Gus’s BBQ, 500 W. 1st St. (at Oberlin), Claremont; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. except until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 p.m. Sundays
The Claremont Packing House got a fresh jolt of excitement when ailing standby Casablanca was replaced by the South Pasadena barbecue outpost Gus’s BBQ. Gus’s has been around since 1946 on Fair Oaks Avenue but became more of a diner until new owners took over in 2007, re-emphasizing smoked meats and boosting business.
I’d seen Gus’s neon blade sign many times and had always meant to check them out, but my only taste of the food was when they catered a friend’s wedding a year ago (deliciously). It was neat to see them come to Claremont for their second location. We don’t often get that kind of attention.
The place has been busy since its late June opening. The interior is medium-sized, with a full bar specializing in whisky, and then there’s the wraparound patio, which also has inward-facing seating to the bar. The corrugated tin of the Packing House and the neon Gus’s sign make the fit seem natural.
They sell sandwiches, burgers, salads, barbecue entrees and Southern specialties. The barbecue is, literally, all over the map, as they have Memphis baby back ribs, St. Louis spare ribs, Texas beef brisket and Carolina pulled pork.
I’ve been there twice for solo lunches, both in the middle of a weekend afternoon, and both times the restaurant had a fair number of other off-hour customers.
The first time I had a pulled pork sandwich ($13) with sweet potato fries as my side. Served with cole slaw on top, and on a light ciabatta roll, the pork was full of flavor, assisted by a bit of mustardy Carolina BBQ sauce from the selection at the table. I couldn’t have asked for a tastier pulled pork sandwich.
A week later, I returned to try ribs. They were busy enough that they sat me at the bar, which was empty but which soon filled up. I had the half-rack of St. Louis ribs ($23), with braised southern greens and mac n’ cheese as my sides.
A half-rack amounted to seven bones, with tender pork that came off the bone easily. The greens were leafier than is usual, the mac lightly cheesed and with bread crumbs on top. While a full rack of ribs is $5 more, the half-rack was plenty for one person.
This is genteel barbecue in polite, hipsterish surroundings. We might prefer the downhome funk and friendliness of, say, J&J in Pomona or Bigg Dane and Beale’s in Fontana, but Gus’s food is excellent.