Barrel Stave BBQ in Sonoma

Smoke 'em if you've got 'em

All that 40 percent new French oak here and 30 percent new oak there means if there is one thing Wine Country has too much of (besides over-oaked wine) it’s old French oak. And there are only so many candle holders and rocking chairs one can sell to tourists. But used barrels are now answering to an even higher calling: that of barbecue. Jonathon Bodnar of Smoakville in Napa has found success cooking his ribs and brisket over old barrel staves and now Carlo Cavallo in Sonoma will be employing a similar strategy for his forthcoming restaurant Burgers and Vine.

The chef and proprietor of Meritage Oyster Bar and Grille is bringing back to life the old Sonoma Mission Creamery building on the corner of Spain Street and First Street East that was built in 1926 and has been vacant since 2006. Cavallo tells Sonoma’s Index-Tribune that he plans to change the space very little beyond installing what will be perhaps the longest bar (reclaimed redwood, of course) in all of Sonoma.

At Burgers and Vine the barbecue will be smoked over French oak barrel staves, which Cavallo says definitely make a difference. “It definitely gives a different flavor to the meats,” he says. “The smoked flavors are not as harsh as some, and the cabernet flavor definitely comes out.”

In the spirit of using what you’ve got on hand, Cavallo says he may also experiment with grapevines, which are said to impart a tart flavor to smoked meats, as well.

Cavallo has long loved barbecue (it’s what he cooks at home he says), and was the grand prize winner of the Chef’s Challenge for his “Sonoma-style” prime rib at the biennial National Beef Cook-Off in 2009. He’s been mulling a BBQ concept restaurant at least since then. The new place will probably have six signature burgers varying in price from $6 to $40 and ranging from your ordinary beef to lamb to lobster tail-topped Kobe. The smokehouse menu will likely include brisket, ribs, chicken and Cavallo’s award-winning prime rib. Cavallo is currently looking for local sources of grass-fed beef and other meat.

Sneak peaks of the new menu are being served at Meritage in Sonoma as specials every Wednesday, but your first chance to taste the full on barrel stave smoked BBQ should come in late February when Burgers and Vine is planned to open in Sonoma.