Hungry hipsterdom and splendid barbecue, mingling to pleasant effect
Who needs the fleshpots of Sodom or for that matter SoMa when we can find all the flesh we can handle at barbecue restaurants? All right, it's not quite the same thing, but close. The real issue pertains to the restaurants. San Francisco isn't much of a barbecue town; we are a village of pastels, and barbecue is a primary color.
We are also a realm of hipsters, and where there are hipsters, it follows that there might also be hipster barbecue. If you were to start sniffing around for something in this line, you would do well by beginning along those blocks of Mission just south of Cesar Chavez, where Bernal Heights and the Mission mix and mingle and hipsters are known to congregate. Your divinations of hipster habitat would soon lead you to a building with some old Rexall Drug signage still affixed, even as profound change arrived late last year.
You have found eureka! Baby Blues BBQ (outpost of a small SoCal chain), which doesn't especially look like a barbecue joint either outside or inside but does sound like one. It's filled with a well-mannered raucousness, not to mention touches of kitsch, among them an alabaster cow's head mounted above the bar like a trophy from some strange safari. Also above the bar: a flat-screen TV showing rodeos in which young men are thrown from bucking, heaving bulls with serious-looking, Pamplona-worthy horns. It seemed to me that the people sitting at the bar were riveted by these dust-ups, but maybe this just proves the Warholian dictum that people would rather watch something than nothing.
Elsewhere on the floor the layout is an archipelago of trapezoids people seem more interested in the food than the rodeo. If you don't find high-def rodeo footage to be particularly appetite-kindling, you might well be relieved, as I was, to find yourself among people who are tucking with real application into impressive platters of ribs, chicken, brisket, and so forth. (There are two communal tables, for the communal-minded.)
Some of the best flavors to be found at Baby Blues involve the side dishes, or, in menu-speak, "fixins." They're $3.50 each, a la carte; they also come two (of your choice) to a dinner platter and, as a quartet (also of your choosing), make up their own dinner platter. Among the best of these are the "blues on a cob" an ear of shucked corn, roasted and then slathered with poblano-chile butter and crumblings of mild white cheese and the macaroni and cheese, which features fat tubes of pasta (perhaps ziti) in an intense cheese sauce under a lid of broiled bread crumbs.
We were somewhat less impressed by the coleslaw, which suffered from wateriness. Not enough mayo? The cabbage was fresh and crisp, though. And the baked beans were more looks than flavor. The roll call included black, pinto, and kidney beans as in a three-bean salad but the overall affect was a mild, tang-less sweetness. The wonderful, smoky-dark cornbread, presented as a brownie-like square with nicely crusted edges, did provide some balance and extra texture here.
As for the flesh: it's served in ample portions that nonetheless don't overwhelm. It is one of life's dismaying facts that too much good food, or any food, can turn the delight of eating into the curse of bloat, and this danger is especially high, in my experience, at places that traffic in heartiness. Barbecue certainly qualifies. But Baby Blues has its portion sizes expertly calibrated.
A half-rack of Memphis-style long bone pork ribs ($17.95) featured meaty slats, cooked with a strong hint of smoke and left with plenty of juiciness. The sauce slightly failed to amaze, I must say. It lacked presence and (probably a related issue) seemed to have been thinly applied. In fairness, it must be said that too much sauce can be as bad as too little and can leave one with the impression that a cover-up has been attempted. Baby Blues has nothing to hide, ribs-wise.
Beef brisket ($13.95) is one of the classic cuts of tough but tasty meat. Here it's braised in beer, which lends a pleasant sourness, and served in shreds, like a disintegrating garment. Its nearest relation might be ropa vieja, a Cuban dish of shredded flank steak. Shredding tough cuts before serving them is wise; it not only makes the customer's job easier but adds a final layer of insurance that any remaining toughness demons have been exorcised.
Desserts are of the down-home school. We reached a split decision on a peach pie ($5) littered with blueberries; Dr. No thought it wasn't sweet enough, but I liked the homemade-ness of it, including the fine, flaky pastry. But we both loved the banana mousse ($5), which was like a gelato that managed to stay solid at room temperature and was enhanced by pulverized vanilla cookies. There was also plenty of it, so, like spackle, it helped fill any last gaps left by the savory dishes. We did get up feeling a pound or two heavier.
BABY BLUES BBQ
Mon.Thurs., 11:30 a.m.10 p.m.;
Fri.Sat., 11:30 a.m.11 p.m.; Sun., noon10 p.m.
3149 Mission, SF
Beer and wine