Thursday, May 26th, 2011
Truly undiscovered food finds are rare in the age of Yelp, Twitter and Facebook. Anyone with a smart phone and the ability to type can become an instant culinary expert, sussing out off-the-beaten-path dives and unknown chefs.
But Real Food BBQ has remained far below the radar, whispered between friends and vaguely described by locals for more than two years. And owner Matt Fiddler isn’t complaining.
There are no flashing signs or flags along a quiet stretch of Bodega Highway a few miles east of Freestone to alert you to his bbq pit. You have to happen upon it accidentally, pulling into the gravel parking lot of Bill’s Farm Basket — a local farm stand — wander back toward the hay bales and see the hand-written menu stuck on the side of a converted carport.
If you get that far, and it happens to be Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you might just get some barbecue. Fiddler starts the smokers at 7:30am those days, gives the meat a few additional hours of bathing in a fruitwood smoke bath and opens at 11:30am. When the brisket, pork shoulder, and barbecued chicken runs out, that’s it for the day. “I only make a certain amount each day. When it’s gone, it’s gone,” he said.
So what’s guy like Fiddler doing in a place like this? After working with a number of French chefs in New York, he made his way west and was the opening chef at Lucy’s in Sebastopol. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t give up information easily, but once you get him talking has plenty to say.
Like why he doesn’t use barbecue sauce. “I want the flavors of the meat and dry rub and brines to speak for themselves,” he says. Instead, he offers up a Carolina style, chili garlic hot sauce he makes himself. “It brings out the flavors rather than masking them.” Or the fact that he uses only local meats and as many seasonal ingredients as he can. “It’s all as seasonal and local as I can make it.”
The pink smoke rings around the edge of the meat — a sign of truly great barbecue — speak for themselves. Days of braising, dry rubbing, and smoking make this word-of-mouth road stand a secret destination that may not stay secret for long.
Best bets: The brisket, with tender meat and edges of tasty fat is the hands-down winner, though the smoky pork shoulder and chicken are serious contenders. Plates come with sides of mashed potatoes, beans and slaw. Keep in mind that ‘cue isn’t all there is at this roadside cafe. Fiddler usually has several other tasty menu items including a salad, quesadillas and recently Vietnamese Seafood Cakes with four kinds of seafood wrapped in coconut panko breadcrumbs.
If you go: 10315 Bodega Hwy, Sebastopol, (707) 829-1777. Thursday and Sunday 11:30-3pm, Friday and Saturday until 6pm. Cash only (though you can pay with a card inside the Farm Basket for a .50 fee).