When I heard a popular North Park restaurant was opening a location in East County, I imagined something in the La Mesa vicinity. Maybe El Cajon or Santee. Even when told Grand Ole BBQ would be expanding to an area called Flinn Springs, I heard it described as near El Cajon.
15505 Olde Hwy 80, El Cajon
Well, it’s as near to El Cajon as North Park is to La Mesa. Flinn Springs is actually much closer to Alpine than anywhere else. To get there, I had to drive a few miles on Old Highway 80, once known as the Dixie Overland Highway, which started in Savannah, Georgia and finished here in San Diego.
Point is, it was a longer drive than I thought, veering into unincorporated territory that the modern interstate highway system thought fit to bypass. Grand Ole BBQ is great, I thought, but who wants to drive all the way out here for it?
On a Saturday afternoon, apparently, the answer was hundreds of people, myself gladly included.
It’s on a ranch-style property sitting at the base of a boulder-covered butte. Several dozen may find seating in the dining room or bar, which offers televised sports amid rustic décor including cowhides and mounted deer trophies. But under blue skies, the best choice is clearly the enormous, partially covered patio out back.
On one side you’ll find a view of the impressive ranks of oak filled smokers fueling the restaurant’s Texas style BBQ ribs, turkey, and signature brisket. They look like the stretch limos of drum smokers, long and sleek with four doors running the length of them for high volume BBQ.
And high volume it was. The place was bustling, at least as much as the Phil’s BBQ in Point Loma. People of every age and lifestyle seemed to constantly be moving through the yard, only stopping long enough to sip a beer, take a shot, or gorge on food. Families, small groups, and couples filled up the outdoor bar and a grid of picnic tables stretching across the venue. In the back of the yard, there’s a small stage, the site of weekly live music.
I bellied up to the outdoor bar and started ordering meat by the quarter-pound (the minimum order on per pound pricing). Spare ribs were $19 a pound; smoked turkey and brisket were each $23 per. Here at mid-afternoon, the place had already sold out of hot links, which come to think of it, probably saved my pants from splitting.
If we’re talkin about Texas BBQ, the brisket at Grand Ole BBQ has to be the best in the city — or in this case, 25 miles outside the city. Its blackened crust and rendered fats make it flat-out scrumptious. You can get it in North Park too, but not til sometime in the spring, as it’s currently closed for renovations. So is Phil’s in Point Loma, come to think of it.
And that’s all the excuse any of us needs to make the drive to Flinn Springs, soon and often.