Flavor Notes by Robert Rich: Food, Wine, Restaurants & Recipes


Mini Restaurant Reviews
short takes and editorials

Uncle Frank's House of Barbecue

by Robert Rich, December 2006

Barbecue brings out some very strong opinions among its fans, some who think it's only done right when it's done the way they're used to. I appreciate barbecue in all styles - Memphis, Texas, Carolina, KC and Louisiana - especially when it's humble and simple, smokey, spicy hot and not too sweet. Before Uncle Frank's Louisiana barbecue relocated to Mountain View from East Palo Alto, I would lament the dirth of great authentic southern barbecue nearby. Sure, we have chains like Armadillo Willy's, but that's not what I'm talking about.

Now, here's what I'm talking about. Uncle Frank found a spot in the rear of Francesca's, an old smokey bar on Old Middlefield Road, a few doors north of Rengstorff Ave. You have to walk through the dingey bar to reach Frank's linoleum-furnished windowless room in back. The first thing you smell is the smoker, with its pungent sweet hickory goodness.

Uncle Frank's menu is short, with smoked brisket, sausage, chicken and ribs, augmented with some deep fried items like fish fillets, shrimp or chicken wings. The prices might seem high at first, with lunch plates ranging from $7.50 for the hot links to $9.50 for the beef brisket. The servings are huge, however, and a single order can serve two people unless they eat like linebackers.

Cole slaw and potato salad appear every day for lunch. Full meal platters come with two side dishes and a hunk of corn bread. The selection of sides differs a bit from day to day, and often includes baked beans. The collard greens are excellent when they're available, as is the cajun corn with its spicy sweetness. Overall the side dishes pale next to the meat, and I don't give them much thought.

The meat at Frank's is very smokey, at the extreme end of the spectrum, redolent of sweet wood vanillins and ashey intensity. I love this deep smoke flavor, but some might find it a bit overbearing. You can request either mild or spicy barbecue sauce for them to douse your platter of meat. Frank's spicy sauce is hella hot! This works wonders for me, but again it's not for the faint of heart. The mild sauce is not too sweet, very smokey, with a good balance of acidity and savory spices.

I think the best item at Uncle Frank's is the beef brisket, served as a stack of domino sized chunks, mostly lean and bursting with flavor. The meat often has a crispy edge to it with a firm mouth feel inside, rarely too dry. The smoked chicken falls off the bone, but doesn't have the intense flavor of the brisket. The pork ribs are often a bit fatty, as ribs can be, but they are usually tender and mouth watering. The Louisiana smoked sausage has a firm snappy feel and authentic not-overspiced flavor.

I tried the fried fish fillets once ($8.50 with french fries and bread, or $1.50 extra in a combo dinner) and I was very impressed with the crisp corn meal batter. With its thick flavorful crust, not at all greasy, this came very close to the breaded catfish that I have had in Louisiana's bayou country.

When I want to introduce some friends to Uncle Frank's, I'll often order a Supreme Combo to go ($20.95) which includes three meat items, two sides and corn bread. This usually feeds four to six very hungry people back at home. The larger Tailgate Combo ($32.95) claims to feed only two people, but I imagine it could easily feed six to eight.

To appreciate Uncle Frank's you have to enjoy a bit of homespun funk in a humble environment; then soon you might crave their very smokey, very spicy, delectible barbecue.

Uncle Frank's House of Barbecue
2135 Old Middlefied Way
Mountain View, CA 94043
(650) 964-4476

• Mon-Fri 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
• Mon-Sat 5:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m.
• Sat 12:00 p.m.-2:30 p.m.