Where there's smoke ...

QBB fires up Castro Street with barbecue and vast array of bourbon

Three-month-old Quality Bourbons and Barbecue in Mountain View, known as QBB, trades on the heady interplay of smoked meat and smoky spirits. Together, bourbon and barbecue deliver the ultimate one-two punch of American cuisine, and QBB's focus on these robust counterparts makes for a lively addition to the Castro Street restaurant scene.

Given the paucity of barbecue establishments in the Bay Area, QBB could be serving overdone brisket out of the back of a pickup truck and it probably would still be a welcome addition. With 140 bourbon selections, friendly servers delivering your carnivorous cuisine in record time and tasty barrel-aged cocktails served on tap, QBB hits the meat-and-drink mark -- most of the time.

QBB is the joint project of Jon Andina, the former general manager at Mountain View's Scratch, and Kasim Syed, owner of Palo Alto Brewing Company, The Rose & Crown and The Tap Room in Palo Alto. (Syed's parents owned Shezan, the Pakistani restaurant that previously occupied QBB's location.) Andina and Syed teamed up with chef Ryan Pang, a veteran of the barbecue competition circuit whose many award plaques are on display at the restaurant. Pang's menu is something of barbecue's greatest hits: a little Texas, a taste of Carolinas, a dash of Kansas City.

This is barbecue for the Silicon Valley set, so do not expect Texas-sized servings. The gray, hard-edged restaurant interior beats the back of a pickup truck, but the minimalist dining room lacks charm and can be deafeningly loud at peak times.

The food selections fill one page of the menu, while the list of bourbons is longer than a Southern summer. It would take you almost five months to drink your way through them if you stopped in for one bourbon a day. According to Andina, the only Bay Area restaurant that offers more choice on the bourbon front is San Francisco's Hard Water.

Overwhelmed by the choices and admittedly rather unschooled in the finer points of Kentucky's most famous libation, we asked our server for his recommendation. Glasses run from $5 to $59. The Woodford Double Oak ($15) delivered intriguing hints of almond, honey and apple, but the barrel-aged Manhattan ($15) and the old fashioned ($12), both of which are served on tap, were more my style. While tap cocktails don't allow for on-demand customization, they do need to be expertly mixed and managed to ensure proper potency, flavor and freshness. They know what they're doing at QBB. I would go back for the velvety Manhattan alone.

After my first meal there, I also said I'd be back for the barbecued chicken. The tender thigh ($12 with one side) was smoky and savory, almost like duck. It was some of the best barbecued chicken I'd ever had. My husband agreed. We eagerly ordered it again on our second visit. Surprisingly, though, chicken No. 2 had none of the first bird's earthy, white oak-infused deliciousness. It was bland, with little to distinguish it from a supermarket rotisserie chicken. The difference was remarkable.

The pit beef ($16 with one side; $11 to $31 for "just the meat") was tender, smoky and just about perfect, perhaps even better in sandwich form ($16 with choice of one side). Served on a French roll, it was a delicious hot mess topped with house-pickled red onion, cheddar and QBB's tangy barbecue sauce.

The brisket ($17 with one side; $12 to $34 for meat only) was a little on the fatty side, but so tender you could eat it with a spoon. Everything comes with a garnish of picked vegetables and a side of the strong but nicely balanced barbecue sauce. You likely will need just a dab as the meats are so flavorful. It will cost you a dollar to sub a moist cornbread muffin for the standard pieces of white bread that accompany most plates. Pay the extra dollar.

QBB's sides ($3.50 small, $8 pint, $14 quart) and non-meat offerings fared less well. The QBB Mac ($19 for a large bowl) was a ridiculous, ultra-cheesy extravaganza (mozzarella, Parmesan, romano and provolone) studded with sliced hot links and bacon and topped with pickled red onion. I'm not opposed to laughing in the face of the world's cardiologists every once in a while, but the culinary experience has to be worth the cholesterol spike. The QBB Mac was gooey and over the top. The braised collard greens with bacon were tender and tangy, but had little bacon flavor. The creamed corn was fine, but mine arrived lukewarm. The potato salad -- which mysteriously came with canned black olives -- and coleslaw both left us indifferent. It is not clear why QBB charges an extra $2 for an unremarkable green salad upgrade on your side dish.

QBB offers two desserts: a warm cookie with ice cream and maple flan topped with candied bacon (both $7). I'm still not entirely sure if I liked the flan. The sweet-savory combination was pleasing, but the bacon was too chewy and not quite sweet enough to be called "candied," and the bourbon-maple sauce poured liberally atop the small piece of flan looked like a pool of motor oil. Ultimately, it was an interesting-tasting dessert, but it was hard to look past its sheer ugliness.

QBB's attentive and helpful servers contribute to the restaurant's overall nice vibe. When I picked up a large to-go order, the server who brought my bag from the kitchen took it upon himself to take out all the containers to make sure everything was accounted for and packed correctly. This type of attention to detail puts QBB in a good place as it makes its mark on Castro Street with a fun concept.

Quality Bourbons and Barbecue (QBB)

216 Castro St.Mountain View



Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30-9 p.m. Friday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Credit cards: Yes

Reservations: Parties of 8+ only

Catering: Yes

Outdoor seating: No

Parking: No

Alcohol: Yes

Bathroom: Excellent


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