Brazen means bold and without shame according to a definition on Google. Bold is how I like my ‘Que. Without shame just goes without saying. Hey, I probably eat enough BBQ to put others to shame, but I don’t feel any myself!
I had eaten at Brazen a few times a couple of years ago. And while I enjoyed the flavors, I felt the brisket was overcooked and fell apart too easily. Fast forward to a recent visit and many things seem to have taken a much brighter turn.
Everything my boyfriend and I were served this time had us oohing and aahing as our taste buds were boldly going where they like to go…..onto the Tasty Train.
Let me backtrack for a minute here and let readers know that Brazen’s two owners, John and Brad, have won a LOT of awards on the competition BBQ circuit. I knew that walking in, as I had been a judge at many of those comps and they even won Rookie Team of the Year in 2009 and were bestowed with the titles of California’s Top 10 and the Nation’s Top 100. We’re judging double blind, so I never knew whose ‘Que I was tasting. When you first walk into Brazen, they proudly have all their trophies displayed, as they well should. The BBQ Comp circuit is fun, expensive and grueling all at the same time. These guys understand and practice the art of low and slow cooking. Bragging rights is a thing.
It’s a big, clean space inside with wooden tables, benches and booths. You do feel like you’re in a barn setting without being too hick. This is Hillcrest after all. The bar is off to the side with some seats facing out onto the street, perfect for people watching.
Owner John Bracamonte wanted me to have a taste of what they have been doing there lately and I was curious to see if my mind and tongue could be swayed to the….dark side…of BBQ. Dark side meaning the bark on the meats, a deep smoky sauce and peppery spices. They use a combination of Hickory, peach and apple woods. You can taste the fruity wood on their meats, which imparts delicious and memorable flavors.
Disclaimer: food was not presented in the same way as you would order from their menus.
He first brought us a sampling of their best appetizers. Their Atomic Buffalo Poppers sounded like they might be too hot/spicy for me, but they were just perfect. Bacon wrapped, cheese and corn stuffed poppers which were better than any others I’ve had. Not deep fried and covered in batter. A soft jalapeno stuffed with just the right amount of cheese and then wrapped in a piece of succulent bacon, all smoked.
The chicken wings were also quite good and imbued with smoke. But the shining star on that plate was the smoked pig candy. Bacon dusted with their “Barnyard Dust” and a mix of sugars and what else? Yes, smoked. With each heavenly bite I was hoping another slice would magically appear on my plate. I love all the new ways people are being imaginative with bacon. Even at home we do a version my friend Jeb showed me with brown sugar and cinnamon, nothing more. This fulfills my culinary fantasy of sweet and savory. One of the main reasons I love BBQ in the first place.
I’m pleased to say that everything was delicious-in-my-mouth-make-me-wanna-come-back-good. The brisket, of which I was served a non fatty piece and a succulent, fatty piece was really good. I am still marveling over the fact that I do like fat on certain cuts of meat. John says he doesn’t like the fat, but hey, to each his own melt in-your-mouth-perfection I guess. My boyfriend on the other hand could eat a plate of nothing but fat and be very satisfied.
The ribs were perfectly textured, smoked just the right amount and pulled away from the bone easily without falling off onto the plate. Tri tip, not one of my favorite cuts because it so easily falls into the tough category was also quite tender and delicious. The chicken was smoky and melted in our mouths accordingly. Nice spices on the skin too.
An unexpected surprise was when John asked us to taste their gumbo. I didn’t even realize this was offered on the menu. But it was as good as any I’ve had at a Creole/Louisiana inspired establishment. Smoked chicken and Cajun sausage along with vegetables served over white rice is a reason to come back to just order this with some of their cornbread. A very warmy, comfort food entree.
The pulled pork was very moist and, here’s that word that seems to get overused in BBQ, but you sure want it every time…..tender. This would make a fantastic sandwich of course.
The burnt ends, while not listed on the menu and I try to ask for wherever I go, were brought out to us in a small cast iron skillet, just sizzling away in all their caramelized candy fat goodness. These weren’t my favorite burnt ends and had too much sauce on it for me, but again, this is not part of what they are used to cooking. This is a part of the brisket that some places are not willing to give up or serve, as they do take away from their slices because of the way it needs to be cut. Never hurts to ask, right?
Their sides were delicious too. The standout for me was the Mac ‘n Cheese. If you read enough of my reviews, you’ll notice this is the one dish that does not impress me almost everywhere I’ve had it. Here, it’s served in a casserole dish that it’s obviously baked in and that crusty top along with that blend of cheeses inside made it just how I like it. Creamy, tasty and not dried out at all. Their beans, are a nice contrast to all the sweetness of the BBQ, as they are served without the sugariness of BBQ beans. My boyfriend loved them.
I dig the uniqueness of their sauces. There are two of them. One is the Smokey Lace, which is of coursed smoked with a tart finish and their mysteriously named B.R.A.G., which is sweet and bold with some heat. He said if you correctly guess what the acronym stands for he will tell you if you got it right. If you don’t….too bad.
The peach cobbler was a step above most I’ve had with nice doughy pieces throughout and soft peach segments complimenting the dessert. A scoop of vanilla ice cream was all that was missing, but we felt like ticks about to burst at that point!
There are many other tasty sounding dishes to return for. The brisket stroganoff, smokehouse nachos, where you can choose pulled chicken, pork or brisket for your topping, sliders, okra, chili, salads, catfish, even a vegetarian salad! There are hot links, red beans and rice, hamburgers, ruebens, chicken portobello sandwiches, lunch menu specials and you can buy their meats by the pound too. They have a children’s menu and a pub style brunch menu on the weekends from 11-3. I’ve got a lot to come back and try!
They do offer catering for your events.
Table service. Full bar and Happy Hour is Daily 3:30-6:30 and Sunday all day.
Sun-Thurs 11 am to 9:30 pm
Fri & Sat 11 am to 10:30 pm
441 Washington St
San Diego, CA 92103