Monday, May 18, 2009

Gorillas in the Mist

My hometown of Pacifica has gotten on foodie radar because of Gorilla Barbecue, a tiny joint on Highway 1 about a half hour drive south of San Francisco. People line up even before Gorilla opens Wednesdays through Mondays at noon for pork ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, chicken and hot links cooked up in a wood-fired smoker in an old bright-orange rail car.
I'm not a huge barbecue fan but I love this version. Rich Bacchi (in photo) calls it Texa-lina, a mix of Texas and Carolina barbecue. The meat is smoked Texas style but the sauce is Carolina variety, meaning vinegary, not heavy and sweet.
Bacchi and his partner Jeff Greathouse, like me Pacifica natives and Terra Nova High grads (go Tigers!), pack 36 racks of ribs a day in the smoker, but it's not nearly enough.
The spot has attracted a lot of attention in barbecue circles since it opened two years ago. The Food Network's Guy Fieri of the show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives showcased the place and the big personalities of the two owners a couple of months ago. The episode is scheduled for rebroadcast this coming weekend (check listings). Bacchi said Fieri's followers have driven and even flown in from all parts of the country to check out the food here. Make sure you get to Gorilla early, though. On weekends, they typically sell out of ribs by 4:30 p.m. and on weekdays well before their 8 p.m. closing time. One way to tell is to check out the chimney. "If it's smokin', we're open" is Gorilla's slogan.

Bacchi is hoping to remedy the shortage by adding a second smoker sometime in the next few months. A warning: there's no place to eat at Gorilla, except for a couple of picnic tables set in the often chilly, fog-shrouded hillside above the rail car. You'll see lots of people sitting in the cabs of their trucks in the parking lot outside, or hurrying home with bags of mouth-watering barbecue.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Kudos for Great Escapes: Northern California

Sorry for the shameless plug but I'm proud to say that my book, Great Escapes: Northern California, was awarded the silver prize for guidebooks at the 2009 Society of American Travel Writers' Western Chapter Awards this week.
The judge called the book "a study in defining your audience and delivering exactly what you promise: ideas for people who have time only for a day trip or, at most, a weekend, often on the spur of the moment....With remarkable range for its slim 192 pages, it scores a direct hit, deftly covering the most important sights, injecting a bit of history and offering ideas for active pursuits as well as more languid exploration....The author rises to the challenge of paring down worthy sights and activities in this overendowed region and manages to take readers beyond the obvious."
I'm blushing.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Old and New South Beach

In the 1850s, San Francisco was a wild town where lots of young men were making lots of money very quickly. We can only imagine. There aren't many places left where you wander among buildings of that time but one is South Beach, where some of the city's oldest structures lie alongside some of the newest. On a recent City Guides tour of the area guide Ward Miller took a group of us from the corner of Mission and Spear to a few blocks south of the Bay Bridge anchor. First off was the still-handsome Audiffred Building from 1880, built by a French businessman who struck it rich in San Francisco. Today, it's still elegant, the home of the restaurant Boulevard.
But this area has seen its ups and downs. It was originally not land at all, but part of San Francisco bay. Early San Franciscans bought "water lots" with the prospect that the "lots," where ships from all the world docked, would be filled in -- and they were, making some of the investors very wealthy as the area turnerd into prime port property (their mansions nearby on Rincon Hill were testaments to that; however none remain). The 1906 earthquake and fire changed everything. Rincon Hill was heavily damaged and the area was not rebuilt. For years the streets were lined with flophouses, bars and warehouses. The Port of San Francisco got another hit in the 1960s with the advent of container shipping, which went to the better-equipped Port of Oakland, leaving South Beach/Rincon Hill further in the dumps. All that has changed in the last few years, of course. The tear-down of the Embarcadero Freeway, the building of the Giants ballpark and the construction of thousands of new apartments and condominiums have turned it into a new neighborhood. There still are remnants of its working class past. Red's Java House (above right), a funky and fun old diner perched on a pier, still dishes out chili and hot dogs.
Hills Brothers Coffee, which for decades roasted beans along the waterfront here, is today an office complex but you can walk inside, under the old silo where the beans were stored and see the statue of the company's trademark Arabian mascot (left). As the security guard at the desk and he'll let you see the small display of historic photos inside. Make sure to stop in the Art Deco-style Rincon Hill Post Office to see the murals from the 1930s. Pick up a brochure describing their history at the information desk. A block south, at the corner of Harrison and Spear, is one of the oldest buildings in the city, a warehouse from 1856 now turned into live-work lofts. Heading south under the Bay Bridge, stroll Delancey Street and, near Federal Alley, note the plaque in the pavement marking the shoreline from 1857. At Delancy and Vernon Alley look up at the Oriental Warehouse Company building, one of the original warehouses from 1870, now renovated. From there we were on our own to stroll back along the Embarcadero, which has become one of the city's most delightful walking areas, with the grassy area around Cupid's Arrow sculpture (top left) by Claude Oldenberg and Pier 41, both terrific places to take a rest and watch tugboats, ferries, sailboats and kayakers glide by.