Stop me if you’ve heard this before: A new barbecue place just opened in Bakersfield.
And it’s good. That’s not news either. What is news about Angry Barnyard BBQ on 18th Street in the newly fashionable Eastchester part of downtown is that there’s some real Southern cooking going on here, as in tomato pie, cheese grits, buttermilk pie and house-made barbecue sauces that can feature mustard or some heat.
I should’ve known this place would be great since their original operation has absolutely thrived down at Bakersfield Racquet Club. Many tried at that location before them but had to run up the white flag. Now Angry Barnyard has expanded to a second location, which is admittedly very small but has the good sense to be located directly across from the trailblazer Cafe Smitten, next door to Dot x Ott and just down the street from Goose Loonies. The tiny size will quite possibly induce some to get takeout, as there are only two tables with fabric umbrella shades on the sidewalk, some stools and counters inside and a few tables. I’ve heard of lines out the door at lunch, but we visited on a Saturday when they have short hours and though most of the seats were occupied, many customers in line were patient. They undoubtedly had been here before.
The menu is limited but still interesting: four sandwiches (though they’ll custom-build one to your specs, the board says), three “local favorites” (Frito boat, loaded baked potato and an elote-like roasted corn salad) and what we ordered, the $15 “Southern comforts” combo plate that lets you choose two meats and two sides with house-made pickles and cornbread or a buttermilk biscuit. We selected beef brisket, pork, chicken and tri-tip, and will be back in the future to try turkey, ribs and the two sausages (Cajun and cheddar). For our sides, we selected the tomato pie, mac and cheddar (note that word — not cheese, but cheddar), cheesy pepper grits and chili beans. After a friend raved about the house-made desserts, we also picked up coconut cake ($4) and the banana pudding cake ($3).
Everything was so good my fork was flying around from one sample to the other, the diversity of tastes and textures so stunning. Let’s start with the tomato pie, which was more like a casserole with fresh tomatoes, crust, cheese and Italian seasonings. Now there are places in Philly that sell something that looks like a cheese-less cheese pizza and call it tomato pie, and some slather tomato sauce on focaccia bread and call that tomato pie. The Angry Barnyard version is closer to a recipe I’ve seen from Paula Deen with mozzarella, cheddar and basil. This is maybe less cheesy than hers, but simple and satisfying.
Cheese grits, the baked beans and the mac and cheddar were also solid, the mac and cheddar benefiting from a stronger cheddar taste than some versions we see where other cheeses dilute the soul-satisfying impact of the cheddar. The beans were spiked with meats and veggies, and the grits were good as any I had on a trip to Florida last summer.
On to the meats. The pork was more vinegary than a lot of versions we taste around town but, like all the meats we sampled, very smoky and tender. The vinegar really marked it as a North Carolina-style pulled pork rather than a Texas product. I suspect a great rub is used on all of this. The chicken was inspired, the tri-tip cut into discs and served medium rare, which I appreciated— don’t overcook it. The brisket did not have the fat layer trimmed off the top but my dogs love it when I trim it off and spike their dog food with it so I had no problem with that. And the tenderness of the brisket in particular was noteworthy. It practically fell apart at the touch of a fork.
I didn’t think any of the meats needed a sauce, but there are four choices: Alabama White, Gentlemen’s Classic and the two we tried, Sassy Southerner (spicy) and Carolina Gold (a mustard base that worked really well with the pork).
Do not skip dessert. The coconut cake was a bit dry, but the excellent frosting more than made up for that, and the banana pudding cake was a thing of beauty with cake on the bottom, a layer of pudding and a thick topping of whipped cream dotted with banana slices and vanilla wafer bits. Big enough for two to share. Like everything else we tried, you just walk away saying "wow."
I must mention that there are three tempting specials on Fridays: fried beignets, fried catfish and chicken and sausage gumbo. Few restaurants in Bakersfield have pulled off the beignets in the past, but that would be a great treat on one of the area’s First Fridays. And I have to say the fare here gets four stars in the value rating above because the prices considering the quality and the quantity is amazing. Hope they’re making money.
Service was great as it’s a family operation (we saw the young ‘uns in the kitchen) and the people seem genuinely happy to be in the hospitality business. You order at the counter and they bring the food out in short order. I believe the meat is smoked off premises as I smelled no smoke in the air and didn’t see any equipment. One customer was irked to arrive and have few meats to choose from on their visit because as at Pork Chop & Bubba’s, that other new impressive downtown barbecue joint, once it’s gone it’s gone.
Angry Barnyard BBQ can be recommended for a fine dining experience.
Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears in The Californian on Sundays. Email him at email@example.com.