FREMONT -- I bit into a pulled pork sandwich at a Mowry Avenue eatery one afternoon and, as if by magic, felt I'd been transported somewhere beneath the Mason-Dixon Line.
I wondered if I'd awakened from a fever dream in a Deep South juke joint where every meal was a guilty pleasure lathered in barbecue sauce and sad songs by gravel-voiced bluesmen danced by my eardrums.
Smoking Pig BBQ does that to me.
It might just be proof that I need a vacation. Or maybe the mouthwatering meals at the Fremont restaurant, which wears its love for Southern food and blues music on its sleeve, might just be that good. I -- and my taste buds -- vote for the latter.
Paul Reddick, a former tech entrepreneur-turned-restaurateur, opened the first Smoking Pig in San Jose in 2011. The Fremont branch opened last month and, despite little fanfare, customers welcomed it with lines that snaked into the parking lot by noon.
Tri-City customers, it seems, share Reddick's passion for Southern-style food.
"The challenge of making barbecue is addicting, and I just want to get it right and authentic," Reddick said. "Everything we make is by hand and takes hours. I don't want to cut corners -- to me, that's cheating."
The new restaurant's wide-ranging, affordable menu reflects his enthusiasm for traditional barbecue fare: ribs, Louisiana hot links, beef briskets and other staples, and a sides menu filled with barbecue beans, greens, and mac and cheese, among others.
At each table, an array bottled sauces -- including the spicy "Kansas City Hot BBQ" and the mustard-flavored "Carolina Sassy" -- stand within arm's reach.
A few appetizers lean on bacon, that time-tested crowd pleaser, to complete the meal. A "Chicken Lollipop," for instance, features smoked, marinated chicken wrapped in bacon, and a Potato Grenade -- also bacon-wrapped -- is stuffed with macaroni and cheese, and a jalapeño pepper holds cheese and sausage.
Nearly every dish there unashamedly aims for a customer's lipids. So good. So unhealthy. So what? I'll always come back for more for food this tasty.
Plus, Smoking Pig aims to please, not gouge. A budget-conscious diner there can eat plenty, down a beer, leave a fair tip, and spend just $12. And those counting calories can order a whole salad for $6.50.
"This is my style: down-home," Reddick said. "I just want to make food that everybody can enjoy, from people who live in the hills to the working man."
The restaurant serves wine and beer, and has a bar stocked with liquor and surrounded by nearly 10 TVs.
But its best nonmenu feature is its bluesy ambience, creating the Southern-style atmosphere that fires Reddick's imagination. It also reflects another of his passions.
Photos of musicians B.B. King, Robert Johnson and Albert King cover the walls in the 6,000-square-foot building. The speakers play the blues, but not too loudly, like a good sauce augmenting the meal, not dominating it.
Smoking Pig also has injected some spice to Fremont's night life by hosting blues performances on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights.
"Barbecue and the blues go hand in hand," Reddick said. "Both have a laid-back, comfortable style that has depth and beauty. They're both unpretentious but also delicious."
Out & About is a monthly column that highlights the wildly underrated entertainment scene in the Tri-City and greater Hayward areas.
The Fremont restaurant-bar is at 3340 Mowry Ave. It opens every day at 11 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; at midnight Wednesdays; and at 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. For details, call 510-713-1854 or go to www.smokingpigbbq.net.