The Wexler's Motto: Smoke 'Em If You've Got 'Em
Midway through my meal at Wexler's, I joked with the server that I wanted to start a new drinking game: every time he said the words "smoke, smoky or smoked" I was going to drink. Had I done so, however, my one touch-too-sweet but ice-cold mint julep would hardly have been enough to sustain me through the course of the meal. Because this restaurant so staunchly resists categorization, I'm going to go ahead and call it a smoke restaurant, with elements of Southern and Texas-style barbecue, along with a hefty dash of—you won't believe it, I know—farm-fresh California.
In other words, forget notions of giant slabs of brisket and piles of hot links, but expect nearly everything—from a raw salmon appetizer to the cherry tomatoes surrounding the molasses-glazed black cod—to have a kiss of smoke, and don't be surprised if you encounter the occasional hush puppy, dish of macaroni-and-cheese or vinegar-spiked hot sauce surrounding chef Charlie Kleinman's cheeky Lone Star take on Scotch Eggs, that British pub stalwart. His are soft-boiled eggs, surrounded by a paste made from the "burnt ends" that are byproducts of his short-rib entree, then rolled in breadcrumbs before taking a dip in the deep-fryer. The aforementioned hot sauce is the perfect foil for the rich eggs, served two to an order.
I think I may be missing the point, but I do almost wish that in the barbecue-bereft town that is San Francisco, Wexler's was more of a barbecue restaurant. When Kleinman came out of the kitchen and described his recent brisket tasting tour of Texas (which he describes in detail here), I was left wishing that his version of the ultimate was on the menu—and so be it if instead of slices of Wonder bread, his was served Brentwood corn, sauteed Padron peppers and a salad of Little Gems. None of this is to say that the food isn't good—I knawed a pork chop clear down to the bone, it was so tasty—but just that it doesn't break as much ground here in SF as it could, and should. However, as a side note, I may have badgered Kleinman into adding a grilled pimiento cheese sandwich to the lunch menu. Should that become a reality, I will be certain to let you all know.