A New Version of an Oakland Classic
1915 San Pablo Ave., Oakland
Open Tue.–Thu., 7 a.m.–8 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 7 a.m.–10 p.m.
No reservations, major credit cards accepted
Delivery and catering available
How can you not like a place where the star attraction is called the “piggly wiggly?” Come on, how cute is that?
I got turned on to this particular piggly wiggly (it’s a sandwich if you’re too lazy to read on) from reading my blogger friend James, who pens the enlightening The Eaten Path. (BTW, James even has a photo of a store called the Piggly Wiggly on his home page.)
When I read James’ post about his latest eating adventure during a trip home to the East Bay, I realized that the legendary piggly wiggly sandwich is served up at Chef Edwards Bar-B-Que just a few blocks from my Oakland offices. So I recruited my friend and co-worker Sue and we both made the trek to the other side of Uptown — passed a new condo complex — for a taste of the piggly wiggly.
Chef Edwards is Earl Edwards, who opened his BBQ joint on San Pablo Avenue in 1998. About four years ago, he moved his tiny BBQ stand (presumably to make room for the new condo) across the street to his current location.
The new location is still a bit small and is packed for lunch. The décor is a bit diner motif with a splash of Americana in the novelty items along the ceiling and framed watercolors of classic old cars. A large counter with stools take up the center of the room, and towards the back is Chef Edwards himself manning the cash register.
During lunch, you order at the register and then sit down and wait for your food. Both Sue and I got the Piggly Wiggly ($5.25) sandwich, naturally, which is served with vinegar coleslaw (no substitutions, ever!). You also choose whether you want the mild or hot version of Chef Edwards’ famous BBQ sauce. (I chose mild.)
It took awhile for our sandwiches to arrive, but when it did it looked like a big open-faced sandwich with the pork pieces drowning in sauce. There was no way you could pick this sandwich up and eat it. Along with the sandwich was the coleslaw, which was a bright yellow that made Sue and I think it came from some kind of crazy Crayola factory.
I placed a bit of the coleslaw on top of my sandwich to at least make it look like a pulled pork BBQ sandwich. But I still had to use my fork to eat it.
Sue said the BBQ was the best she’s ever had (or at least I think she said it was one of the best) because she really could taste the smoky flavor. I agreed that even drowned in the sauce, you could tell the meat itself was carefully smoked to perfection.
The cole slaw wasn’t bad, either, adding a nice crunch to the overall sandwich. My only issue was that the sweet-tangy BBQ sauce is the type of sauce that tastes really good at the first bite but a bit overwhelming after the 10th. The sugar level may have been too much for me because I felt like I had a stomach ache near the end of lunch.
Still, the BBQ was so intriguing and Chef Edwards was so personable (like you’d expect from any BBQ master from the South) that I decided to return for dinner on a Saturday night.
The restaurant is much quieter at night, and instead of ordering at the register, there’s a waitress who takes your order at the table. (Maybe it’s because Chef Edwards doesn’t work the dinner rush and only he mans the register?)
I sat at the counter, watching the endless football games on the TV set above, while I also tried to decide what BBQ to order. I was tempted to get one of the combinations (ranging from two to four choices from $13.99 to $19.99) until I read the disclaimer on the menu. When ordering the combos, you can’t choose the baby back ribs, turkey wings or chicken wings.
Since I love baby back ribs (I could have gone with the pork ribs instead) I decided not to go with the combo dinner and instead got a plate of the Baby Back Ribs ($12.49).
I don’t know if it’s always served this way, but my plate of ribs came drowned in sauce. I should have asked that it be served on the side because I’m sure the ribs are just as good without the sauce on top. Still, I devoured them because they were so tender and tasty.
You get six ribs with dinner, and six sounds like a small number but after eating four I was nearly full. I blame it partly on the delicious potato salad and beans that came with my dinner. (You can also choose the cole slaw if you really like the neon-yellow slaw.)
The potato salad felt like a summer picnic, with a variety of ingredients to give it a complex but comforting flavor. I appreciated that it was balanced and not gloopy like some other places. When eating the beans, you could tell this was made from some family recipe with the beans probably cooked for hours in some kind of pork fat.
Because I thought it was weird to take home just two ribs, I powered through and finished my plate. And yes, near the end I got a bit of a stomach ache from all the sweetness in the sauce. (Lesson learned: always ask for the sauce on the side.)
Still, Chef Edwards serves up some of the best BBQ around town. Fresh meat tenderly cooked all day are served up warm and with some comforting southern sides. The service can be slow at times, but the gentile Southern charm more than makes up for it.
Single guy rating: 3 stars (It's all about the meat)
Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner
More BBQ reviews:
Looney’s Smokehouse: “Southern-style BBQ Spreads in the East Bay”
Lady’s Place: “Home-style N’awlins Plates in Downtown Oakland”
Thursday, February 18, 2010
A New Version of an Oakland Classic