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Barney’s Hickory Pit, Concord CA

Zach has been here dozens of times since he was a child with his grandmother, and Barney’s Hickory Pit, for nearly 60 years, has been a landmark in Concord for amazing barbecue.  When we get the occasional craving and Zach doesn’t feel like cooking, we call in orders for take out; for picture’s sake we came in this evening to document the meal for you, looking its prettiest.  Recently a local community news source named Barney’s as the best barbecue in Concord, and we believe it.

barney's bbq 003

We had to start with a salad for two.  Standard is beets, radishes, and green onions, and we selected their famous homemade blue cheese dressing.  Thick and tangy, it’s great not just for salad but also for those who like to dip their sides, it goes well with fries or jalapeño poppers.

junior rib plate

junior rib plate

August knew she wouldn’t have enough room for the regular rib plate, or even the next size up, so she went with the five rib junior plate and a side of cole slaw.  The brown sauce that covers the ribs is not a typical barbecue, sweet-tangy flavor; rather it’s smokier and more gravy-like.  This is Barney’s original sauce, and about 10 years ago they started a sweet-tangy version, but it can be hard to improve upon perfection.  She pulled the meat off the bones fairly easily and wished she could eat more than two, but Bea the dog will be very happy tonight.

ham dinner plate

ham dinner plate

Zach’s dinner was a “good old fashioned smoked ham, tender, juicy, and with a mild smoky flavor.”  He got the same brown sauce because it’s what he’s always gotten his whole life.  The sauce and the ham were “perfect complements,” and for all the excess sauce the grilled hamburger buns were tasty to soak it up.  The fries were typical (packaged frozen, not fresh-cut), but cooked well and properly salted.  If you’re looking for a barbecue place that leans more towards homemade than processed, this is a great choice.

Sunrise Bagels, Concord CA

super fresh variety

super fresh variety

Whenever possible, get bagels from a bagel shop instead of prepackaged from a grocery store.  Even the worst bagel shop’s bagels are far better than anything from a grocery store.  Because they are made fresh, shop bagels freeze better than grocery store bagels when kept in a high quality Ziploc freezer bag.  On top of it all, buying from a bagel shop supports local businesses as opposed to corporate chains.  Sunrise Bagels (next to Saigon Bistro) offers not only a fresh variety of bagels, but so many ways to turn them into sandwiches for breakfast and lunch, plus salads, pastries, and coffee drinks.  Zach’s impressed that they even have homemade bagel dogs, which looked pretty popular since many other customers were buying them at 7 in the morning.

eggwich with meat and cheese

eggwich with meat and cheese

Zach got an “eggwich with meat and cheese,” but he chose ham and bacon and two slices of cheese (so essentially double meat and cheese; they were happy to oblige).  The bagel itself was jalapeño cheese, and needless to say, the bagel was delicious.  It was crispy and had a good chew, like a bagel should be: dense, yet with a light texture.  The jalapeños added a nice spice to wake up your mouth on a cold morning.  The ham was tender, smoky, and sweet.  The bacon was crisp and cooked fresh – these aren’t your typical bacon microwavers.  The egg was light, fluffy, and very moist.  Two slices of cheese helped all the ingredients commingle to make a hearty, tasty bagel ‘wich.

sunrise eggwich

sunrise eggwich

August always goes towards mushrooms and spinach.  Her “Sunrise eggwich” on a garlic Parmesan bagel had both, plus provolone cheese and choice of meat – she went with ham.  The sharp salty-nuttiness from the Parmesan was a nice flavor contrast with the vegetables on the inside, and provolone balanced well with the ham.  It’s always a bonus when fresh vegetables are used.

Quick, filling, delicious, and run by a friendly owner, we highly recommend this place, for breakfast or lunch.

