Tuesday, March 8, 2011

IEM Session #15.6

Inhuman Eating Machine official rules and guidelines

(continued from

Eating Day: Yet again, April 29, 2010

PHAT MATT- 3415 Telegraph Ave.- 6:20pm- $8.00

I took the remains of the Old South sandwich back to Mitch and Clark's place. Vinnie, Mitch, and I sat on the couch watching a marathon of Tool Academy. As I slipped in and out of consciousness, I kept wondering, "Why can't they bring back The Pick-Up Artist?" We sat in silence for close to 3 hours in total when I began to get antsy to return to the session before every bbq joint in the East Bay closed its doors before I had a chance to visit eight establishments. Unfortunately, I was still quite full and in no condition to eat additional sandwiches. After another few minutes, kismet sent a shockwave through my guts. It was as if I had swallowed a taser set to "auto-fire." I was doubling over in pain. I rushed to Clark's bathroom, disengaging my belt and pants as I ran.

I began my bombardment before I could fully mount the seat. A mix of brown foam spewed forth like the Red Sea drowning the Egyptians in The Ten Commandments, along with a trio of graven images. The resulting product brought to mind three self-immolated Russ© troll dolls drowning in roast beef gravy. This was a fecal spectacle to behold, but its slushy nature did little to relieve the pressure in my internal beef bag. I was slightly less stuffed than before I had initiated my onslaught, but I knew I would be unable to eat with much vigor. Regardless, I had to take advantage of this brief interlude from utter agony.

Phat Matt's recently took over a space with a long bbq pedigree. For many years, this storefront was the site of an Everett and Jones location. I ate at that particular E&J branch a mere three times or so, but it always struck me as one of the weaker E&J outposts. In addition to some very inconsistent meat, the place was almost always empty. Oakland had clearly decided there were far better E&J restaurants to visit. After Everett and Jones had left the building, the place was vacant for a couple of years. For a few months, it was the home of Smokey Blues, a bbq spot that tried to go "upscale." Like the Jack London Everett and Jones, Smokey Blues had a full bar and live music on some nights. On my sole visit to Smokey Blues', the meat was cold and incredibly fatty and the sauce was unremarkable. I intended to give them a chance to redeem themselves, but they closed before I could return.

The space was empty again for a year or so before Phat Matt came in. Apparently, Phatt Matt's modus operandi is to provide many different regional bbq styles. They have Memphis-style pork ribs, "N. Carolina- style pulled pork," "marinated tri-tip" (California), and Texas-style brisket. On the surface, this concept seems a noble undertaking, but it is usually a bad idea to try and do too much in the bbq biz. It's hard enough to get one style of bbq right, let alone four. According to their menu, Phat Matt's is run by a couple who have been married for 20 years and partners in barbecue for six. The dude (Matt) runs the smoker and the wife (Charlotte) runs the front of the house. Charlotte, who calls everybody "sweetheart," seems genuinely glad to be running this business. If you live anywhere outside of Oakland, it might seem strange to mention this fact. In Oakland, though, many mom-and-pops are staffed by people whose demeanor says, "I'd rather have a root canal than converse with and serve food to strangers."

I greatly appreciated Charlotte's sunny disposition, but the brisket sandwich she brought me was a letdown. The sauce was cold and tasted mostly of garlic. I like garlic in bbq sauce, but it shouldn't be the predominant flavor. Next, I noticed that the thick-cut brisket was dry and not juicy in the least. It was gamey-tasting and lacked any trace of smoke. It was so gamey, in fact, that the gaminess even overwhelmed the garlic-laden sauce. The whole mess was served on a flattened hamburger bun that looked as if it had spent time in somebody's back pocket. If they last long enough, I will eventually give this place another chance. The proprietors are too enthusiastic to be dismissed out of hand. Perhaps they're just getting their sea legs. My next visit might yield better beef and sauce. And it's possible they excel with the other regional bbq styles.

But what if Matt's is a victim of a barbecue curse particular to 3415 Telegraph Avenue? They may never figure out how to make stellar barbecue in that building if it was built on the site of an ancient Indian burial ground or a vegan outhouse. If a curse precludes them from success in this building, they might consider a move elsewhere in order to excel at their craft. I suggest the next tenants of this address consider opening a nail salon, a weave shop, or a Korean restaurant. It would take a lot more than a common curse to stop these Telegraph Ave. stalwarts.

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