RECAP: All Things 'Cue at the 2nd Annual San Diego Soul Food Festival

July 9, 2012

By Heather Reineke

If you've ever been tempted by the alluring wafts of sweet 'cue on a warm summer day, then the second annual San Diego Soul Food Festival would have been your taste bud's ticket to heaven.

It started with complimentary parking by the practice fields at Qualcomm Stadium, where we felt incredibly patriotic as sweaty men in muscle cars and Porsches screached by NASCAR-style in the parking lot.  Who knew Qualcomm hosted legal racing events in the parking lot?  After smoking some guy in my 2002 Chevy trailblazer, we made our way into the venue where we noticed the tents were sparse, but those with plates in-hand seemed to be smiling and having a great time.  The event kicked off with a botched rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner (I think she really liked the ramparts verse) and then a live band banged out tunes in the background to liven up the crowd.

We made our first stop at the Hank and Eli's BBQ Smokeyard & Roadshow tent where we found a handful of friendly people waiting to serve up some pulled pork and jambalaya.  The jambalaya was just how I like it - not too wet, a little bit of heat, and definitely hearty.  After I polished that off, I moved onto the pulled pork.  To properly dress the pork, we were given an assortment of sauces.  Two were soda-based and the other tomato based.  The Dr. Pepper brown sugar sauce was delightful, the USA sauce was a sure-in for smokey, but it was the cherry cola siracha that kept me coming back for more.  With unique flavors and their roadshow catering mobility, I like to think of Hank and Eli's as the Cirque du Soleil of BBQ.

Hunter's Steakhouse's Wagon Wheel BBQ Pit
After realizing my cherry cola siracha intake was becoming borderline obscene, we made our way to the Hunter Steakhouse tent where their setup included a full on fire pit.  I couldn't help but smile because I felt like I was on an episode of BBQ Pitmasters.  Established in 1970, this San Diego staple has been serving up their classic steaks and seafood to the community for over forty years.  They have locations in Mission Valley, Oceanside, and Laguna Niguel and will cart their California Gold Rush wagon-looking firepit out to your venue as a part of their catering services.  Here we were served up a couple thinner slices of tri-tip with a side of BBQ sauce.  As I began to masticate, my mouth was instantly overjoyed by the deliciously simple goodness.  It was perfect.  Not over-seasoned, delightfully marbled, tender, juicy, and the sauce's smokey flavor was a flawless compliment.  The secret resides in the beautifully uncomplicated combination of a salt, pepper, and garlic rub with red oak to fuel the fire.  It was so delicious that I can't wait to pay them a visit in their Mission Valley location to enjoy some more tri-tip and claw away at some crab legs!

Next in line was Mr. Dash's Gourmet Burgers where their punchline is, "so good you can eat them naked."  Though I don't usually associate burgers with "Soul Food" I suppose it could have slipped in under it's comfort food cover.  Here, some friendly ladies were sporting t-shirts declaring, "I love your meat," while handing out pieces of cheese burger.  The burgers were juicy and had a tasty flavor that I couldn't quite put my finger on (maybe it was Worchestire?).  We will likely never know because Mr. Dash's vows to keep the special spice blend a secret.

Keeping with the au naturel theme, we re-hydrated with fruit and veggie juices from the Naked Juice stand and then continued to cross off the randoms, like avocado sushi, that only a San Diego soul food festival would have.

Coop's BBQ
Finally, we discovered a gem of a tent that was percolating with soul, Coop's West Texas BBQ.  Here we had the pleasure of meeting Brad Cooper, a Midland, Texas native with a passion for Texas-style BBQ.  As a former nurse, Coop decided to throw in the towel to become the doctor of BBQ and we are sure thankful he did!  He began smoking meat in 1996 after his dad hauled a huge smoker up from TX.  He would play around with the flavors by serving friends and family until he finally decided it was time to embark on his journey as owner and operator of Coop's West Texas BBQ in Lemon Grove, CA.  It seemed like Coop's pulled pork was the buzz of the festival and my co-festival goer and I had to emphatically agree!  The mesquite wood smoker and Coop's seasonings produced a divine flavor that certainly had many coming back for seconds.  And thirds.  Okay, maybe fourths.  Don't worry - it's a holiday weekend, and diets don't apply!

All in all, the Soul Food festival left us feeling gastronomically satisfied, patriotic, and happy to be living in the fine city of San Diego!  Be sure to look out next year for the 3rd incarnation of the San Diego Soul Food Festival.