Summer is the time when many people across the country bust out their grills and throw down their best game. Some follow a special recipe handed down from generations before, and others just slap some meat on the grill and pray for the best.
And some people decide “Naw, I’m just gonna go get it myself”.
For the summer, we’ll be checking out some of the newest, the best, and the most unique BBQ in the Bay for this series (SoCal peeps, maybe you can help get us in on the action in your part of California). We will be checking out the local hot spots and other draws that make some legit BBQ worthy of the drive (or the delivery fee).
Did you know that California actually does have a style of BBQ? Called Santa Maria Style, the method of cooking actually involves cooking meat over a grill that is hung over a pit filled with oxidizing oak coals (mainly to account for the windy Santa Maria Valley). One other unique feature is the appearance a particular kind of bean, the pinquito, a small, pink colored bean grown exclusively in the area. The practice was thought to have originated from the day laborers, who worked the fields in the Santa Maria area. Tri-tip is actually one of the most popular cuts of meat for the Santa Maria Style BBQ Grill, since it was less expensive than most other cuts of meat.
The first visit in this series: San Jose BBQ Company
The first place we’re visiting is actually very close to home for me. In the Reid-Hillview Airport sits a very tiny, hole in the wall BBQ place; The San Jose BBQ Company. The two founders, Alex Ayala and Jason Tomlinson, both started the restaurant part of the business recently, but they have been catering events for the past few years.
So how does a small, general aviation airport get a restaurant? I had the chance to speak with Jason and the story of the restaurant itself to me was pretty innocuous because his business partner Alex simply knew the landlord of the building their shop is currently located in. They were able to set up a kitchen and start their catering business there, but opening up the restaurant was actually a part of a long tradition of restaurants at these kinds of airports.
Jason told me that pilots at these airports love to fly to other general aviation airports to meet with other pilots and eat at their restaurants. He himself, along with his business partner, would make the trips down to the Central Valley, the central coast or wherever they wanted to go for the day to eat and connect with other pilots. The airport didn’t have a restaurant until recently when they opened up the dining room, but it has become a popular feature and a welcome addition to the airport to the many pilots, support staff, and students who work and study here.
The place has also attracted a small but growing crowd of curious onlookers attracted to the place by the hand written, conspicuously placed signs as well as the aroma of BBQ.
Jason explained to me that both he and Alex have been cooking since they were little, one of the things that brings Jason to work everyday however, is the opportunity to do what he loves which is grilling. He loves to grill, and while he says that many get to grill only on weekends, he gets to do it every day.
Encouraged by his enthusiasm for his product, as well as the unintentional guerilla marketing efforts that originally brought me there, I decided to give the place a try.
I’m not a big fan of tri-tip myself, but I remember this one being pretty good. There was a hearty, smoky flavor reminiscent of oak from the meat, so much in fact that I could smell it. I know tri-tip tends to be a bit on the chewy side, but these cuts eventually yielded to my mouth in a smoky/sweet combination.
The pulled pork was some of the best I’ve ever tasted, it was moist and juicy and full-on savory flavor. I didn’t have the lottery game stuff I usually come to find with as it was consistently juicy all over, with a bit of crispness on the ends.
On my second visit, I gave the chicken and the hot links a try.
Chicken can be a bit of a crap shoot depending on where you go eat. this time it was good, it wasn’t too remarkable, but it sure wasn’t dry and flavorless.
The hot link, however, that’s a different story. The heat creeped up on me. I didn’t really feel it until I was a quarter of the way into the hot link. Damn was it hot. Still, it was cooked pretty well. Jason explained to me that slitting it through the middle was what helped bring out the heat from the chilli pepper flakes.
My verdict, if you’re in the area or even down to drive a ways for some great BBQ, The San Jose BBQ Company is worth a visit for some hole in the wall kind of BBQ fun.
San Jose BBQ Company is located in the Reid Airport Building at 2655 Robert Fowler Way in San Jose, CA. The hours are Wednesday through Sunday 3:00 PM to 8:00 PM or until they run out of menu items. Hit up the ATM before you go as this place is cash only.