I’d heard about the barbecue joint that took the place of Smalley’s Round Up a year ago from my friend who works nearby. He swears it has transformed him into a barbecue addict. So it became mandatory that, after a rigorous kayak session, we went along with two other friends for a well-deserved pig out so I could see what all the fuss was about.
Off the beaten industrial path, Salinas City BBQ is located on Highway 183/ West Market Street and Davis Road, not far from the new California Welcome Center. Thanks in part to a rocking chair on the porch and smoke spewing out of the back from a large barbecue pit, the converted old corner house is a welcome sight in and of itself. The décor is clean, country kitsch with various colored plastic gingham tablecloths, mix-matched wooden painted chairs and unmatched curtains that hang from clothespins as if they were aprons on a clothesline. Country music was playing when we stopped by. I felt like I had stepped into a barbecue shack in the South.
The server quickly greeted us and led us to our seats. My first gaze was toward the hanging chalkboard listing at least 14 high-quality craft beers, the regular domestics, four of the best Mexican brews and, for the rough-around-the-edges folk, Schlitz. A righteous lineup to make all walks of life happy.
I ordered my favorite hoppy Lagunitas IPA, which I knew would go great with all things barbecued. The beer arrived and I was happily confused – I hadn’t noticed that some of the brews only came in 22 ounces ($7.82), as is the case with Lost Coast Great White, Arrogant Bastard, Kilt Lifter (15-percent alcohol), Anchor Steam Liberty, Boont Amber Ale, Poleeko Gold and Fat Tire. In 12 ounce quantity: Blue Moon, Red Nectar, Blue Star, ACME Pale Ale, Full Sail, The Hairy Eyeball and Sierra Nevada.
The waiter told us that owners Eric and Larry Ingram have a few barbecue restaurants in the area, the oldest being Trail Dust in Morgan Hill, which has been serving for more than 20 years, along with Aptos Street BBQ and the most recently opened, Gilroy BBQ 152. Their specialty is slow-and-low smoking all of the meats over white oak.
The menu consists of five different types of barbecue sandwiches: tri-tip, pulled pork, chicken, hot link and rib. The small sandwiches are $7.95 and the large $11.50. There are meals including all of the above ranging in price from $8.95 to $22.95 depending on how ambitious your appetite is, and how many types of meat you want to eat; the two-meat combo costs $17.95 and the three meat combo is $21.95. All meals come with grilled garlic bread, and choice of two sides, coleslaw, beans or potato salad.
The menu also lists prime cuts like the 14-ounce rib-eye steak ($23.95) or the 22-ounce ($32.95), served with port seared mushrooms, grilled garlic bread, a small green salad and baked potato; the steaks will take a half hour, so get a drink and plan to stay awhile.
Between four of us we ordered a nice sampling off the menu: the BBQ chicken sandwich ($6.95), a pork rib meal that comes with garlic bread and two sides ($9.95), a large rib meal ($14.95) and a tri-tip sandwich. When we learned all the sandwiches can be served on garlic bread, we had two words: Yes, please.
The small garden salad ($3.95) arrived with yellow and red bell peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes on romaine, and satisfied our need for greens.
My pulled pork sandwich arrived without sauce but a side of somethin’ delicious called “hog wash.” The pork was tender and smoky and, when dipped in the wash, was a match made in heaven: The lovely pork au jus with molasses and a hint of vinegar was perfect for this sandwich. There’s also back-up: two types of barbecue sauce, spicy and mild, are available to slather on. The spicy sauce is flavorful with good heat while the mild leans toward tangy, smoky and sweet. The side of beans was earthy and simple, with big chunks of bacon. The combo had me happier than a pig in you-know-what.
Nearby my partner-in-crime gnawed on his pork ribs and, between bites, exclaimed how juicy and succulent they were. I had to rip a rib out of his hands to try a bite before they were gone. The chicken sandwich sample I tried was just as wonderful, as was the tri-tip.
My friends all enjoyed their meals and we were unanimous in our feeling that the meats, sourced from family-owned Ray’s Wholesale Meats out of Yakima, Wash., were tender, smoked just right and flavorful without being dry. The coleslaw and potato salad were average but I appreciated that neither were too mayonnaise-y.
We took home the famous bread pudding ($6.95) – Ingram’s mom’s recipe – and the berry cobbler ($6.95).
The bread pudding was like none other. A crispy topping, with soft sweetness beneath matched wonderfully with the warm rum caramel sauce. The berry cobbler was a hot mess of berries with a few peach slices tossed in and a flaky crust on top. Both desserts were divine.
After a full belly of barbecue and too much desert too soon after the main course, the day ended with a nap in the hammock and dreams of hog wash running through my head.
Beef brisket is a Friday-only thing which must have some good reason behind it, but that means only a select few will get the opportunity to lay their taste buds on their brisket.
I’ve never been ultra – excited about BBQ, but like my friend I have been transformed. Great service, amazing food and generous portions that arrive within minutes can do that. Thank you, Salinas City BBQ, for showing me the way.
SALINAS CITY BBQ 700 W. Market St., Salinas • 11:30am – 9pm Tue-Sun. • 758-2227.