Fri, May 17 2013 10:44 PM Posted By: Phillip Brents
West Texas native Brad Cooper considers himself a barbecue connoisseur. To that end, he’s committed his energy to putting out what he refers to as “the best barbecue in the region.”
The results so far are encouraging after he opened a second Coop’s West Texas BBQ restaurant in Chula Vista earlier this year.
“I’m trying to make a name for Coop’s between Lemon Grove and Chula Vista,” he said. “Before it was Phil’s, now it’s Phil’s and Coop’s. I want to be where it’s just Coop’s.”
“Phil’s” refers to Phil’s BBQ, the standard by which barbecue restaurants appear to be measured in the San Diego region. Phil Pace opened his first restaurant in 1998 in Mission Hills and estimates the expanding chain has since served more than 1 million pounds of barbecue sauce to local diners.
Cooper opened his original restaurant at 2625 Lemon Grove Ave. in October 2010. It hasn’t taken long for word of mouth to spread, not with the mesquite-smoked meats melting in the mouths of hungry – and appreciative – customers.
“It’s taken me a while to come out from nowhere,” he said.
But now he’s running in the fast lane.
The Chula Vista location, 534 Broadway in the Center Cut building, opened Jan. 25 and has since started to attract a regular clientele. During our lunchtime visit, there was a steady stream of customers.
“Ninety-five percent of the people coming in are coming in for the first time,” Cooper said. “People are still finding out about us.”
Many are coming back, making it a happening place.
The small town atmosphere and friendly staff help, as do the reasonable prices.
“What we found out when we opened the Lemon Grove restaurant was that a sizable portion of our regular customers were from the South Bay, so we decided to make it a little easier by coming to them,” Cooper said.
It’s surprising to see how far customers are ranging now at the new Chula Vista restaurant.
Cooper hails from Midland, Texas, which is located in the southern plains near the western end of the Lone Star State. He said traditional West Texas barbecue uses mesquite for smoking meats as it is plentiful in the area. In California, the trend is more toward oak.
Cooper said he’s compromised on using a mix of mesquite and oak due to the higher cost of mesquite here because it is less plentiful.
Another variation is the sauce — not necessarily the recipe, but how it’s applied to the smoked meat.
“Here in San Diego the trend goes into covering the meat with barbecue sauce, but with Texas barbecue the sauce is served on the side,” Cooper said. “To me, it’s two different types of barbecue.”
Customers can order meats in a variety of ways at Coop’s BBQ — either in combination plates, sandwiches or by the pound.
Meats include pork spareribs, beef ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, southwestern jerk chicken, ham, homemade sausage (nice kick), hot links and rib tips.
All meats are served very tender, especially the brisket.
A half-slab of ribs goes for $17.99; the lunch special featuring two meats and two sides, goes for $11.99.
Much of what Cooper has learned about cooking has come from this mother and grandmother. His Texas background is further defined by the side dishes on the menu.
Sides offered at the restaurant include red beans and rice, potato salad, cole slaw, collard greens, baked beans, cornbread and yams (served Sunday only).
The collard greens feature a mix of cabbage; the baked beans have a mildly sweet taste due to added pineapple.
All but the potato salad and cornbread are made on site. Even then, Cooper said he adds a few things to the potato salad to give it a more unique taste.
Desserts include sweet potato pie, buttermilk pie and peach cobbler (highly recommended).
“The sides are a combination of soul food and comfort food,” he said. “These are things I’ve tasted and then added what I liked.”
The house barbecue sauce comes in two flavors — original and spicy — and is very user friendly: it’s bottled at the dining tables. If you like your meat slathered with sauce, by all means, go ahead and do just that.
But the flavor of the meat stands alone, even without the sauce. Native Texans have already given the menu their stamp of approval as the “real deal.”
“You can’t say Texas barbecue without having brisket,” Cooper said. “I can tell if someone is from Texas if the first thing they order is brisket.”
The restaurant offers specials throughout the week, including rib tips on Tuesday. Customers can also order take-out.
Business hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, call 476-2203.
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