Cult Favorite Horn Barbecue Opens in West OaklandNov 10, 2020 09:24AM ● By Fran Miller
BY FRAN ENDICOTT MILLER
About a year and a half ago I attended a media lunch in Napa at a well-known vintner’s home. The tables were filled with open bottles of his family’s many delicious varietals – the stars of the show, if you will. Talk amongst our small crowd of wine writers centered on the winery's terroir and grape yield. But then lunch was served, and the spotlight suddenly shifted. Out came platters of smoked brisket, hot links, beef and pork ribs, and bountiful side dishes including baked beans, cole slaw, collard greens, and cornbread. The focus quickly turned to the food, and as journalists, we needed answers. Who is catering? In what town is his/her restaurant? How did he/she learn to cook like this?
Those of us at that lunch feel like we ‘discovered’ Matt Horn, though he had already amassed a cult following. Horn Barbecue got its start in 2016 at the Tracy Farmers Market, where small gatherings quickly transformed into massive pop-ups drawing crowds of more than 1,000 people, many willing to wait more than four hours for a chance to meet Horn and taste his food.
The crowds continue to queue up, only now, they are doing so at Horn’s new brick and mortar restaurant in West Oakland, where the line begins to form around 7am Friday through Sunday for an 11am opening. The restaurant stays open until it sells-out, typically at about 4pm.
Barbecue is part of Horn’s DNA, with its cuisine and its tradition passed down through his ancestors. Horn, dubbed ‘the future of barbecue’ by fellow pit masters, honed his craft at his grandfather’s barbecue pit. After countless hours of experimentation and hard work, he developed and perfected his singular style of ‘West Coast Barbecue’ inspired by that of Central Texas: beautifully smoked ribs and brisket, beef and pork ribs, and turkey – each cooked to tender perfection by Horn within his self-designed, 500-gallon, offset custom smoker that he named Lucille.
The Horn Barbecue menu includes all of the classics, sold by the pound and served on custom Made In sheet pans, designed for the restaurant. Horn can be found at the counter hand slicing meat to order. Additional items include half and whole quartered chickens, homemade hot links, and a variety of sandwiches. A whole hog is roasted each weekend, along with oxtails and lamb shoulder on special rotation. Southern inspired sides include pit beans, collards, black-eyed peas, potato salad, slaw, granny’s potatoes, and corn bread. Desserts, created by Horn’s wife Nina, include banana pudding, bourbon bread pudding, and rum cake. The drink list includes custom-made sodas, sweet tea, and a curated beer and wine menu featuring local breweries and vineyards.
I and my fellow journalists may not have discovered Matt Horn that day in Napa, but as he continues to amass kudos and plaudits, it sure is fun to be able to say, "We know that guy!"
Ample outdoor dining is available on the street directly behind the restaurant, 2534 Mandela Parkway, Oakland.
Commitment to Community: When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Horn Barbecue’s restaurant opening was put on hold, Horn and his team launched the Horn Initiative, a philanthropic effort that raised more than $20,000, allowing Horn and Nina to cook and serve more than 4,000 meals to frontline and essential works, as well as those in need. The Horn Initiative will continue to support the Oakland and larger Bay Area community.
Photos courtesy of Horn Barbecue, unless otherwise noted