By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review
Everything is still pristinely intact: the wagon-wheel chandeliers, knotty wood paneling and the red-and-yellow checkered flooring. So is the menu of smoked meats and basic side dishes worthy of a hootenanny in Texas Hill Country.
Welcome to The BBQ Pit, a historical North Park eatery that operated from 1952 to 2002 until its newest owner, Tony Daniel, resurrected it in December from a 16-year nap.
Daniel was a longtime employee at the company’s National City location before purchasing the shuttered restaurant from Doug Jenson, whose late Texas-born uncle, Joe J. Browning, and grandfather, Edward C. Jenson, launched the business Downtown in 1947.
Throughout the course of its history, The BBQ Pit branched into 30 addresses within San Diego County.
Today only two others remain — in National City and El Cajon, both of which are owned by Browning family members.
An enormous brick pit with heavy steel lids resides in the North Park kitchen, which was used in the dark years for occasional back-door catering orders.
A few feet away is an old storage closet filled with oak, the only wood Daniel uses for smoking hams, beef roasts, chickens, hot links, and marvelously messy pork and beef spare ribs.
All of the meats are available in plate form with a choice of two side dishes.
The offerings are pretty much the same as decades ago, including the company’s sole barbecue sauce made from ketchup, vinegar, sugar and various spices.
We wondered if cinnamon or star anise was one of them.
Daniel’s additions to the menu are pulled pork (juicy but a little chewy), mac n’ cheese (commendably smooth and tangy) and green beans (flavorful because they’re braised with ham bones).
My companion’s favorite protein during an early lunch was the pork spare ribs, which flaunted thin, brittle bark on top, hammy layers of flesh underneath, and tasty patches of fat along the bones.
If you’re looking for neat, dainty baby backs, you’ve come to the wrong place. Ditto if you prefer flame-broiled meats. Neither exists here.
I was especially fond of the beef, which was cut from a smoked roast into lean, medium-thick slices and stacked modestly on a plain hamburger bun without any jus, condiments or garnishes.
Horseradish is available upon request, and I assumed at first it would be needed. But the meat contained enough moisture and flavor that I didn’t bother.
Other sides we tried included coleslaw tossed in The BBQ Pit’s original dressing of white and apple cider vinegars, mayo, sugar, salt and pepper.
It’s your basic, unadulterated 1950-era recipe best eaten in concert with french fries, which are of the golden, crispy type here.
The baked beans were thick-skinned and mildly smoky, and a simple green salad with shredded carrots and red cabbage perked up from a few dribbles of zesty Italian dressing of unknown origin.
As the only place for Texas-style barbecue in North Park’s central commercial district, the eatery offers good bang for the buck and non-cramped seating. Portions are fairly generous, and the interior is bright, clean and roomy.
Also, free parking is available in the back despite the lack of signs indicating so. But Daniel assures they’ll soon go up and that customers can legally park there.
The BBQ Pit will celebrate its grand reopening March 10 with free smoked-meat sliders from noon to 3 p.m., plus raffles for BBQ Pit gift certificates and other prizes taking place throughout the day.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com.