Manager Nick cleaning up after a morning’s grilling.
“Honk for Barbecue,” says the sign outside. And hey, I’ll honk. Or I would, if I weren’t on a bus.
6548 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego
Because now I’m curious. I remember this corner where El Cajon Boulevard meets Rolando. An Israeli place was here. I jump off the #1, and soon I’m heading into a room full of rusty country hardware from days of old. Massive toothed crosscut saws, plow blades, wagon wheels, and signs like “Dad’s Garage. Oil Changes Always Free.”
And actually, outside is this big grill with a massive grate-lifting wheel, and ashes in its belly that are still hot. So I’m just picking up the menu when my buddy Leon rolls in. “I thought you said ‘Health Food,’” he says.
Map where customers pinpoint where they came from.
“Exactly,” I say. “Healthy for the soul. That’s why they call it soul food.”
I know this’ll be okay with him, even though he’s trying to lose weight like I am. “It’s the pandemic,” says Leon. “I’m so tense, I have to grab something, anything.”
We’ve each been trying: nibbling nuts, twigs, lettuce leaves. Drinking carrot juice.
But sometimes you gotta let your inner monster take over.
Comes the question, “Something to drink?” It’s a tall, cool-looking guy with a bass-ackwards cap on over fair hair and a black and red “Corbin’s Q” shirt. Nick. Manager.
“I’m thinking beer,” I say to Leon. “I just passed this new brewery. And I see they’ve got one of their’s here.”
It was Black Market Brewing, a few blocks west of here on El Cajon Boulevard. Never heard of it before, but I like the name. “Southern Hemisphere Double Hazy IPA,” says this list. Always like the hazy thing, too. Also, wow, 8.4 percent. That should wake me up.
Leon goes for Bootlegger’s “El Chango” Mexican lager, 5.3 percent.
And hey, only $4 each. Meantime, food. Hmm. Doesn’t look that cheap. Pulled pork sammitch with sweet sauce and slaw is $13. So is the chicken breast sandwich. But they each come with one side and a fountain drink. And hey, almost missed the 3-rib combo with sweet sauce, $11. Tri-tip sandwich and a side is $16, and half a rack of ribs goes for $19.
Ribs, the highlight.
They do have cheaper items. Chicken Caesar salad is $12. A CQ Burrito loaded with pulled pork, chicken breast, tri-tip, or sausage, plus beans, fries, queso, pico, and sour cream, sounds like a filler at $11. Also, under “Big Bites,” we have BBQ loaded fries ($11), BBQ loaded mac’n cheese ($12), or BBQ loaded nachos, ($11). Like the burrito, they are stuffed with the likes of meat, queso, beans, pico de gallo, bacon, sour cream.
Cholesterol City, in other words. But hey, a little of what you fancy is good for you, right?
“You may want to consider our BBQ by the bulk,” says this guy Vince. “A lot of customers go for the CQ Sampler. For 14 bucks you get tri-tip, sausage, pulled pork, and chicken quarter, and you can add a quarter-pound of baby back ribs for $8. So that comes to $11 each.”
Salad, so you don’t feel too guilty eating the rest.
Hmm. Sounds like a deal. But “by the bulk” means no sides included. “I like the sound of Mama’s Country Mac’n Cheese,” says Leon. In the end, we go a little crazy on everything. We order the combo, plus sides of mac’n cheese ($4), baked beans ($4), sweet potato tots ($4), potato salad ($3), and the side salad ($4.50). Vince reads out the list, just to be sure we haven’t gone stark staring crazy. Because it’s gonna come to around $50 between the two of us.
But, fact is, this is breakfast and lunch for me, and Leon says that with all these smoky smells, he could eat a horse.
While we’re waiting, hey hey! Here comes da beer. Leon sips and moans his approval of his Mexican Lager. And I have to say, my Black Market Hazy IPA is Dee-Lish. I mean, an exceptional combo of tastes. And at $4, say no mo’.
Torture rack? No. San Luis Obispo-style BBQ grill. Corbin made it himself.
The food arrives and arrives and arrives. ’Course, we start off with the beans and potato salad, then lunge into the big combo. Ribs: luscious. Tri-tip, maybe a little dry. Pulled pork, smoky yet moist. Grilled garlic bread, nice surprise. Chicken, great strong taste on the rub. Andouille sausage, wickedly tart. Tots, meh. The sauce on the ribs, on the other hand, so rich, honey sweet, more than a touch of cumin, yet with a North Carolina vinegary thing going that makes it totally tantalizing. None of it is the best you’ve ever had, but altogether it’s a kingly feast. And the leafy green salad freshens you up along the way.
Get talking to Nick the manager. About what they call SLO barbecue. San Luis Obispo. “It was where Corbin was brought up” Nick says, “on an Angus cattle ranch.”
So turns out Corbin is a real person. Still in his twenties. Has started up market stands, this place, and a fleet of “tap trucks,” ‘50s wagons that he’s fitted up with beer taps sticking out the side, so they can drive to your party and start pouring. “He has 14, 15 trucks franchised out across the country,” says Nick.
The SLO style, or Santa Maria-style BBQ, involves coast live oak — red oak, the logs are right here — grilling the ribs for 45 minutes, then steaming them in apple juice for 30 more minutes. It was a style beloved by Ronald Reagan. He even invited the SLO boys to BBQ for him at the White House.
But hey, that hazy Southern Hemisphere beer would keep me coming back anyway, even without this mountain of SLO scrumptiousness.
- The Place: Corbin’s Q, 6548 El Cajon Boulevard, at Rolando Boulevard, 619-913-3287
- Hours: 11am-7pm, daily (till 8pm, Friday, Saturday, Sunday)
- Prices: Pulled pork sandwich, slaw, one side, fountain drink, $13. chicken breast sandwich, $13; 3-rib combo, $11; tri-tip sandwich, side, $16; half a rack of ribs, $19; chicken Caesar salad, $12; pulled pork, chicken breast, tri-tip, or sausage burrito with beans, fries, queso, pico, sour cream, $11; BBQ loaded fries, $11; BBQ loaded mac’n cheese, $12; BBQ loaded nachos, $11; CQ Sampler (tri-tip, sausage, pulled pork, chicken quarter), $14; quarter-pound baby back ribs, $8; sides include mac’n cheese, $4; baked beans, $4; sweet potato tots, $4; potato salad, $3; chicken Caesar salad, $12
- Bus: 1
- Nearest Bus Stop: El Cajon Boulevard at Rolando Boulevard