I rely a lot on our readers' fine palates and frequently can be found running all over town, following up on recommendations. The most recent tip comes courtesy of Phyllis Jackson, who gave me the lowdown on Big Denweed's Smokehouse, located on Stine Road in what for decades was Mr. Tibbs Ribs and later Linda's Kitchen.
Based on our experiences, we have yet another solid new barbecue restaurant in town. Decades from now we may look back on 2013 as the year that Bakersfield really found its barbecue groove.
The dining room is humble to say the least; considering that Denweed has been catering for 25 years, it may be safe to assume that the restaurant is being used mainly as a base of operations for that business. Indeed, when we visited, the counter was doing a fairly steady takeout business.
The menu is pretty slim: six meat entrees (two sides and cornbread), hamburger or chicken wings with fries for $6.50, a few desserts and five sandwiches with fries for $8.99. Over our visits, we had a chance to sample an assortment of selections, including a tri-tip sandwich ($8.99), the chicken entree ($12.99) and the brisket dinner ($15.99).
Now before anyone with a Texas background starts in on me, I have to warn you upfront: The meat was cooked with sauce. I know in some regions of the country that method is considered to be a culinary sin of the highest order.
But it's absolutely fascinating what it can do to the meat.
For example, the chicken was like a different kind of food, the skin texture slick, dark, slightly rubbery and hard to cut through -- like nothing you've ever had. The meat inside was moist, white and redolent of both the sweetness of the sauce and the smoke.
However, I do need to mention that the wing part of the breast was so dried out by the smoking process, it was almost inedible. Acceptable collateral damage if you want perfect breast meat like that, I guess.
You'll find something similar if you order the tri-tip sandwich, served on what looks like a 10-inch bakery-fresh French roll and slathered in the same sauce, which has nuances and character like a fine wine. The sandwich comes with crinkle-cut fries and is large enough for two to share. The beef here was exceptionally smoky, and it was cut into chunks, some crispy on the outside, some tender throughout.
The varied textures made it more interesting. It was intoxicating just to inhale the steam coming off the sandwich, so filled with the mix of smoke and sweetness.
The brisket we sampled was something else entirely, with a dark brown exterior that looked like a skin.
The beef here was exceptionally tender, even better than a recent batch of strips we sampled at Dickey's, where the meat was saltier. For our side dishes we got yams (also very tender, and bathing in a conventional buttery-brown sugar sauce) and beans rich with the tiniest morsels of ground beef.
A sign at the counter said you can call for daily specials, and they offer a soul food menu on Sundays. If you don't consider sauce on meat a culinary crime, Big Denweed's is your place.