I ate lunch this week at Phat Matt's BBQ in Oakland, California and there is no way I can get around the fact that this review is going to sound like an advertisement. I've been thinking about writing this review for a couple of days and I have no idea how to get around the ad problem. But I can't So let's get the hyperbole out of the way. Phat Matt's BBQ is the second best BBQ restaurant I've ever eaten at. I've eaten a lot of really bad restaurant BBQ, I've eaten a lot of mediocre restaurant BBQ. But only twice have I eaten great restaurant BBQ. Up until this week the only other place I have eaten great restaurant BBQ was Dinosaur BBQ in Rochester, New York. Dinosaur may remain my all time favorite BBQ restaurant but Phat Matt's is a close second. There are a couple of things that make a BBQ restaurant great. Certainly the food is critical, and we'll get to that in a minute, but atmosphere is important. I've eaten at a lot of BBQ restaurants and most of the them are decorated as you would expect a regional cuisine type restaurant to be decorated. But the staff and cooks are all pretty sterile. Phat Matt's has a rather sterile decor but it's more than made up by the friendliness of the staff.
Charlotte and Matt Gonzales, the owners, are the perfect BBQ hosts. They took the time to explain everything to my lunch companion (The famous LandarcBBQ of Twitter fame) and basically made us feel at home. A BBQ restaurant can have great food, but if it doesn’t have that backyard, family type atmosphere then it just can’t be considered great. And Charlotte and Matt have insured that atmosphere with their friendly, outgoing nature.
But what about the food…
I rarely eat a a BBQ restaurant more than once. For this reason I like to try a couple of different meats. At Phat Matt’s they have have single meat plates, 2 ways, 3 ways and a 4 way. LandarcBBQ and I each ordered the 3 way with brisket, pulled pork and pork spare ribs. Our two sides were collard greens and beans. Toss in some plain sliced bread and we had a complete meal.
As you can see from the picture above this was a serious plate of meat. Normally in restaurants when you order a combination plate you get smaller portions of each of the meat, but not at Phat Matt’s. When you order a combo plate you get a full order of each meat. We got three large, thick slices of brisket, four rib bones and a huge portion of pulled pork. It was unbelievable how much meat we got.
Okay the atmosphere was great and the portions were extreme but best of all the food was outstanding. Because of some dietary restrictions of one of the owners they use no salt in their cooking. I know this sounds really stupid. Salt in BBQ rubs is thought by most everybody to be essential to getting the best flavor out of the meat, especially brisket. But without a doubt you couldn’t tell there was no salt.
The pulled pork was seasoned with a light vinegar sauce that enhanced the flavor to a point where you just wanted to gobble down a whole plate full. The pork spare ribs were done the right way. No “fall off the bone” meat at Phat Matt’s. The meat came off the bone with just a light tug of the teeth. The ribs were just a tab undercooked for my preference. Don’t get me wrong they weren’t raw, I just like them a little “doner.” Lightly sauced the ribs had a flavor that was again superb.
The brisket! Look at the bark on this brisket. Not only do they not trim all the fat (flavor) of their brisket but they also rub it with a secret rub (we make a token effort to find out what it was) that gives the brisket the most outstanding bark I’ve ever seen in restaurant brisket. Next time I’m at Phat Matt’s I’m eating a plate of brisket. It was that good.
We also had a taste of the deserts. It wouldn’t be BBQ without some peach cobbler. The peach cobbler was good enough that you might just want to go there just for the desert. We also split a slice of the best pecan pie I’ve ever eaten. I’m not a pecan pie expert but I do know I liked this one. It’s make with no corn syrup. It had a nice sweet flavor that didn’t overpower the pecans on the top. All the deserts are made at Phat Matt’s by Charlotte. No store bought, already made stuff at Phat Matt’s.
Phat Matt’s is open six days a week (closed on Monday) and is located at 3415 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, California (510) 879-7294. You can follow them on Twitter.