Havana Restaurant, Walnut Creek CA

August used to work on the same block as Havana and had been there a couple of times before tonight, but it’s a first for Zach.  Having been around for ten years, Havana is known for Cuban tapas and an extensive mojito selection, and we learned that they recently opened a cafe inside Autopia Car Wash up the street a bit.  The bar here at the main restaurant was certainly popular but not boisterous or off-putting, so we enjoyed a very nice meal in a pleasant atmosphere.

valentine's n havan 029

Zach can’t eat whole nuts, but he had to try at least one walnut so that we could both tell you about the flavors of this surprise bar snack.  Walnuts, almonds, and peanuts are lightly toasted with a well balanced combination of sweet, salty, and the tiniest hint of spiciness.  These paired well with our mojitos.

mango and pomegranate - get your daily fruits

mango and pomegranate – get your daily fruits

We’re not kidding about fruit servings.  The mojitos are both made with Cruzan rum, mint, sugar, lime juice, and a splash of soda; August’s included mango puree, and Zach’s had fresh pomegranate juice.  There was good tang and tartness, a balanced lime to mint ratio, and it was mildly sweetened so it didn’t have an overpowering sugar aftertaste.

croquettes de jamón

croquetas de jamón

Filled with one of August’s favorite cheese, Manchego, we couldn’t pass this up.  The crust was an herbed panko, crispy yet very tender and easy to bite through.  The herbs added a nice subtle flavor to the exterior surrounding the Manchego, which was like a cheesy salty fusion with delicious ham morsels throughout.  Try a bite with some arugula to and a mild earthy spice.

boniato garlic fries

boniato garlic fries

Boniato is the poetic sounding term for a not-too-sweet sweet potato.  These garlic fries came paired with chimichurri aioli and guava chipotle barbeque sauce.  These are definitely a Caribbean twist on your typical garlic fries.  Hand-cut and crispy on the outside, the fries were mildly sweet in the middle – don’t worry, nothing like Thanksgivingtime sweet potatoes.  Be prepared for some spicy garlic, and the two sauces provide contrasting flavors to be enjoyed from the same plate.  The aioi was creamy but packed with a variety of fresh herbs like parsley, oregano, and cilantro.  It would be great as a spread on a sandwich.  The barbeque sauce was was totally atypical with the guava and chipotle, as it was sweet and very mildly spicy.  The name explains itself, as guava comes before chipotle.

pan seared day boat scallops

pan seared day boat scallops

We have written enough about scallops in previous posts, who can identify August’s nickname for them? (bonus points to the reader who tells us in the comments.)  The ones here were no different – delicious and delicate.  They were placed atop mashed boniato, then drizzled with cumin crema and truffle oil.  The scallops had a nice sear, were tender and juicy, and seasoned perfectly.  The crema with cumin was a little tangy to go with the sweet scallops and boniato mash, which itself was creamy and buttery.

cuban sandwich

cuban sandwich

This would be a great lunch on its own some day visiting Walnut Creek in the future.  With ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, tomatoes, pickles, mustard, and arugula on a toasted roll, this is a popular tapa.  Both meats were tender and flavorful, the pork a little smokier.  Freshly cut vegetables are always a plus, and the arugula was a great green leaf to pair with the other elements.  The bread was crunch on the outside from a panini press (most likely, we weren’t watching the kitchen) but it was still soft in the middle and easy to bite through.

paella

paella

The paella was the only item we got that’s not a tapa, and by this time the sun had gone down and we lost our wonderful natural light, but the flash does bring out the bright saffron color of the rice and the verdant green peas.  The rice was tender, the peas not overdone, and the proteins varied – clams, shrimp, chorizo, and chicken.  The chicken was juicy, the chorizo added smokiness, the shrimp succulent, well cooked, and fresh tasting, and August wished there were more clams.

We really wanted to try one of their desserts but we had no room, and we didn’t even come close to finishing all that we ordered – it’s a special treat night for the dog!  We highly recommend this place for fresh Cuban food and appreciate that the owner has such attention to detail.