After 2011 brought a notable uptick in southern cuisine around town, San Francisco may be upping its barbecue game, at long last. It's been nearly two years since we first caught wind of the new barbecue project by Maverick/Hog & Rocks founder Scott Youkilis and partners Dave Esler and Eric Rubin, and the time has finally come for its opening. Hi-Lo BBQ officially opens Monday in a newly renovated, double-height space tucked into the block of 19th Street between Mission and Valencia, right across the street from Hog & Rocks. As Youkilis tells Grub Street, he and Esler had plans for a barbecue spot at some point, and they found the space by chance right after Hog & Rocks opened. They knew immediately that this needed to be the barbecue place, but they took time to get Hog & Rocks off the ground, and to plan the design and menu carefully.
The most notable aspects of the vaulted-ceiling space are the mezzanine, which includes overflow seating; a sixteen-foot-wide piece of artwork that doubles as sound baffling; and burnt-cedar paneling created through a Japanese technique called shou sugi ban. The dramatic charred effect, which makes the wood appear like it was pulled out of a fire, is typically used for outdoor siding, but here it gives a masculine, edgy look to this cathedral of smoked meat. Youkilis shot a video of the team charring the cedar planks, which involved sitting them in a tube over a fire and letting the flames torch them for a minute.
The counter-service concept of Hi-Lo is based loosely on Fette Sau in Brooklyn, where beer and bourbon cocktails are served at a bar and at communal tables, and BBQ meats and sides are served cafeteria-style, with the meat ordered by weight. The chef is Ryan Ostler, a Texas-born BBQ vet who previously had been doing southern food at Broken Record and Bruno's, and under the auspices of Gypsy Kitchen, after stints at Boulevard and Range.
We got a preview last week of what Ostler will be serving, meat-wise, including some succulent, 12-hour smoked pork ribs with well-spiced "bark," or charred crust, and excellent brisket. As Ostler told us, he hopes to turn more people on to the fat end of the brisket, also known as the triangular cut, which is far more juicy, rich, and flavorful than the leaner end most people are accustomed to getting in slices. Pointing to the fat end, oozing onto a cutting board, he said, "That is where happiness lives." In addition on the opening menu, Ostler's making smoked and sake-braised pork belly, whole grilled fish, and a hard-cider-brined pork loin; and there are just four side-dish choices: patatas bravas, shaved Brussels sprouts, collard greens, and baked beans with burnt ends from the pork mixed in.
A big help in perfecting what they're calling "agnostic" or "Northern California-style" barbecue is a major piece of machinery imported from Mesquite, Texas: a studio-apartment-sized, 7,000-pound J smoker with an automatic flue that will be fed with oak wood and plenty of beef and pork, morning and night. The company only makes about seven of these a year, and it's the first of its kind to make it to San Francisco. See photos of it in our slideshow below, and see the food menu here.
The team also includes cocktail guys Scott Beattie and Michael Lazar, who have created a menu of refreshing drinks served in pint glasses to compliment all the meat. In addition to a jerk-spiced Bloody Mary that Lazar says is "amazing," there's a savory Collins made with pickling liquid and tarragon; and a rum punch with house-made falernum and nutmeg. See the full cocktail list here.
Though Monday is the official opening day, it sounds like the plan is to be softly opened over the weekend, so keep an eye out if you're in the neighborhood. Until then, see our photos of Ostler at work, the meat, and the monster smoker.
Hi Lo BBQ - 3416 19th Street between Mission and Valencia - Open daily, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., starting February 4