Perhaps no one has whined more than I about the lack of quality barbecue in San Francisco. Pizza? We’ve pretty much nailed it. Jewish deli? Getting there. But it’s easier to find Laotian fried-rice-ball salad and ube ice cream in this town than a half-decent hunk of smoked brisket. Until now.
Smokestack is the long-delayed Dogpatch barbecue spot from Dave McLean, owner of the Magnolia Pub on Haight Street, and Dennis Lee, of Namu Gaji fame, who is running the kitchen. The dining space, with picnic tables begging for a rowdy good time and a gorgeous bar featuring many Magnolia beers, overlooks McLean’s sparkling new brewery.
To be honest, when I heard that Lee hoped to add a few Asian twists to the menu, I was discouraged. I wanted straightforward ’cue! Yet after my initial encounter with his meats, all fears faded away.
The brisket — creamy with fat, totally smoky, and properly ringed and barked — was what I’ve been waiting for for a long, long time. And when the counterman asked if I was interested in even creamier, heart-achingly good burnt ends, I responded with a joyously dazed gaze not seen since my senior prom date miraculously said yes.
Both a Thai pork sausage and a dry-cured saison sausage were stunners. They were coarse, assertive, and had a higher level of wow than other charcuterie dotting menus around town.
The meats were so vivacious that sauce wasn’t really necessary, though I did enjoy dousing a paper carton of chopped pork, rife with crackly burnt bits, with a few squirts of the tangy vinegar sauce. Change the surroundings to a graveled country road, and I could have been at Snook’s in Advance, N.C.
The kimchee sauce, a little too gimmicky and not a good match for any of the meats, was a perfect topping for the soft, buttery Marla bakery dinner rolls served with every meal.
Marla bakery is also responsible for desserts, including a strawberry tart that was the essence of early summer. And I challenge anyone to find a superior crust to the not-too-crumbly shortbread version found here.
Great meats aside, Smokestack’s quirky logistics make for a frustrating experience. With the food line on one side of the room and the drinks on the other, it’s an awkward process to get both in a timely fashion.
Though a few beers and wine are offered on the food side, the majority, including all nonalcoholic drinks, are at the bar. By the time most food eventually reached the table, it was lukewarm to cold.
When visiting with a group, we adopted a Disneyland mentality, assigning line responsibilities, table-holding responsibilities, and silverware responsibilities to different friends and family. Not exactly a relaxing night out, especially when the cost per person can easily approach $30, including a drink.
Considering that there are only one or two warm sides offered on a given night, I was disappointed to see the ubiquitous kale offering on the chalkboard. However, braised in stout with a smattering of pork shrapnel mixed in, these greens actually made me feel less healthy, and the better for it. They were delicious.
Judging by Smokestack’s early crowds, it’s safe to say that I’m not alone in declaring that when it comes to barbecue, we finally have a contender.
Location: 2505 Third St. (at 22nd Street), S.F.
Contact: (415) 864-7468, www.magnoliasmokestack.com
Hours: 4 p.m. to midnight daily
Price range: $3 to $52
Recommended dishes (meat prices per half-pound): Brisket ($15), chopped pork ($9.50), Thai pork sausage ($9), stout-braised kale ($4.50), strawberry tart ($6)
Credit cars: All major