If you recall, I've spent the last few months unsuccessfully courting Oakland's Double D BBQ. The elusive dive with the storied reputation was always closed when I stopped by; they never responded to voicemails and emails; and owner/chef Duane Orr wouldn't react to my overt attempts to smoke him (barbecue pun) out of seclusion. I was dying to try the legendary brisket and links, but my dignity was suffering.
Eventually I cued up "I Will Survive" on the MP3 player and moved on. Until, in a quiet moment last week, I got reflective. The hurt of my unrequited advances had faded to a dull ache; I was ready to give it another go. Keeping expectations low, I took out my phone and punched in the familiar number. Two rings later, a gruff male voice:
"Hello, Double D."
"Um, yes, hi, hello. Are you, ah, open?"
"We're open until 5, or until we run out of meat."
"Cool, very cool, I mean, yes! I'm going to drive over as quick as I can. Please stay open. Please. Thank you. Bye. Thank you."
The traffic gods cleared a special path for me that afternoon, and I was at Double D within 45 seconds. The interior was dark and cold, and the young woman behind the counter wore a parka with the hood up.
The decor follows a "put it on the wall" aesthetic: tiki masks, fox pelts, a Batman Forever poster, steer horns, Raiders pennants, a Spanish suit of armor, electric guitars, a dreamcatcher, and Maury Povich holding court on a flatscreen.
I ordered the $5 sandwich-and-a-side meal deal, brisket and potato salad. When I asked to sit at the deserted counter, the woman (who I was later introduced to as the "Little D" in Double D BBQ) paused for a long beat, then shrugged resignedly.
Duane Orr (aka Big D), a red-faced burly dude in his early fifties, wearing a Raiders cap and wraparound shades, emerged from out of the kitchen. We were soon bantering about the former prostitute motel next to Double D, the sub-par treatment that comes from electric smokers, and Oakland's wealth of great murals. Under Orr's chatty eye, I ate my brisket.
Burnt edges and generous smoke rings crowned strings of unctuously fatty meat, a perfect balance of chewy and crisp. The sweet and spicy house-made sauce was solid, but it was like an old food-writer's cliché: "The meat was so good it didn't need ____." Along with the ribs from Slow Hand BBQ in Concord, this was hands-down the best barbecue I've had on the West Coast.
After I finished eating the sandwich and the mushy potato salad side, we took a tour of the Double D estate. The roomy back patio was lousy with potted plants, pink flamingos, and festive murals, a hot destination for the summer months (especially when Orr snags his beer license). I checked out the solid old Backwoods manual charcoal and hickory smokers, fired up at 4 a.m. every morning. We even visited Orr's friend at Weiner Werks, a new organic hot dog shop in Double D's old location on International Boulevard. Before I left, Orr loaded me up with some soft all-beef links, a smooth meat blend that skews more towards ground beef than offal and scraps.
My ruffled feathers had been smoothed, and I even learned why I had so much bad luck visiting previously. Double D completely shut down for several weeks last fall, Orr's frustrated response to the massive 12th Street reconstruction project (he's currently trying to get compensation from the city).
Orr's right: It is dicey figuring out how to navigate construction detours to find this tiny little nugget at 1240 1st Avenue. But it's a small price to pay for barbecue this good.
Tina Tamale Buys Guerrilla Grub's Cart
After Elizabeth August gave up mobile food in disgust in early December (see her comments in this week's Letters section), her Guerrilla Grub cart went on Craigslist. Don't worry, everyone: It's staying in the East Bay.
For the last six months, Tina "Tamale" Ramos has been scouting out carts to peddle her popular tamales. Long active at special events and festivals, she operated from a tented vendor booth, requiring an hour to set up and another hour to break down. "I wanted to spend more of my time actually selling food," Ramos said.
After "putting it out in the universe" that she'd like a mobile cart, she stumbled on August's Craigslist ad. Though the women had known each other for years, Ramos had no idea it was August's listing. "It feels like it was meant to be," she said.
Ramos hopes to have the new cart up and running by late February, early March at the latest. She has been talking with Karen Hester (Bites Off Broadway) and Zac Silverman (Doc's of the Bay) about possibly vending at their events once Oakland's temporary food pod ordinance goes into effect. She is also talking to her friend Peter Jackson, chef at Toast, about selling some of his sausages from the cart.
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