Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Oakland’s Most Elusive Barbecue

by Jesse Hirsch
Tue, Nov 1, 2011 at 11:55 AM

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we have a full-on food mystery here.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been mining the Express archives, researching crucial pit stops on the East Bay foodways. Double D BBQ, this year’s Best Of winner for “The Best Barbecue Place You’ve Never Heard Of,” struck a particular chord. Promising tender and lush slow-cooked brisket by-the-pound, the blurb mentions Double D is only open limited hours, three days a week.

I have since gone to Double D on four occasions, and I have yet to eat one barbecued morsel. Facts:

1) Every time I stop by, there are hungry people milling about the parking lot, rattling the locked doors and peering in the windows.

2) Store hours are listed differently on Double D’s website, Twitter, and Facebook accounts. I have tried visiting during all of these times.

3) The restaurant does not appear to be out of business. Everything is set up and orderly, and twice the lights have been on. (However, the smoker sits in chains.)

4) Double D’s voicemail, which promises a return call within 24 hours, gleans no results. Email has also proven ineffective.

On my last visit, a wishful customer sat in a white conversion van, shaking his head. He looked puzzled, almost hurt. This burly former Oakland cop provided some back story on Double D’s chef/owner, Duane Orr. Duane was initially schooled at Everett and Jones, before his barbecue skills proved to easily surpass his teachers. He’s an older “biker guy,” who refuses to hire underlings because he thinks they’ll “eff up his recipes.” And he doesn’t have the energy to keep up with his listed hours.

What doesn’t add up is Double D’s illusion of accessibility. Why create a slick website, replete with CGI graphics of a plane attacking Oakland with Double D flavor bombs? Why produce a video of customer testimonials? What’s the point of a robust social media presence (Twitter, Facebook, even LinkedIn)? If you’re a cranky hermit chef who can’t handle the pressures of popularity, why pretend otherwise?

The ex-cop in the van told me he doesn’t usually like barbecue but that “Double D is the kind of place that makes you a convert.” I’ve seen photos of the mouthwatering brisket and hot links, still smoking and drizzled in sauce. I’ve read reviews that wax reverential and awe-inspired.

Some frustrated Yelpers have floated theories that the whole thing is a put-on, or a drug front. But, like Mulder, I want to believe.

Comments? Tips? Get in touch at Jesse.Hirsch@EastBayExpress.com, or follow me on Twitter @Jesse_Hirsch.

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