by Jesse Hirsch
If you recall, I’ve spent the last few months unsuccessfully courting Double D BBQ. The elusive dive with the storied reputation was always closed when I stopped by; they never responded to multiple voicemails and emails; and owner/chef Duane Orr wouldn’t react to my obvious attempts to smoke him (barbecue pun) out of seclusion. I was dying to try the legendary brisket and links, but my dignity was suffering.
Eventually I cued up “I Will Survive” on the MP3 player and moved on. Until, in a quiet moment last week, I got reflective. The hurt of my unrequited advances had faded to a dull ache; I was ready to give it another go. Keeping expectations low, I took out my phone and punched in the familiar number. Two rings later, a gruff male voice:
“Hello, Double D.”
“Um, yes, hi, hello. Are you, ah, open?”
“We’re open until 5, or until we run out of meat.”
“Cool, very cool, I mean, yes! I’m going to drive over as quick as I can. Please stay open. Please. Thank you. Bye. Thank you.”
The traffic gods cleared a special path for me that afternoon, and I was at Double D within 45 seconds. The interior was dark and cold, and the young woman behind the counter wore a parka with the hood up. The decor follows a “put it on the wall” aesthetic: Tiki masks, fox pelts, a Batman Forever poster, steer horns, Raiders pennants, a Spanish suit of armor, electric guitars, a dreamcatcher, and Maury Povich holding court on a flatscreen.
I ordered the $5 sandwich-and-a-side meal deal, brisket and potato salad. When I asked to sit at the deserted counter, the woman (who I was later introduced to as the “Little D” in Double D BBQ) paused for a long beat, then shrugged resignedly.
Duane Orr (aka Big D), a red-faced burly dude in his early fifties, wearing a Raiders cap and wraparound shades, emerged from out of the kitchen. We were soon bantering about the former prostitute motel next to Double D, the sub-par treatment that comes from electric smokers, and Oakland’s wealth of great murals. Under Orr’s chatty eye, I ate my brisket.
Burnt edges and generous smoke rings crowned strings of unctuously fatty meat, a perfect balance of chewy and crisp. The sweet and spicy house-made sauce was solid, but it was like an old food writer’s cliché: “The meat was so good it didn’t need ____.” Along with the ribs from Slow Hand BBQ in Concord, this was hands-down the best barbecue I’ve had on the West Coast.
After eating the sandwich and the mushy potato salad side, we took a tour of the Double D estate. The roomy back patio was lousy with potted plants, pink flamingos, and festive murals, a hot destination for the summer months (especially when Orr snags his beer license). I checked out the solid old Backwoods manual charcoal and hickory smokers, fired up at 4 a.m. every morning. We even visited Orr’s friend at Weiner Werks, a new organic hot dog shop in Double D’s old location on International Boulevard. Before I left, Orr loaded me up with some soft all-beef links, a smooth meat blend that skews more towards ground beef than offal and scraps.
Ruffled feathers had been smoothed, and I even learned why I had so much bad luck visiting previously. Double D completely shut down for several weeks last fall, Orr’s frustrated response to the massive 12th Street reconstruction project (he’s currently trying to get compensation from the city).
Orr’s right: It is dicey figuring out how to navigate the byzantine construction detours to find this tiny little nugget on 1st Avenue. But it’s a small price to pay for barbecue this good.
Comments? Tips? Get in touch at Jesse.Hirsch@EastBayExpress.com.