“We have no signage here but have been surviving on solely the aroma alone,” says Justin West, chef of Soul Cal Smokehouse, the latest addition to the Santa Barbara Public Market. That delicious smoky smell curlicues all the way out to Chapala Street, drawing people into the carbon-y delights of brisket and more. Sometimes too much more — they’ve already set off the fire alarm. But as co-chef Jason Carter explains, “It’s not an official barbecue restaurant until you get the fire department to show.”
West is no stranger to the Santa Barbara food scene, having previously helmed Foodie Award–winning Julienne and Wildwood Kitchen at The Mill on Haley Street. From a public perspective Wildwood closed all of a sudden in November, but West was ready. “We had all our government ducks in a row, so when all the shit hit the fan on Haley Street, we were ready,” he explained. “I’m just really excited to be up here at the Public Market.” And in a beat-the-Santa Barbara-red-tape miracle, they signed a lease right before Christmas and opened January 21.
Both West and Carter think their new spot — the one Belcampo occupied when the S.B. Public Market first opened — is a perfect location. “We had to charge three dollars more per brisket sandwich at Wildwood,” said West, explaining how much money they save not having to pay servers, not having 1,000 square feet of dining room, not having to offer margaritas, and more. “Here people get counter service, eat off paper plates — it’s what people want from barbecue.” Said Carter, “The food just tastes better here.”
They’ve received nothing but praise from Public Market owner Marge Cafarelli and their fellow vendors. West said Cafarelli tried to lure him to the Public Market when it first opened, and he’s overjoyed to be there now. “They plugged us in, and we’re just a cog in the wheel,” he said. “I’m not competing with Corazon or Empty Bowl or Dario [of Ca’ Dario] — our customers are the same, we just cater to different cravings on different days. At the end of day, if it’s good for them, it’s good for me. That’s the culture Marge has created.” Added Carter, “We’re all about family, community, camaraderie.”
Those familiar with Wildwood’s menu will feel more than at home at Soul Cal, from the house-made sausages to the tri-tip, from the BBQ beans to the Frito pie. But now there’s also smoked pork belly — West claims they’re going through a belly a day — that is also the star in a vibrant banh mi (plus some pâté to die for, no surprise given West’s skills with charcuterie). There’s also a fuller slate of burgers, the only ones in the Public Market to serve them now.
And there’s even hope for those who long for Brunoise, the pop-up that West offered occasionally at Wildwood as a way to appease his old Julienne fans. “We’ve got a lot of different outlets here,” he said. “Maybe we will end up doing some more Brunoise-style high-end dinners at Wine + Beer at some point.”
And while the years-empty back corner of the Public Market they now occupy practically seemed haunted, they’re overjoyed to be there in a kitchen larger than the one they had on Haley. “It was the easiest build-out ever, as there was no build out,” quipped West. “Marge said to me, ‘You and Carter are the only two who could make this corner work. It needs big personalities, and well-known chefs.’”
And it never hurts to have all that delectable char floating toward unsuspecting noses.
Santa Barbara Public Market, 38 W. Victoria St., tinyurl.com/soul-cal-bbq