Spaghetti with bottarga, the must-order at La Ciccia.
You know how things seem to come in waves? Suddenly there are a million superhero movies, suddenly neon is in again, suddenly barbecue joints are everywhere.
The latter is particularly notable if you live in San Francisco, a place hardly considered a barbecue capital. Barring places like Da’ Pitt in what used to be called The Western Addition (a better name for a barbecue neighborhood than Nopa, I’d say) and a few out in Bayview such as Smokin’ Warehouse Barbecue—the city has been lacking in pure barbecue spots.
But in the past year, a smattering of newfangled spots have popped up, from CatsHead to Cedar Hill to Southpaw to Wexler’s Back. Soon, there will be Hi Lo Barbecue from Scott Youkilis of Hog & Rocks sporting some crazy bazillion pound, $37,000 dollar or such J&R smoker.
I made it to Wexler’s Back yesterday. It rolls up in the form of a truck parked on Commercial Street downtown, right behind Wexler’s restaurant, which opened a few years back doing an intellectualized take on barbecue. Or at least smoke. Or the intellectualized idea of smoke as applied to food. Wexler’s was really good the last time I was there (which I’ll admit was a while ago).
So it was no surprise that the ribs and the brisket and the hushpuppies from Wexler’s Back are really good too. The hushpuppies are made like a cornmeal pate au choux, which makes them light and fluffy—the opposite of the leaden fried balls I grew up eating in Louisiana. (Tasty leaden balls, I might add.) Chef Charlie Kleinman’s light-as-air puppies have been a big hit. “It speaks to the palette of San Franciscans,” he told me. “They’re really into what’s different.”
I brought back a rack of ribs (tender but not too; sauced but not too much), a bunch of juicy brisket, some white bread, and collard greens back to work. With the office infused with the smell of barbecue, some very grateful editors and art directors and I sat in the conference room and pretended we lived somewhere else for a moment—styrofoam plates (courtesy of our own office, should an environmentalist blame it on Wexler’s Back) and all.
Though Wexler’s makes a classic Texas barbecue, my favorite sauce is the North Carolina, which is vinegar-based and sharp, a nice contrast to the fatty meat. As I poured it over the ribs, I thought of my friend who moved from here to Durham where it’s 86 degrees with a chance of thundershowers today. Something that San Francisco will never have, even if it now has some barbecue worth writing about.