Smoke Barbecue, Berkeley

What is it about car washes and cheap eats that I can’t resist? I’m not sure, but whether it’s tacos, hot dogs, sandwiches or whatever, whenever I see a food stand next to a car wash, I almost stop and check it out. I happened to be in Berkeley recently, and saw Smoke next door to the Solar Car Wash at 2434 San Pablo Avenue. They are in the space formerly occupied by a mediocre taqueria. I had read about Smoke,and I am a sucker for barbecue, so why not?

Now, my favorite Bay Area barbecue of all time used to be available about a mile-and-a-half down the road at Flint’s in West Oakland. I’ve searched high and low since they closed up a number of years ago, but every place has come up short. If you remember Flint’s,they were the epitome of old-school, no frills urban barbecue. The sides were simply potato salad and sliced, commercial white bread stuffed into a Glad sandwich bag. None of that mattered once you tasted their barbecue. The coarse ground hot links were excellent, but the ribs were the thing to order. Smoky, tender, just the right combination of atty and lean, lightly touched with their serviceable sauce. There was just enough chew where you had to work a bit to get them off the bone, but not too much. Always meaty, with a chewy, crusty tip, these were the best I’ve had in the Bay Area. The sauce is better at Everett & Jones and the sides more interesting at Doug’s ( barbecued spaghetti anyone?), but the ribs & links were better than those places, KC’s, Chef Edwards, Leon’ s, Big Nate’s, People’s Choice, Brother-In-Law’s and even Vic and Betty’s…….ahh the memories! But this is not about Flint’s, but about Smoke.

The ribs were smoky, and plenty meaty, but were not as juicy or succulent as they could be. They wphoto-7ere also surprisingly a bit bland, except for the smoke.

The sauce could use more punch, but that could have been because I took them to go. When I got home, I had to slather them with some sauce from Everett & Jones.

The collard greens were not bad after a few shots of hot sauce. They were less cophoto-6oked than you would normally find at a typical soul food joint, but they did have some nice bits of smoked pork ( ham hock?) And chopped onion. Nana’s potato salad was not bad, but nothing spectacular. The small rib plate ($12.95) included 4 ribs, a small side, and a square of jalapeno corn bread. I opted for the jalapeno mac & cheese, but couldn’t detect any jalapeno. The free pickles and onions are a nice touch. I wasn’t overly impressed, but I’ll try them again as many of the other items on the menu sounded great. Vegan sauteed brussel sprouts and the watermelon and feta salad sounded worthy of a second trip.

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