There is a difference between grilling and barbecuing, although many people don't realize it.
Grilling is what most of us do when we cook outside, when we think we are barbecuing. But true barbecuing involves a method of slow cooking that's done over indirect heat and often involves some flavorful oak. Serious barbecue enthusiasts know that the best barbecued dishes can and should take hours.
At SLO County Bar- B-Que in Paso Robles, owner Lupe Soliz assures his customers that their smoky dishes are indeed barbecued.
A longtime lover of all things barbecued, Soliz recently moved his family to the Central Coast to make a living at slow-cooking savory meats, tasty appetizers and smoky sauces.
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The longtime Monterey County resident and his wife, Esmeralda, quit their 9-to-5 jobs to open the small eatery in south Paso Robles in mid-February.
"(Paso) is one of the friendliest towns we've ever been in," he said.
Hungry patrons can catch a glimpse of Soliz at work on the large outdoor barbecue outside of the restaurant. Hot sausages, sizzling half chickens and juicy tri-tips are slow-cooked daily over red oak to capture the most flavor, he says.continued...The atmosphere
On a recent weekday, I arrived early in an attempt to beat the lunch crowd -- at 11:30 in the morning. Although there wasn't a line, there were other patrons already filling the small eatery. It has a handful of tables inside with room for overflow outside. Not much seating, but the setup seems to cater towards takeout orders.
In terms of style, the restaurant has little of the traditional Western touches often found at successful barbecue spots such as F. McLintocks or Mo's. The tables are simple, with a choice of condiments including house-made barbecue sauces, mustards and hot sauce. The walls are fairly vacant and the menu is simple and straightforward.
But Soliz isn't trying to create a made-up atmosphere for his patrons. He's concentrating on giving them seriously good barbecue, and I'd say he succeeds.
Entree choices include ribs, half chickens, Swiss sausages, tri-tip sandwiches and pulled pork sandwiches.
I started with the three-meat combo ($13.50) so I could try as many of the meats as possible. The large dish came with a succulent beef rib, sausage and half a chicken, as well as garlic bread, coleslaw, beans, and potato salad.
The rib was a n immediate favorite. The slow-cooked meat was tender and there was plenty of it. The Swiss sausage was juicy and cooked to perfection, with a slightly charred outside and a flavorful interior.
I also tried the pulled pork sandwich ($8), which was large and filled with sweet and tangy meat. But for what it had in size, it lacked in quantity of meat. I'd have preferred a bit more to offset all that bread.
The side dishes hold their own against the entrees here. The beans are slow-cooked and packed with ground beef, onions and garlic, making them a bit like tasty chili. The coleslaw was crisp and refreshing, and the potato salad and garlic bread made nice accompaniments to the flavorful meat.
The daily special
A couple of days a week, Esmeralda Soliz creates a special that pays tribute to her Mexican heritage. Lucky for us, I showed up on chili verde day ($8).
A plate of steaming chili verde is served with Mexican rice, refried beans and a side of tortillas. At $8, the meal is a steal and was some of the best chili verde I've had. The meat was moist and flavorful and the sauce had the sweet and spicy tang of tomatillos.
SLO County Bar-B-Que has a pretty good list of kids' meals, as well as salads, hamburgers and plenty of side dishes. They also serve domestic beer and import beers and local wine at decent prices.
This new barbecue spot, with its fusion of traditional dishes and Mexican specialties, should hold its own against local favorites.
Reach Dawn Rapp at 781-7946.
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SLO COUNTY BAR-B-QUE
630-B First St., Paso Robles, 226-5227
Hours: Monday- Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The scene: Casual barbecue eatery for dining in or take-out
The cuisine: Slowcooked barbecue dishes such as ribs, tri-tip and chicken with all the fixings
Expect to spend: $6 to $14 for lunch and dinner