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Ambiance Makes a Big Impression at 4505 Burgers & BBQ

The San Francisco barbecue joint's new outpost in the Laurel district goes whole-hog with whole smoked pigs every weekend, but not everyone is hog wild over the results.

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If there's one food that's synonymous with fond childhood memories, it's barbecue, according to 4505 Burgers & BBQ co-owner Andrew Ghetia.

"Everyone's got a memory of it — and it's usually from when you were a kid," Ghetia said. Ghetia often finds himself dreaming about a pulled pork sandwich he ate as a kid at Van's Pig Stand in Oklahoma. "I still remember the way it smelled, and the way the sandwich tasted," he said.

At 4505 Burgers & BBQ, Ghetia hopes to be a source of barbecue-filled memories for generations to come. "You're always just chasing that dragon of those memories and trying to find what gets you close to that ... and trying to create them for a whole new generation of folks."

On paper, it seems like 4505 might be a good candidate to inspire the Bay Area's next wave of barbecue lovers. Founder Ryan Farr started the business in San Francisco in 2009, selling premium-quality chicharrones that soon became available in stores nationwide. In 2014, Farr opened the original 4505 on Divisadero Street in San Francisco, a location that still draws lines five years later. And in June, 4505 opened its first East Bay location in Oakland's Laurel district.

Though the barbecue joint doesn't ascribe itself to any particular style, Farr hails from Kansas City, while Ghetia is from Oklahoma. They also cite influences from Alabama, Texas, the Carolinas, and Tennessee. They start with sustainably and humanely raised meats, including Llano Seco pigs, then add hickory wood and sometimes a little California oak for the barbecuing.

Ghetia and Farr put three years of effort into opening their Oakland location, and their hard work shows. Housed inside the building that was formerly home to Glen's Hot Dogs, they renovated the diner's motorized vintage neon sign and replaced the parking lot with a patio, picnic benches, a kids' play area (complete with a "Stroller Parking Only" sign), and repurposed shipping containers to provide style and shelter from the elements.

But when it comes to the most important factor — the barbecue — there is some room for improvement. On my first visit on a particularly busy Saturday night, many items, including the ribs, were sold out. I ordered a brisket plate, which was slow to come out of the kitchen. Once it did, the meat was lukewarm, dry, and lacking in flavor. I poured myself a cup of the "sweet 'n' thick" barbecue sauce from the self-serve station and was surprised that it was runny and thin.

The menu touted the burger as the "best damn grass-fed cheeseburger," which weighed in at a quarter pound and was very reasonably priced at just under $10. At the register, the cashier asked how I'd like my burger done, to which I responded "medium." I was told the options were either pink or no pink, with no in-between. As a lover of rare steaks but hater of rare burgers, I ordered it without pink, which turned out to be a mistake. The burger was mouth-parchingly dry and crumbly but couldn't be saved by the excellent other components like the airy, buttery sesame bun.

I chalked up my disappointment to the fact that this had been a hectic night and headed back the next weekend for lunch. The food came out quickly but suffered from the same fate of being cold and dry. I liked the dry rub on the ribs, which was smoky and spicy with a hint of sweetness, but the meat was visibly desiccated and dry.

The pulled pork — which on the weekends is made with a blend of lean and fatty meats from a whole Carolina-style smoked hog — was a little juicier but needed more seasoning. The side sauce of mustard and vinegar, however, added a little tanginess that helped wake up the flavors. The pulled chicken, on the other hand, had more smoky flavor, but its juices had been cooked out. But I enjoyed dipping the chicken into the Alabama-style mayonnaise-based white sauce — an unusual accompaniment, simultaneously creamy and zesty, that I hadn't seen elsewhere.

On weekends, 4505's Oakland location also offers beef ribs. They're a splurge at $36 a pound — no sides included — but the beef ribs turned out to be the best barbecue item I tried. It was served piping hot, and the tender meat fell off the bone, juices running with each bite. The salt was a little heavy but did its job of bringing out the fatty, savory flavors of the beef.

Most barbecue joints aren't known for their sides, but 4505 makes a solid effort, including its classic sides. The side of coleslaw was crunchy and refreshing, but I would have appreciated more commitment to a specific style — it fell into neither the creamy coleslaw camp nor the tangy coleslaw camp. The potato salad was smooth and creamy with a pleasant hint of acidity, like light, fluffy, summery mashed potatoes. The baked beans had a just-right amount of sweetness, while bits of meat — pork is my best guess — added little nuggets of flavor. The roll that's included with every order is a standout — it's a fluffy, buttery Parker House roll baked by Firebrand Artisan Breads, with a beautiful chewy, shiny brown top flecked with salt.

Other sides are more creative, like Farr's own creation, Frankaroni. Mac 'n' cheese gets mixed with hot dog pieces, then shaped into a rectangle, coated in panko breadcrumbs, and deep-fried. Despite being deep-fried, the Frankaroni wasn't excessively greasy. The crust was airy, light, and crispy, while the macaroni inside was smooth, creamy, and flavorful. But the hot dogs, made with a blend of pork, chicken, and beef, didn't add much flavor to the macaroni, and their chewy texture distracted from the otherwise excellent fried macaroni.

I was intrigued to see pozole on offer, but when I took my first bite, I wondered if I had gotten chili instead. But there, in the watery, smoky broth, was the telltale hominy. Pozole is typically prepared for special occasions in Mexican households, and it traces its origins to Aztec rituals. This version seemed like more of a dumping ground for leftover barbecue meat.

But 4505 is a barbecue joint; you're likely here for the barbecue. It's telling that weeks later, what I find myself remembering most fondly is the Parker House rolls.

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