Melanie arrived at my house at 1:00 today to begin a seemingly simple mission: find several types of BBQ to take to a small, informal BBQ tasting with some other hounds. As you might imagine, once Melanie and I got together, the mission became anything but simple.
Our first stop was next door. Looking out the kitchen window this morning I'd noticed the Methodist church next door with a Japanese congregation was preparing its annual New Year's mochi. Melanie and I went over to buy some and watch their technique: sweet rice was being steamed in big steamers in the courtyard, then packed into the funnel of a machine that was grinding it and extruding it as a sticky-looking paste. The dough was then put in a large bowl-shaped stone mounted in a stand (so it was waist high and about two feet across), where it was pounded with huge mallets until it reached the right smooth, elastic consistency.
Mochi in hand, we headed off in the ChowCruiser for the wilds of the south East Bay. First stop: A Street in Hayward. We wanted to pick up some 'cue from Carmen's Family BBQ on A Street, but first, feeling a little peckish, we stopped at the Tacos Acapulco taco truck across the street (A Street @ Royal). The cabeza and carnitas tacos were generously filled with meat. They got points for the tortillas being griddled until slightly crisp, but lost points for the clearly bottled sauce Melanie identified as Tapatia.
We picked up a pork ribs and sliced beef combo, with both hot and medium sauce on the side at Carmen's and then headed east on A Street looking for a place that Melanie's sister had said had good tamales ten years ago but she couldn't remember the name. A true chowhound challenge! There is, in fact, a little cluster of Mexican businesses on A Street just east of the railroad overcrossing. And in between, a branch of Everett and Jones BBQ -- we could kill two birds with one stone. Melanie thought the Mi Terra market looked familiar, so we stopped there first, and indeed, they had several kinds of tamales. We sampled a pork one, judged it good, and Melanie got a dozen to take to her sister, plus some elote (sweet corn) tamales. This is one of the nicest neighborhood Mexican markets I've seen (much nicer than I remember its sister market in Oakland) -- everything looked clean and fresh, and I wouldn't have hesitated to buy any of their fresh prepared foods.
A walk down the street to the other market (Mexicanos?), which was notable for the meat counter in back with house-rendered lard (brown and carmelized looking -- 89 cents a pound), and the baked goods by the door that included alfajores (which were only okay).
We stopped at the Everett and Jones, conveniently placed between these two markets, and got pork ribs with both medium and hot sauce on the side.
We were now behind schedule, so we headed off to our next stop: Fremont. On Thorton Ave. just a couple of blocks east of 880, we saw a sign that said "Bar B Que Tonight" -- but on closer inspection was a halal Indian Pakistani restaurant. We decided the parameters of our BBQ search could be stretched to include Indian BBQ, so we stopped and ordered the BBQ (tandoori) combo. They said 15 minutes, so we explored the rest of the area and found a really delightful Persian market: Damavand Market, 37013 Towers Way (just off Thorton). Impeccably kept, beautiful foods, both made in the US (mostly LA area) and imported, including some from Iran. They also have a halal butcher in the back. We decided we had to buy some sweets for dessert, so Melania bought some baklava unlike any I've ever seen: just a small amount of thin, dark brown-orangish pastry sandwiching a filling of ground almonds heavily spiked with cardamom, sprinkled with ground pistachios. This was thinner than any baklava I've ever seen, and was cut into tiny diamonds. We also bought some of the Persian fried pastries soaked in honey, which were also excellent. BTW, Fatemah, if you're still looking for dried barberries, they had them.
Next door is the Fremont Kabob House -- a tiny but very pleasant-looking restaurant that seems to feature both Persian and Afghan dishes -- also halal. It said "under new management Grand Opening December 15th," so it might be worth checking out if you're in the area.
It was a good thing we had picked up the unexpected tandoori because our next 'cue stop was closed for the holidays. So we headed deeper into Fremont for the other location of Carmen's -- so we could do a side-by-side comparison. We stopped briefly at the intersection of Fremont Blvd. and Irvington to inspect a chow-rich territory: a Salvadoran-Mexican place called Panchita's (any relation to the SF Panchita's group?); a mall with a weird collection of eateries and a really strange Indian "groceries and mercantile"; and my favorite cross-ethnic establishment: Bombay Bazaar/Mexican Market. This was right next to Raffles Cafe "authentic Singapore cuisine" -- anyone familiar with Raffles?
Picked up more 'cue at Carmen's and headed back to Oakland to pick up some real West Oakland 'cue before heading to dinner in Berkeley. Cruised San Pablo passing up Doug's and checking to see if Flint's was open (it was) before trying to track down some rarer BBQ game. I've driven by a sign that says "Scottie's BBQ" on Market St. between San Pablo and West Grand, but it's never open, and today was no exception. It's unclear whether this is in fact a going concern -- although it was clearly not abandoned Melanie thought it might have been converted to living space. Then we went to check out the place by the post office on 7th Street, but it's no longer there. So in the end we "settled" for a slab of beef ribs in medium sauce from Flint's.
And thus ended Melanie and Ruth's wild ride, where we started in search of BBQ and found it and so much more!
Someone else will have to review the food.