Brent and Kim Walton are the husband and wife pair whose QN4U BBQ team has won more barbecue contests than any other team in California. I recently had the chance to teach a BBQ class in Modesto with Brent. On my way home to So Cal, I stopped by their brand new restaurant in their home town of Clovis, on the outskirts of Fresno. As the dozens of trophies displayed throughout the room will attest, they know how to cook top tier barbecue.
Most barbecue restaurants can’t begin to cook at the level required at contests. I’m sorry to say this because the American public typically doesn’t have access to the really great stuff (some areas in the BBQ belt excepted). A handful of contest champions also own restaurants and actually work the line in their kitchens, demanding the same level of quality out of of their cooks as they personally execute in competition. Brent Walton is one of those picky few.
Their “BBQ house” has the wood slats, high raftered ceilings and down home charm of a drying barn that reminded me of the bar set from Road House, after the Swayze induced cleanup. I’m told that in the short time they’ve been open, the spacious room packs out and there’s a line out the door on weekends.
I ordered the brisket sandwich, and specified the “burnt ends” offered on the menu. Beef brisket is made up of two different muscles called the flat cut and the point cut. The point is the fattier more flavorful of the two, and is generally separated and put back in the smoker to cook until it’s crisp, its fat rendered out, and “burnt” so to speak. Most restaurants don’t offer the point separately, so whenever it’s offered, I jump on it.
The first taste of the cubed burnt ends revealed smoky beef cooked just long enough to crisp without getting dried out. A cooked-on light coating of QN4U’s sweet “Clovis style” sauce gave the meat enough of a finish to make additional sauce pointless.
What looks like a cup of mayo in that photo is a side serving of the mac and cheese. It started off promising, but ended in disappointment. Their white cheese sauce has a great sharp flavor of well aged cheddar, but it was only ladled on top of my serving. Were the sauce mixed throughout to coat all the noodles, it might also have warmed up the noodles at the bottom, which were still cold. I hope the cooks can work through the logistics of service to make the last bite of mac and cheese as delicious as the first.
My waitress recommended the mac and cheese as a replacement for the sweet potato fries I heard so much about from other friends that had eaten here. Ray Lampe told me that he usually dislikes sweet potatoes, but really liked QN4U’s crispy handcut version. Unfortunately, the lunch menu is different from dinner and sweet potato fries are not on it. I’d also heard about the pig candy (bacon coated with chili spiked brown sugar and smoked until crisp) also only available at dinner. Why, the inequity, Brent? Pig candy and sweet potato fries for lunch!
I ended this lunch with some of Kim’s bread pudding. Sweet, rich and flavored with raisins and peaches, there’s enough to share this portion among two or three people.
Although I make it a point to write restaurant reviews after I’ve had the chance to work through the menu on at least three occasions, honestly, Clovis is too far for me to get back there any time soon. Locals, though, have a great new option to fix the barbecue jones. Lucky, lucky locals.
For disclosure’s sake: I know both owners, but they were not in the restaurant during this visit and I ate anonymously. I said nothing to the staff to affect their usual service.
QN4U BBQ House
1414 Clovis Ave
Clovis, CA 93612
559 765 4078 telephone
Open 7 days a week from 11am to 10pm
There is no website yet, but photos of the lunch menu are on my Flickr archive.