When I saw an “Open” sign in the window of Flint’s Bar-B-Q, my heart skipped a beat: Flint’s had been closed for two years, and it seemed much longer. I hadn’t eaten its ribs in a decade. They were my first, my gold standard, but vegetarianism, college, and Flint’s intermittent closings had intervened. With boyfriend in tow, I ordered the pork ribs sandwich with medium sauce; he, the sliced beef sandwich with hot sauce, each $7.50. “Sandwich” here, or at any other local BBQ joint, just means a couple of slices of bread to sop up your sauce. My meat was good, and Eric’s was amazing, but it’d been so long that I couldn’t recall if Flint’s still tasted the same. So I went to the man who’d introduced me to barbecue, and for whom Flint’s ribs were once a Father’s Day imperative. It wasn’t hard to get Dad to forget his cholesterol count for one night.
Early on a Sunday evening, we could smell Flint’s meat from down the block, but the kitchen was out of pork ribs and chicken. So we picked up three dinners (Flint’s is takeout only) for four of us: links, beef ribs, and the sliced beef again, all doused in “hot” sauce ($10 each). The medium sauce of the previous trip proved pretty mild, and “hot,” it turned out, meant “medium.” That’s a change, Dad said. Flint’s hot sauce used to be dangerous. Other differences, besides the new paint? Since we usually got pork ribs and chicken in the old days, Dad couldn’t say exactly. But again, the evening’s clear winner was the mountain of sliced beef. “Succulent,” Mom said. And the slightly spicy, coarse-ground links were moist, “for links.” The potato salad hadn’t changed. More like mashed potatoes with mayo and pickle bits, it’s the perfect creamy foil to the sauce. Sweet-potato pie ($1.60), from Marita’s in San Leandro, made a nice spot of dessert, split four ways, though it was so sweet Mom and I didn’t want more than a couple of bites. But we couldn’t have eaten another bite anyway.
Flint’s loyalists relish its sauce, which is dark, chocolaty, and sweeter than most. Owner Carol Alexander, restarting after a two-year break, still won’t sell it solo — she fears people would steal the recipe, which she has guarded jealously for years. But she’ll sell you ribs by the slab, links or brisket by the pound, and whole chickens. Just get there early. And call ahead — at the old Flint’s, the posted hours were pretty flexible. 6609 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-595-5323. (Come June 1, Alexander says, the San Pablo Ave. location will be open too.)