay Area transplant decided to check out Gator's Back Porch BBQ yesterday, operated out the back of his more formal (and somewhat maligned) Dollie Marie's restaurant. I've often criticized Chef Gator for charging way too much for the quality of cuisine he puts out (middle-of-the-road level Southern food) but dolling up the atmosphere so that he can set his food at a too-high price point.
Well it looks like finally he's entertaining a concept where price and cuisine are in total harmony, and filling a vacuum of cuisine that the Bay Area currently suffers from - namely high-quality from-scratch casual Southern bbq and sides. A tent is set up at the back of his restaurant where you place your order and pay (cash only), with some grills/smokers set up there where the meats are smoked, and the order is sent to the indoor kitchen where the food is quickly plated for you (either to eat there at some picnic tables or take to go). The menu runs the gamut of yummy BBQ options - smoked chicken, honey-glazed beef brisket, smoked leg of lamb, ribs, and hot links. Sides include red beans & rice, collard greens, mac & cheese, pineapple cole slaw, and red potato salad. All meals come with cornbread, and one meat is $10, two meats for $12, and three meats for $14 (all taxes inclusive). You get a whole lotta food with your order.
The entire setup and quality reminds me of the impromptu church- or volunteer fire department-organized backyard BBQs you often find on warm Saturdays in the South. The quality of the meats used is high. I ordered smoked chicken and brisket. The chicken was juicy, although could've used more smokey flavor. I especially liked the beef brisket - the meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and the honey glaze was excellent.
Collard greens were nearly out-of-this-world good. Very fresh, silky texture, although slightly sweet for my liking. The mac & cheese was just okay - should've used more vibrant cheeses and cut down on the cream, and bake it so that it develops a crust. Gator knows how to do it - he did it in his old restaurant - so maybe he's trying to keep costs down? He should switch to the more timeless rendition.
The cornbread was the sweet incarnation. I prefer a savory kind that has pork cracklins in it, but it's really yummy to have as a dessert.
All in all, this is an important step forward in the Bay Area's southern food scene, IMO. A casual offering of traditional southern meats and sides using fresh ingredients and a price that won't break the bank. If I had one complaint about the meal, is that it had a few too many sweet overtones and not quite enough smokey bite. My NC bbq tradition emphasizes the need of both sweet and sour. That's why we usually drink sweet tea with our southern food. Gator seems to subsume the sweet elements into the food itself while de-emphasizing the sour. I was hankering for some lemonade throughout the meal.
But all in all, I like what he's doing. From a pure BBQ perspective, I like the meats at Gorilla BBQ in Pacifica better, as well as their mac & cheese and red beans & rice. But Gator is doing collards, and that along with the brisket is enough to have me coming back every week.
Hours are 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. on weekdays right now. He's thinking of converting the restaurant itself to a casual BBQ place and expanding the hours. That would be grand.
1602 South El Camino Real
San Mateo, CA 94402