Late last year, I had another fun meal with our monthly "eating club". This time, Candice chose a spot she was interested in. The choice, The Wrangler Family Barbecue, located right off the I-8's El Cajon Boulevard exit. The Wrangler? I'd never heard of it! I was intrigue because Candice had been told of the place by a Professional Barbecue Judge... and I'd never heard of it? Personally, I thought some of what I had was so-so, except for one item, which I returned for in sandwich form a couple of weeks later. I didn't even bother taking a photo, as it looked pretty lonely and plain, and I snacked on it in the parking lot. Looking over, I realized I was parked next to what could possibly be the last Ford Granada still on the road....... which somehow just seemed perfect.
So now nearly a year later, on a whim, I decided to check out The Wrangler again.....
I was pretty sure that nothing would change at The Wrangler..... you see, the place has been around since 1965. And looking around the dining room, I was pretty sure that most of the customers on this day have probably been coming here since then. And that's the charm, to say that The Wrangler is "old school", from the western motif, to the wood paneling, the peg board menu, the partitioned plates, and the various animals staring at you hanging from the walls.....is an understatement.
Ordering is done at the front counter, it's also where you are handed your cafeteria tray of food.
Behind that counter, to tempt you lies an oak smoked hunk of beef, and the ham.
Only my initial visit to The Wrangler with my friends, I thought there were more misses than hits, but I decided to go for lucky (hopefully this time) #7 the Beef, Ham, and Rib Combo ($12.97). You get two sides and what is called (I assume very loosely) a roll and butter.
Having tasted most of the sides during my first trip, I went with what I thought tasted best, the beans and coleslaw to accompany my protein-fest. The beans are serviceable, and the coleslaw is simple, but hits all the right buttons for me.
The ribs here are spareribs, and there's an honest to goodness smoke ring. Yes, the elusive (in San Diego) smoke ring. These aren't mushy, par baked or boiled baby backs that lies in, and depends on a heavily spiced sauce (which is a great spicy ketchup), flavored with, and finished over wood to give the facade of smoke (no need to name names, we know who you are). The first time, I thought the ribs were too dry, though it had a decent "bark". This time, not enough bark, but these pulled cleanly without falling to pieces and were very moist.
I'm not a big fan of the sauce at The Wrangler.
Though it is served slightly warmed, the flavor of cloves just over-powers everything else. In this day of more highly seasoned sauces, this tastes kind of dated. Thankfully, the sauce is served appropriately on the side.
On my initial visit, I thought the beef to be tough, bland, and on the dry side.
The one item, that everyone thought was done well on our "eating club" visit, was the ham. It was what I came back for in the form of a sandwich..... a simple one, bun and bread.
There's something about this ham, resplendent in it's simplicity, which just gets to the point of what being a good ham is all about. It's not heavily cloved or glazed. It tastes, well, like good ham, and takes me back to a ham I had during a Christmas party in Columbus Georgia. The person whose home I was invited to had gone all out for the party. There was a ham smoked in his own smoker, and a first for me (this was waaay back in the mid-nineties) deep fried turkey. And as fabulous as the turkey was, it was the ham I enjoyed the most. It was wonderful between Wonder Bread the next day!
I ended up placing the slices of ham between the rolls and making my own sandwich of sorts.... and was perfectly happy.
If you wanted to know what Candice thought about The Wrangler, you can read her article in CityBeat here.
The Wrangler Family Barbecue
901 El Cajon Blvd.
El Cajon, CA 92020