Update (6/4/20): Underground Backyard BBQ won't be able to hold pop-up events until the county is completely in phase three of California's economic reopening plan.
Summer is barbecue season and Bakersfield is blessed with options, including one that might be in your neighborhood. Underground Backyard BBQ is bringing Southern pit barbecue to Westchester.
Owner Tony Bitten said it was a chance experiment that helped him turn his love of barbecue into a side hustle.
During the week, Bitten works as a project manager for Kaiser Permanente, covering L.A., West L.A., Downey and Antelope Valley in addition to Kern County. But he always found time to make home-cooked meals.
"Actually I was just cooking at home for my family and family events for a long time," he said. "My wife said you need to share this talent with the world. She’s said that for years."
The opportunity to make that happen came early last month. Inspired by a National Barbecue Month post in which a man staged a pop-up in his backyard, Bitten set up his own in his front yard on Elm Street.
With a nod to his Alabama roots, he prepared a spread of Southern-style barbecue and offered samples to his neighbors on the first Saturday in May.
Responses were good, he said, with people asking when he would be back out.
"We've been doing it for the last four weeks. We're truly blessed and honored that people like the food."
Each week, Bitten sees a mix of returning and new customers as word of mouth grows.
"My biggest supporters have been my neighbors in Westchester but some have come as far as from the southwest."
Offerings consist of a selection of barbecued meats (pork ribs, chicken or brisket) and side dishes (collard greens, smoked mac and cheese and black-eyed peas with brisket). Based on customer feedback, some changes have been made down the line.
Bitten and his wife, Dalaia, sit down on Sundays and discuss the responses they received. Then the menu is usually set and posted by the next day.
Brisket is one of the newer additions to Bitten's repertoire. He transitioned to it from tri-tip and has been happy with the results.
"I tried it and it turned out good. So juicy, the way you cook it. I like to put my soul into my food."
It's available as a plate ($15, includes two sides), by the pound ($22) or half-pound ($12) or as brisket fries ($10), his newest menu item.
"Everybody really loves those," Bitten said of the fries topped with brisket, cheese sauce, sour cream, sliced jalapeño, tomato and green onion.
This week the menu includes plates ($15) with choice of pork ribs, chicken or brisket as well as a meat sampler combo ($22). Additional sides are also available separately for $5 each.
Those feeding a family at home can opt for the aforementioned brisket or a full rack of ribs ($25) or half rack ($12).
Beef hot links ($5) and beef hot dogs ($2) will also be available along with beverages ($2) including sweet tea, tropical lemonade and bottled water.
Bitten's wife and their three daughters help out on Saturdays and customers are encouraged to bring their own kids to pick up some food.
"When people come by, this is a family affair, family-friendly," he said. "If it wasn't for the COVID thing, we’d have it in the backyard."
Once all the paperwork is settled and when conditions allow for more public gatherings, Bitten would like to take his pop-up to other areas of town. Eventually, after building a customer base, he would like to establish a brick-and-mortar location.
The next pop-up starts at 1 p.m. Saturday at 2506 Elm St. and runs until "the food is sold out or it gets dark," Bitten said.
After the past few pop-ups, there's been some barbecue left. Along with sharing with next-door neighbors, Bitten has also taken some to the homeless outside the Smart & Final off Golden State Avenue.
"That’s where I shop and we see them all the time," Bitten said. "I thought, 'Why don’t you make a difference in the community? Start with those around the corner.'"