Pack Jack Bar-B-Que

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Robert Harris

For weeks, a single century plant stalk has reached toward the sun outside Pack Jack Bar-B-Que readying for its decade-in-the-making bloom. Now more than 10 feet high, the aptly-named succulent is bursting into life suddenly, brilliantly after years and years of inactivity.

In its shadow, a long-cooled brick oven fire has been re-lit and a legendary roadside restaurant re-opened. Yep, Pack Jack is back.

A little history, first. For the uninitiated, Pack Jack was a favorite Sonoma County barbecue outpost halfway between Cotati and Sebastopol for years. Owned by the Harris family, it’s an unassuming roadhouse that you’d pass by without a second glance. Natives of Egypt, Texas, their brick oven smoker and Texas-style meats had a following of fans that bordered on cultish. After a fire gutted the restaurant in 2004, the ovens went cold and the Harris family moved their operation to Vallejo, promising to someday return.

Reconstruction on the spot started and stopped without explanation in recent years, but mostly faltered. Then quietly, and without fanfare, Robert Harris (son of original owner Donnie Harris) re-opened on June 15, alerting friends and neighbors with wafts of burning oak, sizzling meat and a cryptic message or two on Facebook.

And though Harris hoped to keep the opening mostly under wraps until July, word is out.

Open Friday through Sunday from 11am to 10pm (to start), it’s a family affair with uncles, cousins and grandkids involved in cooking and waiting tables. Like any serious barbecue restaurant, the menu is simple and straightforward: Chicken, ribs (both pork and beef), sliced beef brisket, hot links (made in house) and lamb.

Being Texas-style ‘que, it’s about the rub and the smoke. Sauces are secondary, and with bark like this, it’s icing on the cake. Sweet sauce, mild sauce and hot sauce. You pick. Chicken and brisket are stand-outs. Do not leave without a combo plate of these two (about $16). Ribs are a more a matter of taste: They were chewier than I prefer but my dining pal, Mike, who is a meat and barbecue devotee, gave them a thumbs up. Hotlinks are salty, spicy, meaty sausages that you either love or leave. BiteClubber Rick gushes: “The hot links were just like the old days (bringing tears to the eyes from heat and great taste).” We skipped the lamb, mostly because the portions are intensely huge.

Barbecue without sides, of course, is sacrilege and all dinner and combo-plates come with two. The sweet barbecue beans come from a 100-year-old family recipe, and all Robert will tell you is that yes, they have cumin in them. Potato salad tastes like homemade and the coleslaw has a vinegar base rather than mayo (“thank God”, says Mike).  There is beer in a bottle and soda in a can. The menu tempts with sweet potato and pecan pies, but so far they haven’t materialized. Perhaps soon.

There’s no air-conditioning, and the smell of smoke permeates the no-frills interior, so if you aren’t up for sweating and smelling like  a campfire, take-out might suit you better. But regulars live for the ambiance, especially when Robert, an imposing figure in a cowboy with a smile as wide as Texas strolls through the room.

Whether this is Sonoma County’s most-authentic barbecue will be debated hotly over the next several weeks, perhaps years. To find it, just look for the century plant that will bloom briefly, to guide you. Otherwise, your nose should work just fine.

Pack Jack Bar-B-Que, 3961 Gravenstein Hwy. South, Sebastopol, 827-3665. Open limited hours during opening, cash only.

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Author: biteclub

Food Dining and Restaurants in Sonoma County and beyond, is Wine Country dining with Drive-Thru Sensibility.

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  1. Pack Jack was trying to do a soft opening, a trial run ,and we were really not prepared by the overwhelming response to our reopening. We had no idea how much we were loved! But now we have had time to train, and get back in the swing of things. Come give us another a try and tell us what you think? We do apologize if your first or re experience was bad. Thank you for your loyal support

  2. This place rocks

  3. When word came down that Pack Jacks had reopened, I fine tuned my taste buds and headed there on Friday. I remembered the good authentic BBQ and the lamb riblets and with great anticipation I headed there for lunch. Walking into the place exposed a clean, comfortable dinning area in nice colors which made for a comfortable atmosphere. When our server came, a nice teen boy, we were told that the only water they served was bottled water for $2. My first thought was that the food better be exceptional to justify charging for water. The menu is simple and I asked about the portion and half portion of the beef ribs. The young man told me there were three pieces on the half portions, so I ordered it. I forgot in the old place they cut their beef ribs in half, so the portion was really about 1 1/2 beef ribs, not much for $10. The potato salad was good. The ribs had a nice bark and tasted really good, except they were overcooked and dry throughout. I left, disappointed that the review I was going to write was not going to have the praises I was hoping for.

  4. Tried PackJacks “secret recipe” hot links yesterday. Pros, service was great. Cons, links were not spicy, not warm and yet grossly overcooked and dry, way over-smoked, tasting of carbon and smoke only. Ordered them with the spicy BBQ sauce which the waiter warned me was “really hot”. They either gave me the wrong sauce or their “really hot” BBQ sauce wasn’t hot at all. Got some sort of roll, maybe Hawaiian roll?, which was stale.

    So disappointing, especially at the prices they charge.

  5. Uhhh…is this place a joke??? Anyone who thinks THIS is good BBQ is high on meth!! Went to try it today, got a 2 meat combo which consisted of some pathetic shavings and scraps of beef with no flavor (which was apparently supposed to be brisket) and some super thin pork ribs with almost no meat on them whatsoever, and what meat there was was chewy. All this for $17 DOLLARS!!! It was insulting what I was served for such a ridiculous amount of money!! Plus the service was non-existent. Was served by some teenage kid. Could not have cared less that we were eating there. Asked for a soda and a couple cans were tossed on our table. No cup, no ice, nothing. When time to order, “What do you want?”. When my friend asked if his sandwich came with anything, “Nope.” Absolutely pathetic!!! And to top it all off it feels like you are dining in a homeless soup kitchen. Never again.

