Fresh Eats: Our weekly roundup of SFoodie news

BBQ Short Rib at T-Dub's on Fridays

By John Birdsall

Thomas Ware is a big guy, and personable. "Welcome to T-Dub's," Ware (aka T-Dub) says to anyone — whether they're listening or not — who steps up to the counter at his weeks-old barbecue place, semihidden within the warren of parking lots and bail shops near the Hall of Justice.

T-Dub's on Fridays is in the old Yellow Pa Taut space, with its bizarrely Beach Blanket Babylon-meets-Excalibur fantasy wall reliefs, the Golden Gate Bridge smack up against a castle's stony ramparts. (The restaurant's name, he told Jonathan Kauffman, comes from the barbecue wings his mom cooked up Fridays during his Cleveland childhood.) Ware, in black T and beanie, is a sober figure amid the whimsy. He lays down the rules. "Nobody comes to T-Dub's without getting a taste of something," he says, dangling a boneless, sauce-glazed hank of baby-back rib meat over the counter in my direction. It's fantastic: Gray meat fibers plump with collagen, the fat rendered out, slippery, and vivid with the barbecue sauce that is T-Dub's animating spirit.

I've ordered a to-go box of Combo Plate No. 5, short ribs and chicken ($19.95). Ware summons me from the table where I pretend to be absorbed in CNN on the flatscreen — he has a bronto-rib joint perched between tongs. "Just to show you," he says, "this is tender." With one move he slips off the meat, a dark, hulking sheath of soft protein, and wedges it into a takeaway box.

Back at the office I probe the short rib, a beast struggling to rise from a shiny tarpit of sauce. The rib's coarse, heavy meat fibers splay out along a sheet of connective tissue, and the taste is intimately beefy: earthy, with tallowy richness and a kind of wheezing sweetness. The chicken, by contrast, is chewy, tongue-pink flesh under skin that's turned leathery on the grill. Coloring everything is the taste of the sauce, equal parts sweet and vinegar, teased out with Liquid Smoke. It's good, though after three mouthfuls my palate is exhausted. The sides (you get two) offer a bit of relief: Devmyster's Dirty Rice, studded with little clusters of finely ground pork, and Pop Yo' Collar collard greens, sanded with so much white pepper your tongue goes numb. After a while, that begins to feel like mercy. T-Dub's on Fridays: 15 Boardman (at Bryant), 624-3360. Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.


Now on the Menu: Tobacco

By Darya Pino

San Francisco's tobacco lovers can finally get their nicotine fix without offending their neighbors or destroying their lungs — and I'm not talking about those ridiculous electronic cigarettes. Uncured heirloom tobacco is making its way onto local menus as an ingredient in food and cocktails.

In the kitchen at Lafitte, chef-owner Russell Jackson has been experimenting with tobacco leaves to add a unique herbal dimension to savory dishes. In his latest creation, he wraps fresh tobacco around a whole fish stuffed with vegetables and crusted with salt. The salt serves as a buffer between the fish and the tobacco, which can impart too much bitterness if used on its own. In this way, the delicate meat is infused with a subtle, earthy complexity that beautifully complements roasted sunchokes and greens.

Tobacco also finds a place at Lafitte's bar. Recognizing the classic pairing of tobacco and alcohol, bar manager Kenneth Gray infuses dried tobacco leaves into a simple syrup that he blends with rye whiskey. It's at once smooth, rich, and husky — and comes with a little nicotine buzz for the road.

Jackson says he approaches tobacco as he would any culinary herb or leaf, as an additional element lending flavor and complexity. "I'm always looking for interesting ingredients at the farmers' market that I can play around with in the kitchen." He says he spent the summer experimenting with the fresh leaves.

The tobacco is grown in East Palo Alto by Happy Quail Farms, where David Winsberg tends two varietals. The fresh leaves are Connecticut Broadleaf, a strain developed in England. The dried leaves are a Native American ceremonial tobacco called Santo Domingo. Winsberg picked up the Santo Domingo seeds more than 30 years ago from a seed saver group in New Mexico. The leaves are uncured, and therefore don't fall under the regulatory eye of the FDA. Winsberg says customers are free to cure the dried leaves at their own peril.

 
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