The Smokie — Just Burgers & Q, El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA

(A quick note: My phone failed to store the picture I took of this sandwich. The photography on this blog will improve considerably in the coming weeks, I promise.)

I was accompanying an associate on an errand when I saw it. A professional light-up sign proclaimed “JUST BURGERS & Q”, while a smaller, computer-printed sign in the window specified that the Q in question was Bar-B-Q. I instantly made several assumptions about Just Burgers & Q and when I visited them that afternoon I found out that all of my assumptions were correct. This is the type of establishment that is offended even by the suggestion of a frill. It’s barely even a restaurant, pared down even for a take-out joint. 3 tables and less than a dozen chairs crowded the front, a high counter had a menu taped to it and beyond that a man who appeared to be the proprietor busied himself in the kitchen. He took my order from the back, rang my order up when he had a moment and when my sandwich was ready he brought it out to me.

As I sat and waited for the sandwich I found my anticipation building. When someone chooses to forgo the formalities of a restaurant it is usually because they know their food can stand without it. It is a bold move to deny your customers a pleasant atmosphere, daring them to admit that they only thing that matters is your food and that your food is very, very good. I thought it was all-or-nothing. I thought if the sandwich was good then the whole enterprise was a success, and if it wasn’t then I was just sitting in a dirty storefront drinking a watered down coke.

I was wrong. To cut to the chase the sandwich was no good but I am unwilling to write off the whole of Just Burgers & Q. The sandwich was a bed of shredded lettuce on a sesame seed bun, some shaved pork loin and a slice of tomato. That’s not much of a sandwich but what saved the whole thing from disaster was the sauce. The pork loin was soaked in a smokey bar-b-q sauce thick enough to hold the sandwich together but not so thick as to impede things. The sandwich was lousy but the sauce was amazing and as I ate it the disconnect between the two made me uncomfortable. The caramel notes in the sauce played against the spice and the whole thing just overshadowed the rest of the sandwich. The meat in the middle could have been roast turkey or tofu loaf, it was all lost. To have a sauce that is so obviously a product of so much work and love poured over a sandwich that no thought has gone into is an unacceptable dichotomy. The sauce at Just Burgers & Q is amazing, and for all I know the ribs are transcendent. The sandwich, however, is no good.