  6. Never was a fan pre-fire but I’ll probably give it a go since it’s local.

  7. Deal, Caine. 😉

    Thank all The Odd Gods in the ‘Verse

    Pack Jack is back.

  8. There is a really really good BBQ food truck that sits on Sebastopol Road across from Texas Furniture on the weekends. I happened to stop in and bought some of the most amazing Oklahoma style BBQ I’ve ever had.

  9. Disappointed. The food was good. Arrived about 1pm. Not pork ribs no brisket. we waited long enough for the brisket. It was good. but seemed VERY expensive for what they brought to the table. .

  10. I was a pre-fire regular. Always did love the BBQ pro ribs, baked beans and slaw. Can’t wait to go back! I’ll be renting a car for the occasion unless someone wants to drive – then dinner’s on me! LOL!

  11. I did make a mistake in the last paragraph when mentioning ribs, which they were out of. My negative comment should have read the BBQ brisket.

  12. Interesting, Captain. Thankfully the human half of me will allow me to scarf down BBQ. Eating BBQ is actually quite logical. Live long and prosper, Pack Jack!

  13. My dream has come true! I was a regular for several years and agree the quality of the side dishes sometimes was not good. Simple stuff like stale rolls. Mainly caused by bad timing, just before a rush when the food had been sitting around and hadn’t been rotated, waiting to be sold. I didn’t care about those little things, I was there for the q…..and beer.

  14. If it ain’t pig, it ain’t ‘Q. ’nuff said.

  15. Can’t wait to try this place out again!! Only went there once pre-fire, and before I could repeat, they burned down. I sincerely hope everything is as good as I remember it.

  16. So great to see PAK-Jacks back. But since he’s been gone Ive found a great BBQ secrete. Bro’s BBQ wednesday petaluma farmers and Rohnert park on fridays as good as BBQ gets ANYWHERE !!!

  17. 3693 Gravenstein Hwy. So., Sebastopol Ca

  18. The slaughterhouse/ freezer was active during the 1960’s, later perhaps 1970, Jesse’s Bar-b-Que, a former Black, Oakland police officer with his wife operated the best slow black-oak fired, slow smoke, offset by five to seven feet, several square feet of low heat, high smoke, pork, beef, chicken, and more…of outrageous Oakland food…Channel five, “5”, S.F. T-V, “BackRoads of The BayArea”, may have called it the winner of Northern California real smoked meats….Not to be confused of, across the highway 116, and down toward Cotati, about 1/4 miles, during 1969, Dick’s Country Smoked Meats….An also slow cook, smoke only, store sales of cured bacon and meats to your order….But Pack-Jack has the best 40lb-60lbs., pork back–strap, sweet potato pie, and slow cooked molasses type smoked beans with smoked meat chunks…And the nostalgia, great common sense conversation with West Sonoma Country ranchers, farmers, and riders is to live now, and continue the heritage…Pack-Jack, best bet for your money….

  19. Well, in the old days you made sure to order the pecan pie as soon as you sat down or it would be gone by the time you finished eating. They came warm from the oven and were out of this world. The pork ribs with sweet sauce were always my favorite. Sometimes mom and pop could be heard LOUDLY disagreeing about something (made you feel like family, no secrets). Towards the end (pre-fire) I found the food to be inconsistant in quality but I can’t wait to try them again and hope the pies return soon.

  20. Where are you located at?

  21. Hello everyone I read the comments. I moved to santa rosa about a year ago. The food sounds great, Can i get an address as to where their located at?

  22. Hurray!!! We have been waiting SO long for this!! As a Texas native myself, I am SO irritated at the crap that’s being served in Sonoma County! Thank you, thank you, thank you for bringing nack authentic Texas-style BBQ!!!

  23. “Been a long time/been a long time/been a long lonely lonely lonely lonely lonely time” Woohoo, can’t wait to go there again!

  24. This is a DREAM come true!!!

  25. YAY!!! Finally, the local king of BBQ is rockin’ again! I can’t wait to get back for some of Donnie’s homemade links. He inspired me to make my own sausage. I used to go in and talk to him while eating the $1.80 BBQ Beef Sandwich after selling oranges, dates and peanuts at the flea market in the 70’s. He regaled me with stories of his grandmother’s garden, where she, in the days before it was vogue to use natural insecticides (like ladybugs) lavished her flowers and veggies with alternatives to chemicals and how he had come upon a good recipe for links and made his own in house. They are the best I’ve had, but I have to say, I’ve made the same great links using Otis Boyd’s recipe, which I think Donnie may have used, and Mike may now. But the sauce is theirs, so you gotta get them there to get them!

    I am overjoyed they are back!

  26. Stopped by on Father’s day, place was empty as they hadn’t advertised its re-opening.

    Had pork and beef ribs….My husband had to explain to me the difference in BBQ style….i.e. Kansas City Style, Southern, etc. He’s from Alabama

    Ribs were good, not chewy. We enjoyed the sweet sauce the best. Not thick like I had expected. Barbecue beans are not your typical flavor, different taste but acquired I’m sure, potato salad good enough. The full size dinner is the way to go for the price, half size only includes one side. Portion sizes for sides are less then 1 cup serving.

    Service was friendly and fast. The gal there reminded us that the restaurant had burned May 2004. Long time closed. I would definitely order take-out in the future.

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