Travel Advisory! Stay Away from the Barbecue in Bakersfield!
Tasty barbecue shouldn’t be slathered beneath a pool of barbecue sauce. That is, unless it’s a tasty sauce.
When the barbecue sauce is shitty, wanna’ know what happens? The barbecue turns shitty, too — that’s what happens.
When you slather shitty barbecue sauce atop barbecue of undetermined quality, we’ll never discover if the barbecue was any good or not. That’s because it’s slathered beneath a puddle of shitty barbecue sauce, turning the whole fucking plate into an unsolved mystery.
One would expect Bakersfield to be a terrific barbecue town. The city’s outskirts are ringed with giant cattle farms in California’s Central Valley. Cattle roam in green fields eating their way a bite of grass at a time to warm waiting plates of carnivores who are passionate about their barbecue. If those poor beasts only knew of the horror that eventually awaits them, to be humiliated beneath a slathering of shitty barbecue sauce, they’d probably chose something different. Then again, they can’t make choices for themselves. Because, after all, they’re cows and besides — there’s no such thing as free will.
So, as I said, Bakersfield should have mighty tasty barbecue. That was expected when passing through town and famished for a good old-fashioned hearty country meal, tempted by the unintended tantalizing advertisement of swarms of cattle munching on green grasses, oblivious to the fact their pastoral beauty will likely contribute to their deaths. When in
Rome, Bakersfield….well, you know the rest.
Given all the options, I’d have opted instead for Thai, because that’s my staple road food. Thai is my “go to” cuisine when I can’t roll dice and want to make the safe choice with both my palate and intestinal tract. However, “Thai” isn’t exactly the first thought that comes to mind when contemplating the local Bakersfield restaurant scene. Barbecue is.
Trip Adviser listed three barbecue joints on the Rosemede Highway, right off the 99. Perfect, I thought. If one doesn’t cut it, I can head down the road. What are the odds all three would be shitty? Wait, don’t answer that.
The most tempting barbecue joint is called Salty’s which had great reviews. Open pit, smoked meats, everything cooked fresh outside, and convenient. Another spot was called the Barbecue Factory, which didn’t sound tempting, but, the reviews were still pretty good. The third barbecue joint was the chain Famous Dave’s, which I prefer to call “INFAMOUS Dave’s,” given my nightmare experiences.
The first sign that my barbecue pilgrimage is going to shit is when Rosemede turns into the royal of Highway of Fuck. There’s so much road traffic, it looks like the Vegas Strip on a Saturday night. Sitting at shotgun stoplights trapped behind dusty vehicles that haven’t been run through a car wash since the Clinton Administration and short-haul drivers of 18-wheelers stretching their hourly rate into time-and-a-half for overtime, I’m left to ponder the great mysteries of our universe. Namely: 1. Why is there so much traffic in the middle of fucking nowhere? 2. Who lives in Bakersfield? 3. Who would want to live in Bakersfield? And 4. For those who do live in Bakersfield, how come the roads leading out of town to anyplace else but Bakersfield aren’t jammed with traffic?
Sixteen stoplights, twenty minutes, and 40 “fucks” later, I finally pull up to “Salty’s” — the celebrated barbecue joint that was so highly rated on Trip Adviser. Turns out, the “restaurant” is basically a taco stand. Listen, I’m not expecting the Waldorf Astoria in the middle of Bakersfield, but seriously — shouldn’t there be some kind of warning? I deviated 20 minutes off the main highway, which means plus return trip, I’ve already burned through 40 goddamned minutes, plus the time I’d blow eating my meal. “Salty’s” is a trailer set up in a small parking lot, with an awning covering part of the patio area, just in case it rains (which is not exactly a problem in California lately). Seating consists of picnic tables. I’m sure as shit not paying $19 for a full platter of barbecue and sitting at a picnic table off a congested highway loaded with creeping farm trucks and unwashed automobiles. Trip Adviser can shove “Salty’s” up their ass.
About ten minutes later, I’m headed back to the main highway, and eight stoplights and 20 “fucks” later I’m stuck in front of “INFAMOUS Dave’s.” This is a really tough call to make. I can chance the barbecue joint a couple of miles down the road. Or, I can turn in here right now, and roll dice. It’s been 5 or 6 years since I’ve tried “Famous Dave’s.” Maybe it improved. How bad can it be?
I’m seated in a booth in the bar area. Two annoyances immediately bust my balls and make me cringe. First, there’s country music, and it’s loud. VERY LOUD. It’s cranked up with those twangy guitars and some guy singing who sounds like he’s from Alabama. I totally get country music. It’s what these people listen to. I can tolerate lonely roads and cheatin’ hearts with the best of them. But the country music becomes my soundtrack of misery when I become the invisible man. Five minutes pass. No waiter. No waitress. No bartender. I’m in a fucking hurry! I’m ready to order! Will someone please come take my order! Finally, a twenty-something girl who obviously likes country music materialized out from the back room and enters the bar area. Hallelujah! A live human being! Excuse me, can I order? She proceeds to grab her purse, reaches inside and gets out her car keys, and then dashes out of the bar area on herway to the front door. Fired? Shift change? Am I invisible? Who the fuck knows?
Here and now, I’m forced to make what’s believed to be a rational on-the-fly decision borne out of utter necessity, based on the fact I’m still waiting and then wondering to myself….if the front of the house is so fucking inept then how bad will things be in the back of the house in the kitchen, and then an even more horrific possibility — how shitty is the food in this country-music playing banjo-blasting beer-joint? Barbecue, my ass! I fold up the menu and storm out the door — my presence and ultimate absence noted by no one. At least “INFAMOUS Dave’s” remains consistent.
My final stop is the “Barbecue Factory.” I can’t possibly strike out THREE times, can I? I mean, what at the odds? Wait, don’t answer that.
On my way to the “Barbecue Factor,” I pass by a Chuy’s, (Mexican) then a Red Lobster (farm-raised “seafood”), and some other places that would have at least been passable to a starving motorist who refuses to indulge in any travesty related to fast food. Trouble is, now I have “barbecue on the brain,” and can’t shake the monkey off my back. I want some tasty barbecue goddamnit, and if I have to drive 50 miles, I’m going to chase the dragon. I’ve become akin to a crack addict, temptation which anyone with a love for food can certainly commensurate.
Finally, I arrive at the third pitch on what turns out to be the third strike — “Barbecue Factory,” which is located in a strip mall. Encouragement fills me when I see a fire pit out positioned out in front thats smoking the meats. Nice. At least this joint should be authentic. Those cows were probably grazing in the fields around Bakersfield just last week. My order gets placed, and it all comes to $22. By this time, I’m ready to eat just about anything that resembles an animal.
My rib and brisket platter is promptly delivered shortly thereafter and it’s completely drowned in a pool of barbecue sauce. Fortunately, I didn’t order my meal “to go,” or else I might have ended up looking like Hannibal Lecter The barbecue sauce is waaaaaaaay too sweet and vinergery. It’s also shitty. All I can do is look down at my plate, shake my head, and stare in disgust. One suspects that buried somewhere beneath all the shitty barbecue sauce might been something that’s worthy of consumption. But alas, the world will never know and another mystery shall remain just that — a mystery.
If I ever pass through Bakersfield again, next time I’ll take my chances on Thai.