Dan Gordon's started off with a knockout punch -- oversized cheddar biscuits ($7.95) with candied Hobbs bacon and whipped maple syrup butter.
These weren't Pillsbury biscuits, nor the kind passed around the Sunday morning breakfast table. These were He-Man sized, served on a plank, flaky, yet moist enough that they didn't fall apart. The whipped maple butter melting atop the warm biscuits almost made the candied bacon bits superfluous. Almost.
Dan Gordon's is really about barbecue, beer and whiskey, not biscuits. They have a programmable 750-pound wood smoker fueled by new oak from the Santa Cruz Mountains. New oak imparts less smokiness to the meat, according to general manager André Hall. The meat is dry-rubbed before smoking and it is the balance of rub and smoke that gives the meats their distinctive flavor.
This is Dan Gordon's second turn at the Emerson Street site. He and Dean Biersch opened their eponymous brewery restaurant in 1988 in the same location. Their brewpub concept was wildly popular and grew to a dozen units, including a brewery in San Jose. Ten years later, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control declared that brewers operating restaurants were illegal. Brewers were being considered as both wholesaler and retailer, a no-no in virtually every state.
Gordon and Biersch sold to an entity that ultimately became CraftWorks, which currently operates 195 multi-brand restaurants across the country. As brewpub popularity swelled, state legislatures eventually rescinded archaic laws and made it legal for Gordon to be both a brewer and a restaurant owner again.
Biersch moved to Sonoma County and currently operates brewpubs in several locations. Master brewer Gordon partnered with Steve Sinchek of Palo Alto's Old Pro and Local Union 271 and reacquired the Emerson Street location. After pouring $1.5 million into the remodel, Dan Gordon's opened in March.
The space is urban rustic with high ceilings, skylights, lots of wood with high-top communal tables as well as traditional seating. The bar is longer, the kitchen open where chef Kwin Vu keeps that smoker loaded with pork shoulder, St. Louis ribs, brisket, sausages and turkey breast.
Besides the biscuits, another good starter was the burnt-ends brisket poutine ($11.95). Poutine is a dish that originated in Quebec, and is, arguably, Canada's one-dish meal. Here, it's a bowl of garlic fries, cubes of brisket, poblano cheese gravy, and pickled vegetables, including scorch-the-tongue jalapeño segments that had me summoning the server for another beer.
The St. Louis ribs (four bones for $15.95 or six bones for $21.95) were meaty, fall-off-the-bone tender. While I liked the ribs with just the rub, there were additional squeeze-bottle sauces on the table for enhancement. The classic sauce was on the honey-sweet side, the mustard sauce was tangy and acidic, the habanero sauce added heat.
The 1/2 pound brisket ($16.95) was fork-tender and well marbled, accented with hints of smoke, herbs and spices. The texture was marvelous in the mouth.
Entrees included one side, pickled vegetables and a roll. Both the three-cheese mac and cheese and the smoked barbecued beans were noteworthy.
Sandwiches were equal to the task. The pulled pork ($11.95) with kale slaw, pickled vegetables, and French fries, was aromatic and inviting on the plate. The soft bun accentuated the dreamy pork and the double-cooked garlic fries were wonderfully crisp.
The fried chicken sandwich ($12.95) was juicy and crisp, topped with kale slaw, and slathered, but not overwhelmed, with barbecue sauce. Most ingredients were locally sourced and organic.
The desserts were so-so. The apple cobbler ($8.95) was the best. Served in a mini iron pot, the cobbler was topped with whipped cream. The hot apples had a note of cinnamon in the thick syrup.
Less successful were the peanut butter-pecan squares ($8). Two pie wedge-sized pieces, not squares, had a soggy crust beneath a lifeless peanut butter filling. Only the pecans atop were worth eating.
There was beer, of course: a dozen on tap, several made in-house, the rest at the San Jose brewery, all small batch, handcrafted, plus experimental one-of-a-kind brews that change frequently. The range of beers was broad, from light pilsners and lagers to deep-colored wheat beers and dark ales. Whiskeys too, cocktails and martinis made with Maker's Mark, Old Grand-Dad and Dickel. A dozen miscellaneous California wines completed the beverage offering.
Service was good, though the kitchen can be slow when busy. Overall, excellent food and libations in an open, noisy, festive environment -- and dare I mention again, fantastic biscuits.
640 Emerson St., Palo Alto
Hours: Monday, 4 p.m. to midnight; Tuesday-Wednesday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to midnight.
Credit cards: yes
Alcohol: full bar
Happy hour: 3-6 p.m. daily
Outdoor dining: streetside
Noise level: moderate-high
Bathroom cleanliness: very good