Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dish on Dining: Looney’s Smokehouse

Southern-Style BBQ Spreads in the East Bay
5319 Martin Luther King Blvd., Oakland
North Oakland neighborhood
PH: 510.652.1238
Breakfast buffet, lunch and dinner daily
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

With grilling being a big summertime affair, I was excited to hear from my neighbor Joe that a new barbeque joint opened up in the hood. Turns out, it’s the second location of the popular Looney’s Smokehouse in Berkeley, which was voted “Best BBQ in Alameda” (as prominently mentioned on its Web site) by KRON-TV’s “Best of the Bay.”

I have to admit, I never heard of Looney’s so I was suspicious when Joe and I pulled up at the new MLK location. The spot is under the BART and highway overpass and sits pretty much alone in this quiet part of town that borders Berkeley.

When we walked inside, the place was totally empty except one table of what looked like old-timers (or they were just old people). Plus, the décor was simply orange, which I guess is someone’s attempt to complement the BBQ sauce.

Looney’s serves up your typical barbeque fare, which means lots of ribs and smoked things, along with sandwiches, burgers and fried stuff.

Joe ordered the North Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwich ($8.95) along with additional sides of macaroni and cheese and corn. North Carolina refers to the particular type of BBQ sauce used when cooking the pork.

Looney’s offer five particular styles of BBQ sauces, including the aforementioned North Carolina, Texas, Kansas City, South Carolina Spicy Mustard, and something called “Girly Man.”

I wanted to get the full experience of Looney’s BBQ so I ordered the combo plate (choice of two kinds of meats for $18.95) and got the baby back ribs and BBQ chicken with the Kansas City sauce, which our server recommended as the best Looney’s sauce to try for a newcomer.

Joe’s plate was filled with pulled pork and a lot of French fries, but his sandwich looked sad with just the two ordinary slices of bread keeping the pork together. His mac n’ cheese had a strange texture to it, tasting a lot like something that came out of a box. His tiny corn on the cob was lukewarm.

My plate came with garlic mash and cole slaw, and it kind of threw me because the plates looked like they came from a Chinese restaurant. The chicken was shredded, which surprised me. My server apologized for not warning me that this is how the BBQ chicken is served. If you buy the chicken dinners, then you get quartered pieces of chicken.

Both the chicken and ribs were drenched in the Kansas City BBQ sauce, which was slightly spicy and sweet. Our server brought out squirt bottles (oddly in a Budweiser six-pack container) so we could try the other BBQ sauces, but my plate had so much sauce I didn’t even bother.

The chicken was all right, but the ribs seemed slightly dry. It tasted like it was smoked earlier in the day and then just left sitting waiting for the dinner crowd. While the meat was tender, it just didn’t seem to make my mouth water.

Side note: We had an incredibly charming waiter who was friendly, helpful and courteous. He really went out of his way to make our stay feel homey.

I hear Looney’s original Berkeley location is often packed, so if you’re tired of the crowds you can always go to the Oakland location because there’s plenty of room. Although I wonder if Looney’s tasty reputation has lost some of its charm when moving to MLK.

Single guy rating: 2.25 stars (Filling but unspectacular)

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

Looney's Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

Related posts:
Lady’s Place: “Home-style N’awlins Plates in Downtown Oakland”
Father’s Day Grilling Class at Two
Asian-style BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich recipe


Ammie said...

I wonder if you caught them at a bad time. So many places are sub-par between peak dining times.

BTW, Southern BBQ is traditionally served with plain white bread, and 6 pack containers for condiments are also a BBQ joint staple.

egg to the apples said...

I have eaten at the Berkeley Looney's and walked away unsatisfied...too much sauce for me. IMO the meat should speak for itself, let the customer decide how much sauce they would like.

foodhoe said...

I noticed that a couple of weeks ago and wondered about it. Seems odd that they give you the option of all the different sauces but serve it already drowned in sauce... Love the chinese tableware touch!

Carolyn Jung said...

That's too bad that it didn't wow ya. But I have to say, I laughed at the "girly man'' sauce. You just gotta love a name like that.

Nate @ House of Annie said...

That's the problem with barbecue restaurants - if there isn't enough turnaround, your 'cue will sit around drying out under a heat lamp. All that sauce was necessary to make you think it was moist.

bethh said...

If they have a happy hour menu like the Berkeley one does, I highly recommend the pulled pork nachos. OMG so freaking good. It's really a genius combo.

Unknown said...

I hear Looney’s original Berkeley location is often packed, so if you’re tired of the crowds you can always go to the Oakland location because Cohiba Coronas Especiales
there’s plenty of room. Although I wonder if Looney’s tasty reputation.