BBQ in the Valley
August 28, 2015
By Matt Meador
I’m one of those guys who's happiest when it’s summer, the sun is always out and the temperature is hot. Give me 90 degrees any day over that cloudy, rainy muck that parks itself here and, like an annoying guest, stays far too long. I always hate saying goodbye to summer. That’s why I thought it was a great idea to take a closer look at local barbecue restaurants as we head into fall. Since outdoor grilling and smoking inspire feelings of warm afternoons with friends and family, a barbecue feature could allow us to get a bit more out of summer.
As fans of barbecue know, there are distinctive regional styles of that culinary sport (see sidebar on page 19) which evoke all sorts of passion from diners around the country. When we were putting this feature together for this edition of Indulge, a pointed fact began emerging: most local barbecue joints can’t be pigeonholed into a singular category defined by one regional technique. “We’re pretty much pioneering the Pacific Northwest barbecue style,” said Craig Haagenson, barbecue chef and owner of McMinnville’s fabled Ribslayer. Haagenson, arguably the grandfather of Yamhill Valley barbecue, was referring not only to his own popular operation but also to those of other barbecue mongers around the county.
Another characteristic shared by the four restaurants featured here is passion. To a man — or woman, as the case may be — they all spoke of their love for barbecue and the fact that, maybe more than any other food category, barbecue brings people together in a very special way. The enthusiasm for food exhibited by each merchant is palpable. In their words, they’re all doing exactly what they want to do. Like no other food classification, barbecue evokes passion.
If one word might capture Craig and Theresa Haagenson’s well-known local barbecue eatery, Ribslayer, that word could be balance. Ribslayer’s meat is balanced.
A classically-trained chef, Craig Haagenson has achieved the perfect balance among flavors. Haagenson’s proprietary dry rub features clove, nutmeg and allspice, among other things and complements Ribslayer’s meat perfectly. “We use local woods like white oak, cherry and apple in addition to oak barrel staves when we smoke,” said Haagenson. The result is mouth-watering meats that speak quite clearly for themselves.
The brisket is smoky and tender and the ribs exhibit just the perfect amount of heat. “We dial it down so it doesn’t overpower and let the true flavors of the meat emerge,” said Haagenson. His scratch-made House Smoky, Smokin’ Jalapeño, Hot & Smoky and Honey Barbecue sauces are served on the side. And no order is complete without the crisply subtle Thai peanut salad or one of the other tempting sides.
“It’s soul food barbecue,” said Haagenson. “Really barbecue down to its roots.” Craig possesses equal parts knowledge and passion about his art — his enthusiasm is infectious. “Craig is living his dream,” said Theresa Haagenson. As dreams go, this is certainly a memorable one.
Taste for yourself.
Uncle Jack’s Bar-B-Que
416 S. Trade St., Amity
(503) 835-JACK (5225)
11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday
At a very young age, Janelle Temple-Rolston’s father instilled in her a love of barbecue. To the benefit of locals, this affection has manifested itself as Uncle Jack’s Bar-B-Que in Amity. The old family photos adorning the wall of the spotlessly clean Uncle Jack’s attest to this sense of family history. But the buckets of peanuts on each table — peanuts whose shells end up on the floor — emphasize Temple-Rolston’s primary focus: the food. And it’s some serious barbecue.
“I was his chicken-flipper,” said Temple-Rolston, referring to the help she gave her father when she was a girl. She said her extended family always clamored for “Uncle Jack’s chicken” when she was growing up. Her dad, Jack Temple, was a McMinnville football star, and she was proud to put his name on her restaurant.
With a primary menu of ribs, pork and brisket, Uncle Jack’s wings and kielbasas can’t be overlooked either. The skill in smoking is obvious; the meats are perfectly seasoned. “It’s my dad’s secret recipe,” said Temple-Rolston. Uncle Jack’s side dishes are popular, too. With loaded mashed potatoes, cole slaw and maybe the best baked beans in the county, everything is scratch-made and generous. “The beans are my mom’s recipe,” said Temple-Rolston. One thing is certain: the Rolston family knows barbecue.
310 E. 1st St., Newberg
8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday
When chefs Allen and Jessica Routt took a road trip across the country, they stopped at dozens of roadside restaurants. Photographs of these eateries decorate the low-key dining room of their Storrs Smokehouse in downtown Newberg. But there’s nothing low-key about the food served up on those tables. As the founders of the popular Painted Lady restaurant, the Routts wanted to offer more casual fare served at their dinner house. Some seriously good barbecue was the solution.
With a subtle elegance lacking in a lot of barbecue, Storrs ribs are so tasty it almost seems a shame to corrupt them with sauce. But the Storrs Smokehouse Oregon Pinot Noir Barbecue Sauce is delectable in its own right. With a marked Pinot character, it’s the perfect complement to the thick-sliced slow-smoked brisket for which Storrs is becoming known.
“Everything but our bread is made in-house,” said manager Scott Nagle. Classic Southern sides like grits, baked beans and collard greens — with Carolina vinegar, if you like — are offered. Even the dill pickles and sweet pickled green tomatoes are house-made. “People come in and say ‘I don’t like pickles, I don’t like tomatoes and I don’t like sweet, but I love those!’” said Nagle.
203 Villa Rd., Newberg
12 p.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday
Richard Bert had an epiphany of sorts when he attended a gathering and realized how barbecue brought together friends and family in a manner that celebrates happiness. Starting out in Lafayette and moving to Dundee following a brief stay in McMinnville, Bert has traded his self-built barbecue trailer for a new brick-and-mortar restaurant in Newberg.
Bert is a master of meat; his skill is immediately apparent in his brisket, ribs and pulled pork. But one area where his star shines brightest — maybe above every other barbecue joint in the county — are his burgers. Bert’s burgers are up there with the best in the Yamhill Valley, last edition’s Burger Bracket notwithstanding. Anchored by a third-pound patty topped with thick center-cut hickory-smoked bacon and house brisket, the Bert’s Brisket Burger is smothered with cheese, house sauce and all the trimmings. The massive result tastes even better than it looks — and it looks like a work of barbecue art. Add a generous helping of fries or hand-dipped onion rings and you’ll find yourself transported to burger heaven.
“If it ain’t messy, it ain’t barbecue,” said Bert. “When customers ask what style barbecue we are, I say, you tell me.” He said the answer is always “That’s some really good barbecue!” He’s right, it is some seriously good barbecue.
We’ve all seen the insurance commercials on television where several Pacific Northwest drivers reach a four-way intersection simultaneously and each spends the next couple minutes encouraging one of the other drivers to go first. You go. No, you go! The ads humorously highlight that laid-back unhurried lifestyle that has come to define our amiable region. Our featured barbecue merchants take this innate friendliness one step further: sure, they’re in it to make a living but all of them showcase that northwest spirit of generosity, courtesy and fair play making everybody else want to live here. “If barbecue is good business, then business is great,” said Craig Haagenson. “There’s room for a lot of barbecue here.” Richard Bert reinforced those sentiments. “Food brings people together but barbecue does it best,” he said.