To Rander “Randy” Thompson, good barbecue is an art form. And he’s not just talking about the preparation of it.
Eating his St. Louis-style ribs is an act of creativity.
“You get the sauce down on the meat; that’s the paint,” he says, a smile spreading across his face. “Your brush is the bread underneath. You swish it around, bite the bread. You’re an artist!”
Thompson and his wife Becky recently opened Ribs N Bread on Centre Avenue in North Oakland. The 400-square-foot, takeout joint specializes in pork ribs and chicken in a sweet red or mustard sauce (or a combination of both) with sides that include coleslaw, collard greens, mac and cheese, three bean salad and smoked potatoes. A thick slice of fresh baked Mancini’s bread accompanies every meal.
The aroma wafting from the tiny storefront entices people from miles away. Historically, the site has always housed a barbecue restaurant, causing a Pavlovian response in passers-by.
Thompson, 65, of the Hill District, is well-known on the local barbecue scene. He’s peddled his fall-off-the-bone eats in some capacity ever since 1985. His culinary acumen and affinity for a sweet and vinegary sauce came from his grandmother, a South Carolina-born cook who never measured an ingredient or wrote down her recipes.
When Thompson was 10, his uncle, the proprietor of a Manchester-based rib place, propped him up on an old Pepsi crate in front of the grill and taught him the tricks of the trade. Although Thompson grew up adhering to traditional barbecuing techniques, he has fully embraced technology, ditching an open flame for an electronic smoker. Thanks to his high-tech, streamlined system, a customer can be out the door with a rack of ribs in six minutes.
“Barbecue is in his blood,” Becky Thompson says.
The couple purchased the Centre Avenue space in 2016 and began renovating it. Since opening their doors on Oct. 10, the duo has sold 200 racks.
A customer named Joe Thompson dropped in the other day to pick up half a rack of ribs, greens and mac and cheese.
“It’s good. It’s always good. It reminds of down-home,” says the South Carolina native, who isn’t related to the Ribs N Bread owners, but still considers them family.
Ribs N Bread offers a delivery service and will introduce specials to the menu in the near future.
Thompson says he’s also working on new sauces, marinades and glazes. He stays up late thinking of innovative flavors and ingredients, including pumpkin, pineapple and ginger.
Friends, family members and customers have tried to convince him to enter rib cook-offs, but Thompson doesn’t need awards to know his barbecue is a winner.
“I let my food speak for itself,” he says, “and then people can let their taste buds decide.”