Gourmet Magazine

Bob KantorUp in Northern California, I found quite a different barbecue scene. The ‘cue culture there reflects the fact that as barbecue becomes more popular across the nation, sophisticated restaurateurs are designing menus not just for homesick Texans and Tennesseans but also for people whose loyalty is to good food, not regional accuracy. The best such restaurateur I met in my explorations was Bob Kantor, a former New Yorker who owns Memphis Minnie’s, in San Francisco. It may well be the finest barbecue restaurant in the state. The restaurant is named not for the late blues singer but for Kantor’s mother, who grew up in Memphis before moving to New York City. Though Jewish, she lovedQuote pork; her idea of dietary law was not to fry any bacon when she knew the rabbi would be visiting.

Kantor preaches his philosophy of barbecue with all the fervor of a recent convert. His first rule (and I was thrilled to discover this) is not to serve sauce on his barbecue. Sauce is available on the tables if you want it. “I’m just trying to get people to look at barbecue as something other than sauce,” he explains. “Why else do I spend sixteen hours working on my brisket?”

His combinations and juxtapositions are neither unsettling nor inappropriate, except perhaps to people for whom the regional authenticity of barbecue is sacred. I’m not that kind of a purist. While Kantor may not slather sauce on his finished product, part of his technique includes putting a South Carolina-style-mustard-based sauce on the raw meat before adding the dry seasonings. His brisket, without a doubt the best I tasted in California, was fork-tender, crusted on the outside with spices and slightly charred meat. Most importantly, the flavor was complex all the way through.

– Lolis Eric Elie | Gourmet Magazine • June, 2002