Maybe it’s just me - but if I’m craving something only to find out that it’s unavailable during mainstream, peak hours, my head wants to explode and I’ll likely have to spite eat a large order of carne fries to level out.
For this reason, I stubbornly refrained from Mark’s Bark BBQ - open Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. only - despite hearing from multiple sources that it’s the place in the city to gorge on some next level smoked brisket.
Still, I refused to play by Mark’s schedule; instead, I waited till I genuinely craved barbecue, which coincidentally fell on a Sunday, and in the midst of the storm of the century.
I called to place an order ahead of time, and knew I was in for a treat when the sassy older woman on the phone read off the sides and made sure to include what makes them special - particularly the dressed-to-order coleslaw, for a whopping $1. Say what?
With soggy shoes and a beastly appetite, I looked around Bettina’s Custom Catering - owned by Mark’s mom, Bev Beattie - and was greeted by a room of blissed out barbecue lovers far more drenched than me. While I waited on my order, patrons who looked like they swam down the San Diego River to get there stood dripping at the counter as if nothing was out of place.
This is what a cult-like following looks like, especially in San Diego, where we’re weather wimps. So, I switched my order from a half to a full pound of the hickory- and mesquite-smoked beef; along with an order of cole slaw, enough battered onion rings to feed four, plus ultra rich, garlicky aioli ($3); and two pan de sal rolls, pats of butter and barbecue sauce, served complimentary with the meat, I was on my way for twenty bucks and change.
Back at home, the brisket revealed itself to be remarkably good. It is by far the juiciest and most tender I’ve had, pleasantly marbled with soft fat that gives it even more flavor. Mark’s dry rub is peppery and slightly sweet, giving way to layers of meat that need nothing - truly - besides that sweet, pan de sal roll. Like a heartier sweet Hawaiian roll, with the addition of meat and its jam-like fat, this sandwich is simply dynamite.
I spent the next several hours into the night picking at what seemed like the never-ending pile of smoked brisket. It was truly hard to stop. Since then, it’s gone on salads, more sandwiches and has even been snacked on cold out of the fridge. Going with a whole pound is a multi-meal value for sure, but worry not because Mark’s has a menu of filling sliders that include other proteins as well, like pork and chicken.
But for me, it’s all about the beef. This cut is notoriously tough, or dry, and takes dedication to get just right. That’s something worth braving the storm for, and then some.
Mark Manfred grew up in his mother’s kitchen at Bettina’s Catering. The La Jolla High School graduate fondly recalls packaging up cinnamon rolls as a kid, and has continued helping out throughout the family’s 25 years of business. About a year-and-a-half ago, Manfred, 36, decided to start doing his own thing there on the weekends, and introduced Mark’s Bark BBQ, a division of Bettina’s Custom Catering.
“It’s not Texas or K.C. barbecue,” says Manfred, whose menu board has “San Diego-style BBQ” at the top. “I’ve taken everything I like about barbecue and wanted to make it without any weird ingredients that have no business being in our food; I roast off fresh peppers for my sauces and don’t pre-pull pork and mix with sauce.”
With the increasing interest in Mark’s Bark, which is also available for catering orders placed through Bettina’s, the restaurant will be expanding its seating area later this summer, with extended hours coming even sooner, Manfred says.
3641 Madison Ave., (619) 285-9578. marksbarkbbq.com
Amy T. Granite is a dauntless eater who has written about food in San Diego since 2006. You can follow Granite and her tasty adventures on Twitter and Instagram @saysgranite. Send your mouth-watering ideas to her at firstname.lastname@example.org