The ribs — well seasoned, perfectly pink, with the right amount of chew — were my favorite.
2307 Main Street, Julian, CA
I recently experienced Julian under a perfect set of circumstances. It was a weekend, there was snow, the Taste of Julian was in full swing. The chilly air was rife with the aroma of fresh-baked apple pie. Even so, the old Bailey Wood Pit Barbecue was king of the snow-capped mountain for me. This despite experiencing it amid decidedly imperfect conditions.
Walking down Main Street on Friday night, leaving boot tracks in the new-fallen snow, the glowing Bailey’s sign was a welcome sight. At the front door, I was waved toward a barn, where it was very cold, possibly colder than the icy outdoors.
An ideal Julian trip — snow on the ground and meat in the smoker
The heat had gone out on the heels of a power outage that afternoon. Still, there were a dozen or so jacketed patrons seated at the bar and scattered among the picnic tables. I tightened my scarf, stuffed my hands in my pea-coat pockets, and hunkered down for — what else? — an ice-cold draft beer. After all, it was the main reason I’d come.
Late last year, a quartet of big names in the local craft-beer industry went in together to purchase Bailey’s. That beery brain trust consists of Vince and Gina Marsaglia, the brother-and-sister tandem behind Pizza Port, Port Brewing, and the Lost Abbey; and Tom and Lindsey Nickel of O’Brien’s Pub in Kearny Mesa. Each brought their own expertise to the Bailey revamp. As a result, the venue and Julian are better for it.
Before purchasing O’Brien’s in the mid-2000s, Tom brewed collaboratively with Alpine Beer Company. In Julian, he’s knocked the dust off, cooking up a trio of house beers from a brew system installed in the garage of the historic Bailey House behind the barn. That operation represents the humble yet noble beginnings of the new Julian Brewing Company.
The first beer I sampled was the 1870 IPA. Bright with citrus and an assertive burst of botanic bitterness, it’s better suited for summer vacation than a snow day, but a solid beer that stands up to any of the dozens of similar beers being brewed in a town whose sudsy stardom is built on hoppy IPAs.
My second beer — a stout served on nitro —
was much better suited for the conditions. Mild and creamy, its roastiness almost fooled me into feeling warmer. Still, the need to boost my temp was genuine. My vehicle for doing so? Tender, slow-smoked carnivore fare plucked from a smoky brick-and-metal vault in the Bailey kitchen. Before Vince came along, the restaurant lacked a smoking apparatus. Now, the aroma of smoldering wood is so strong, it reaches to the barn. Talk about an ambience enhancer.
The scent was better right under my nose, rising off a smoke ring–adorned baby-back rib. The combination of the cold and this olfactory bliss inspired me to order a lot of food. The ribs — well seasoned, perfectly pink with the right amount of chew — were my favorite. They didn’t even need the smooth, sweet house barbecue sauce, though it worked well with a trio of pulled-pork items.
The first of these was a basket of house-fried tortilla chips topped with pork, jalapeños, and sauce. Barbecue nachos are more prevalent these days than I’d have ever expected, and usually, they taste as lousy as they sound. Yet, these work, thanks to great execution on the pork, which I had both on its own and inside a sandwich loaded with spoonfuls of creamy coleslaw (they also have a version made with Julian apples). Both options work for barbecue-pit purists.
Barbecue pit fanatics, however, will want to go with the burnt ends: double-smoked brisket ends, dark and crispy on the outside and moistened by warm rendered fat on the inside. Few places offer this ’cue delicacy. Tasting Bailey’s ends will make you wonder why.
More unexpected, but just as good, is Vince’s Texas-style chili. What does this coastal San Diegan know about Texas chili? Beans. Or, rather, that beans have no place in Texas-style chili. Legumes would only take away from the succulent cubes of beef in a broth that tastes as it should — beefy with hints of spice, rather than a combination of tomato sauce, chilies, and water, a capsaicin-backed punch in the face from a heavy-handed cook.
Everything was so enjoyable, I returned the next night. The heat was back on (yes!), and, as a bonus, country act Jann Browne & the Dangerous Neighbors were playing a Saturday show. I had more 1870, along with other fine IPAs from respected local and out-of-region craft breweries. That night, Lindsey was cooking up savory meat pies slathered in thick beer gravy. Turns out she makes all the sides and baked goods, including an apple-pear pie that isn’t from her own recipe but nonetheless took first place during last year’s Julian Apple Days Festival.
Save room for dessert. ■
The Bailey Wood Pit Barbecue
2307 Main Street, Julian, 760-765-3757; baileybbq.com
Hours: Thursday 4:00–10:00 p.m.; Friday 11:30 a.m.–10:00 p.m.; Saturday 11:30 a.m.–midnight; Sunday 11:30 a.m.–8:30 p.m. (closed Monday–Wednesday)
Note: Barn bar/dining room are 21-and-up during music shows