Here’s one for the military. Looks like IB’s loss could be North Island’s gain. My favorite BBQ trailer is heading thataway, for Navy eyes only. And that’s one giant pity for the rest of mankind. Actually, I thought of Black Jack BBQ as my secret, a smoke-filled trailer of joy, where I could get my pork-rib fix for a song, forever. But the other day I was heading west along Palm at 13th — Friday night, prime time — and whack! The little black-and-flames trailer: Gone.
I mean, my experience there was brief but unforgettable. I was onboard the 933, rumbling along Palm Avenue, when I noticed two food vans for the first time, one white, the other black. The white one was a Mexican-seafood van. But it was the black trailer with red flames licking up its sides that got my attention.
Bus driver let me off right outside. I cut across the grass median and an AutoZone parking lot. This is around 8:00. Cold. I spot a black 44-gallon drum smoking away in front of the trailer. All right! That meaty, burned-sugar smell! “Black Jack’s BBQ,” says the sign. And on their menu board, “Mo’ Betta Dogs & Sausage, $3.99.” Yes! ’Cause the last thing Carla shouted as I walked out the door was “Hot dogs! Bring me back hot dogs!” Ever since I brought her dogs from Lucha Libre, she’s had a passion for them.
There are a few of us dudes standing around, waiting while this guy in a blue apron — his name’s Librado — stokes the 44-gallon drum smoker. Daniel, who’s in front of me, grew up in Louisiana, and he says the sauce here definitely measures up.
“We make it every day,” says the cook, Lorenzo. He’s come out to load the cookers with slabs of ribs. “It’s got a Mexican attitude. A bit spicier, a little sweeter. There are two ways to make BBQ sauce: with ketchup or mustard. I put both in, plus 21 other ingredients.”
Now Librado appears with a plate. “Samples,” he says. Wow. We all grab chunks of sandwich with pulled pork and lots of sauce on it. Ooh, yes. It’s rich, sweet, but still tangy.
“Definitely a different style here,” says Keith. He’s from North Carolina. Back there, they have a vinegar base to the sauce.
They have no seats and tables, just a three-foot-by-six-inch fold-up counter, enough for three of us, max, to chow down at, shoulder to shoulder. The menu’s pretty simple. Main deal is BBQ sandwiches, stuffed with items like hot links, chicken, BBQ beef, St. Louis ribs, pulled pork, or rib tips, all $5 for a sandwich, $9 for a plate. Sides are $2.50 and include the usual: BBQ baked beans, coleslaw, corn on the cob, and potato salad. (Large orders cost $4.75.) “Mo’ Betta Dogs and Sausage” choices ($3.99) include pork with BBQ sauce, sliced beef and BBQ sauce, and Italian sausage with onions and peppers. A regular jumbo hot dog runs $2.50, and they also have “BBQ sticks,” a shish kebab kinda thing for $2.75, with chicken or pork, plus BBQ sauce or teriyaki sauce.
Natch, I hem and haw till this guy Bob and his lady Laura come up. “First-timer?” says Bob. “Ya gotta try the rib-tip sandwich. It’s awesome.” He’s getting two of them and two hot-link sandwiches as well. “I’ve lived in IB 50 years,” he says. “I remember when Coronado Avenue was a dirt road.” He says these guys are kind of back to the future. “I always look for them because their sauce is sweet and smoky, the meat’s tender, and they have good personalities.”
So I make my order. A hot-link sausage for Carla and a rib-tip sandwich for me. Five bucks each. Plus a Mist soda for me ($1). When it comes, I jaw into that thing like there is no tomorrow. Damn, it’s good. Rich, sweet, garlicky, tender pork. The bones are still on, but the meat falls off. I must go through a small tree’s-worth of napkins. By the time I’ve wolfed it down, I’m thinking, I could do that again. So I ask for a pulled-pork sandwich. “All right!” says Librado. “Three items. That means you get one free. Which would you like?”
Wow. Guess if I’m having two, Carla had better as well. I order another hot-link sandwich for her. ’Course, I attack the pulled pork as soon as it comes. Can’t resist it while it’s fresh-hot. And, man, it’s da bomb. Lorenzo says the pulled pork is their most popular sandwich, by far. “We do 50 pounds of the stuff every day.”
Sigh. I so liked that scene there. Us strangers, hunched over the tiny counter, feeding our faces in the danged cold parking lot, courtesy of AutoZone. My favorite kinda eatery.
But that was then. Now, you’re probably going to have to join the Navy to get at these awesome taste explosions, once they move on-base. So, what the heck, I call Lorenzo’s boss, Ray, and get a ray of hope. Don’t worry, he says, he’s setting up a permanent shop in Imperial Beach. Soon. Should be opening in the next few weeks. A spot near the beach. Whew. No guarantees, but, as they say: stay tuned. Watch for smoke signals.
- The Place: Carrier pier, Naval Air Station, North Island
- Type of Food: BBQ
- Prices: BBQ sandwiches, with choice of hot links, chicken, BBQ beef, St. Louis ribs, pulled pork, or rib tips, $5 ($9 for plate); sides, e.g. BBQ baked beans, coleslaw, corn on the cob, potato salad, $2.50 (large, $4.75); “Mo’ Betta Dogs and Sausage” ($3.99) choices include pork with BBQ sauce, sliced beef and BBQ sauce, Italian sausage with onions, peppers; regular jumbo hot dog, $2.50; BBQ sticks (brochette, shish kebab, chicken or pork with BBQ sauce or teriyaki sauce), $2.75
- Hours: 11:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m., Monday–Friday
- Bus: 901
- Nearest Bus Stop: Third and Alameda