“Do we argue? You betcha! But hey, it’s family,” says Kenneth
“Come on out!”
Kenneth’s sitting with Marco under the canopy. It’s been raining, but things are drying out. I’ve just ordered my ribs at the main counter. If you keep on walking, you can come straight through to this patio out the back. Mix of long tables and canopies and parked cars. These two guys are greeting me like an old friend.
What I ordered was baby back ribs. Because up here at Market and 42nd Street, what else would you order? Cruising west around the green acres of Mount Hope cemetery, it seems like every second food joint is BBQ. Including here, right next to the Mount Hope Community Garden. Yellow stucco place featuring a big hunky smoker with a red funnel.
4255 Market Street, San Diego
“Bowlegged Bar.B.Que,” says the sign.
A minute later I’m inside this cozy li’l stand-alone. It’s like a small museum dedicated to R&B. Art on the walls: scenes, painted in the Twenties, looks like, of bands in maxo blast, with stand-up double basses flying around, balloon-cheeked trumpeters blowing, ancient photos of girls in choir robes, album covers of artists such as Anita Baker, Bobby Brown, Whitney Houston, Isley Brothers, Natalie Cole, Luther Vandross, BB King, the Jackson 5, a couple of mounted Fenders, and a sculpture of a beautiful woman that looks like it might be African.
All of this surrounds half a dozen black wrought iron tables and chairs. It’s the dining room. They’ve put a lot of effort into this. And it all looks new.
I head on through to the counter.
There are people ahead of me, thank goodness, because the wall menu is almost as long as the room. It starts with a brisket dinner, $14 with one side dish, such as candied yams or potato salad, $16 with two. Brisket sandwich runs $12, including one side. Baby back ribs can go to $32. That’s for a full rack (10-12 ribs), which costs $22 on its own, $27 with one large side, $32 with two large sides.
Candied yams, collard greens, and cornbread
But no way a single guy can eat all that. So I’m looking at the half rack here, 5 to 6 bones. They’re $12 on their own, $14 with one side, $16 with two. You can also get a quarter rack, 3-4 ribs, for $10. Spare ribs are about two bucks cheaper. Rib tips split the difference. Chicken’s by far the cheapest. A quarter chicken, with leg and thigh, goes for $5 ($7 with one side, $9 with two).
Sides-wise, they have what you’d expect: green beans, potato salad, baked beans, collard greens, cole slaw, and candied yams. For $1 extra, you can get mac and cheese or corn bread. In the sandwich department, a beef or chicken hot link costs $4.
Carlos in the dining room/R&B museum
But hey, it has to be ribs, right? Baby backs. They say they have more meat on the bone than the other cuts. And, what the heck, collard greens. And can’t not have the candied yams. Plus a can of lemonade ($1.50). So we’re talking $17.50. I realize right after I pay that a quarter rack would’ve been plenty enough ($8 for spare ribs).
Whatever, I take my half rack out back, because outside looks so fresh and inviting, in the post-rain sun. And these two guys at the long table under the canvas canopy are so welcoming. It’s like we’re old buddies from the get-go. Kenneth and Marco. They’re childhood friends. Kenneth, turns out, had the idea for Bowlegged BBQ.
The word on these ribs is light. Light smokiness, light sweetness, light on chewing
“Look,” he says. He stands up. “This is me. I’m bowlegged, and not because of no horse. It’s just how it is.”
He’s one of this family of brothers and sisters, originally from East Texas, but who have lived most of their lives right here. “We’ve had this property for a long time,” he says. “And for a long time, this was a pretty rough community. But it’s coming right, now. We just started up Bowlegged four months ago, and business is great. How could it not be? This road gets, must be 25,000 cars going up and down every day.”
So now I’m chomping into the first of my half dozen ribs. The taste? Lightly smoky, with a gentle sweetness from the barbecue sauce. I know the East Texas thing is slow cooking, and a sweet, tomato-based BBQ sauce. “We’re more about the actual pork flavor,” says Kenneth. “Also, we cook outside, in the open air. It’s just better. You can smoke the meat, control the heat, and we cook with wood. See that pile?”
Where did the name “Bowlegged” come from? “You only have to look,” says Kenneth
He points to a rack of chopped up tree trunks. “White oak and mesquite. That’s what we use. Ribs will take a couple of hours. Brisket maybe 10-12 hours.”
How did they learn to do this? “Our grandmother, Bennie Mae. She taught our mom all the old recipes. Grandma was from Longview, Texas.”
My ribs are tender. The smoke flavor is really delicate too. Not ramming the flavor down your throat. But with the collard greens and way-sweet yams, I run out of steam at three ribs.
Kenneth’s sister Maria and brother Carlos come out. “I’m the [meat] smoker,” says Kenneth. “Maria’s the cook, and Carlos is the sous-chef and do-anything-guy.”
I like the whole family feeling here. I find myself hanging around, hanging out, chewing the fat long after I’ve chewed the meat. I’ll be back, partly to see if I’d fill my belly with a baby back quarter rack, or even a $5 quarter chicken. Maybe even tomorrow.
As they say, Mount Hope springs eternal.
- The Place: Bowlegged Bar B Que, 4255 Market Street (at Toyne Street), Chollas View, 619-301-7105
- Hours: 11 am – 8:00 pm, Wednesday – Sunday (till 7 pm Sundays)
- Prices: Beef or chicken hot link, $4; chicken (quarter, with leg and thigh), $5 ($7 with one side, $9 with two); spare ribs quarter rack, $8; half rack, $10; rib tips, $9, sides $2 extra; brisket sandwich, $12, including one side; brisket dinner, $14 with one side; baby back ribs quarter rack (3-4 ribs), $10; half rack (5-6 ribs), $12, (sides $2); full rack (10-12 bones), $22, with one large side, $27, with two large sides, $32; mac and cheese, $1; corn bread, $1
- Bus: 5
- Nearest Bus Stops: Market and Denby (eastbound); Market and 43rd Street (westbound)