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PostHeaderIcon Looney's BBQ is Spicing up Oakland

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Ken Looney might have been destined to be a chef and restaurant owner but it took him a while to find his way to a commercial kitchen.

"As a kid, my dad was always cooking and everyone said, ‘let’s go to Looney’s for dinner,’'’ said the Orinda man who owns Looney’s Southern Barbecue, with a new location near Children’s Hospital in Oakland and a restaurant by the UC Berkeley campus, which opened three years ago. In Oakland, he took over the building previous occupied by Sweetie Pie & Poppies.

The 53-year-old came to the restaurant business later in life. First he earned a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s degree in nuclear engineering. Then he worked as a submarine officer for 10 years, and ran two daycare centers in Maryland for a number of years.

Looney is an energetic guy who talks with as much enthusiasm about nuclear power as he does about his tasty barbeque sauces. He is proud of what he has built: two southern barbecue spots that specialize in smoked beef ribs, pork baby back ribs, pork spare ribs, chicken, beef brisket and pork shoulder.

Meats are cooked with Looney's dry rub before smoking for hours with apple wood. The brisket and pork are smoked for up to 14 hours, and the chicken and ribs spend at least five hours in the smoker at a low temperature to ensure the meats stay moist and tender, he says.

"We have short ribs that are a hunk of meat the size of your fist,’’ he says. Even some big, big guys can’t finish the food on their plates, he adds.

Looney isn’t kidding. My dining companion tried the one-third rack of beef short ribs ($14.95) with a side of hush puppies (deep fried cornbread with a spicy mayo dipping sauce) and garlic mashed potatoes. You can also order two thirds of a rack for $27.50 and a full rack for $38.50. Even the smallest portion gave him plenty left over for lunch the next day. The portions are enormous.

The ribs came with one sauce on the plate and a caddy of  eight different other sauces to test.

There’s the spicy and mild Kansas and Texas sauces, the spicy vinegar North Carolina sauce, two types of South Carolina (spicy mustard and vinegar), the honey Susie Q sauce, the Smokey Mountain Ike plum sauce and the bourbon sauce. All go well with beef, pork and poultry.

Pork baby back ribs come in a third of a rack for $13.95; a half for $19.50; and a full rack for $31.95. You can get a third of a rack of pork spare ribs for $13.95; a half for $19.50; and a full for $31.95.

I had a quarter of a barbecue chicken pulled off the bone with mixed vegetables and garlic rice. The veggies were seasoned with just the right mix of garlic and butter and the chicken was tender and juicy. I tried all the sauces so every bite was different.

If you don’t like barbecue –and Looney acknowledges it’s not for everyone –there’s a Cobb salad, a Waldorf salad (both $10.95) a full menu page of burgers (meatless Portobello burger: $9.50) sandwiches (southern catfish sandwich: $9.50) and potatoes that can be stuffed with cheese, bacon, broccoli, asparagus, avocado, sour cream, chives and salsa ($3.95 to $10.95 depending on toppings). There’s also lobster, steaks, fish, vegetarian dishes and mouth-watering bread pudding and cobblers to top off your meal.

"Not everyone is going to want barbecue,’’ says Looney. "My goal is to have enough stuff for everyone."

Looney’s roots are from the south. Both his parents were born and raised in Texas and Looney lived in several states while growing up with his mother and military father. But he always considered Texas, and its' food, home. His loves to eat biscuits and gravy, chicken and dumplings and lots of southern barbecue, he says. Schooled in Texas, Looney joined the U.S. Navy and entered their nuclear power submarine program, where he spent the next 10 years. While traveling with the Navy, he tried North Carolina style barbecue and regional variations of other types of barbecue.

When he came to California and settled in the Bay Area he began dating his future wife Susan, who is from the Mid-West. The first meal she cooked for him was a bit bland, he says.

It was then that he decided that if he was going to continue to see Susan, he was going to have to learn how to cook barbecue himself. "As I started to learn how to cook, I found that I loved vinegar and I used it in everything. I learned how to cook pork butt with a smoker in the backyard and finally I mastered it,’’ he says. He also created a variety of sauces and gave them to neighbors. "Pretty soon they were knocking on my door asking for the sauces,’’ he said. The rest, he says, is history.

Looney’s has live music three nights a week and is open six days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and until 1 a.m. on Saturdays. Check them out at 5319 Martin Luther King, Way in Oakland. For more information, call (510) 652-1238. Visit Looney's online at www.kenlooney.com. --KB and NVDG



Last Updated (Tuesday, 22 March 2011 02:38)


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