black bark bbq in the fillmore district....umm, hello? barbecue!
I would say San Francisco is experiencing a Southern food boom, but in truth, it seems to have been going on for a few years now. We have a more than average collection of down home cooking places you can eat scattered across the city. Many specializing in Southern cooking straight up or with a California flare. Into this mix now comes Black Bark BBQ in the Fillmore District. Barbecue is their drawing point and you know I'm not gonna' pass that up.
We hit them up a couple weeks after they opened and the place was jumping. It is not just pork they are serving up here, there is an array of meats from chicken to brisket to sausage to turkey legs of all things. All served along with a handful of country style sides to round out your plate. They offer up meat by the pound, combo plates with sides and sandwiches. I dragged along Ms. O to dine with me so I wouldn't look like a total glutton chowing down on multiple piles of meat. We decided to go with the combo plates in order to get some sides. Plus, it seems to me, when you order by the pound it could get pricey as some smoked meats are wet and some have bones which just adds to the weight. But that's just me I guess.
Yeah, I went all in with the 3 meat--pulled pork, brisket and pork spare ribs. For sides I chose collard greens and sweet potato pecan casserole--$22. It doesn't come with bread of any kind (why!?) so I got 2 pieces of cornbread ($2 each) and the cobbler of the day ($6) which was apple. As you can see it makes it the above $32 without tax or drink. I felt I spent enough and just drank water. But was it worth it?
The ribs were tender and pulled off the bone quite easily. They had a decent char on the outside and the meat was smoky but not overwhelming. Same can be said for the brisket and the pulled pork, both were very tender with a nice basic hickory smoke. I think my one issue with the meat was it came off just a little on the dry side. Not so much it made it inedible or anything, but enough for both of us to notice. Particularly the pork and brisket, neither was wet when you figured there'd be some grease or wet from the fat but there wasn't. Fortunately they do have some in-house made sauces we liked and added to the meat.
There was a tangy, vinegary one they were pushing as Carolina but it has mustard in it making it South Carolina, not North, a distinction that must be made. There was also a spicy sweet one which was somewhere between Texas and St. Louis sauces. Then they had their own red sauce that was spicy and tangy and we both agreed this was the best of the three. Dipping the meats in it definitely perked up the flavor and took care of any dryness. For this meat + sauce combo I'll give thumbs up to it being pretty good.
The sweet potato casserole is very sweet and could just as well be a dessert. It was very much like sweet potato pie meets pecan pie without the crust. I liked it but it will be too sweet for some folks. The collard greens, while tender did not taste seasoned at all, even with the bits of bacon. Being enterprising as I am, I cycled through the sauces and found the mustard vinegar one worked amazingly to brighten and flavor them up. As served, bland, with sauce, a winner.
The cornbread was too crumbly and not served hot or even warm. It would have been nice to have my butter loving melt between the sliced bread but all it did was tear the thing apart. Thus not my favorite. The cobbler was interesting. It was a chunky apple pie filling in a cup and over the top was the crust, kind of like a potpie. Crust was flaky, little buttery and the filling was all brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. It was okay for me, though Ms. O like it a lot more than I did, so I will defer to her on this.
The two meat plate ($17) we got had the pulled pork, spicy link sausage, sweet potato fries and coleslaw. The pork here was the same so see above. The sausage does come in spicy and not spicy and the one we got did have a kick though we were torn about liking it. I thought the texture was a little off, the meat a tad dry (again!) and one of the spices in it was coming across as bitter to me. Sadly, none of the sauces helped make it better. Ms. O was more okay with it, though it wasn't exactly a favorite of hers.
The sweet potato fries came out lukewarm and on the greasy side, like they had been sitting and waiting for the rest of the order. The slaw was a spicy vinegar affair with two types of cabbage and carrots. I liked it and it is a good companion side with sauced up pulled pork. Adding a little of the mustard sauce to this too was also pretty tasty.
The place was still running full when we left and thought maybe some of the issues with the meat may have been because of the busy. I thought I'd give them another shot and see if the meat could hold up on its own without sauce. I waited a couple more weeks then stopped in on a weekday in the middle of the afternoon. When I walked in there were only 2 other folks eating so it seemed like a good time.
I picked the brisket again to compare and decided to try the chicken with sides of baked beans and mac and cheese. The brisket was still tender with nice smoke and touches of char. It was also wet this time, and visibly so and needed no additional sauce to nudge it along. The chicken turned out to be tender and easy to pull apart. And though the skin wasn't crispy it had a slight mix of seasonings on it I did like, kind of reminded me of Mediterranean flavors. The meat itself, however, suffered from dryness more so than the meat on our previous visit. I know chicken is hard to do and keep moist, especially if it's been sitting around most of the day after coming out of the broiler. Yes sauce helped, but you still got the undertones of it even when slathered in it.
The baked beans were seemingly cooked in a thick, spicy, tomato-y, bbq like sauce and pretty good. When I say spicy I do mean with some kick to the tongue in them. Somewhere above medium so know before you go. The mac and cheese wasn't so much runny creamy as it was more thick creamy and I liked this too. The cheese and flavor remind me a lot of pimento cheese, something I'm not the biggest fan of by itself, but mixed into the mac and cheese it really worked for me.
After 3 different meat plates, 6 sides, 2 pieces of cornbread and 1 cobbler (and a lighter wallet), I'd recommend Black Bark BBQ as worth a try if you are a fan of smoked meats and want to eat at another place that isn't 4505 Meats. As for the prices, I know running a restaurant in SF is costly and while it would be nice if some things were a buck or so less, they are what they are for this town. Looking at the menu there appear ways to mix and match items so a dinner for 2 won't run you $50 or more. You'll just have to decide what you want to share and how much is enough to satisfy your appetite.
And keep in mind, when you go may make a difference in how your food arrives at the table as my second visit produced juicy meat and hot out of the kitchen sides. (We'll just pretend that chicken never happened)