The afternoon sunlight filters through the willow tree stretching above the table. Sitting on the edge of Clear Lake, it’s easy to hear the slap of the water against the bulkheads and watch the grebes dance across the lake, necks outstretched. Behind them, the shoulders of Mt. Konocti stretch upwards. And on the table sits a butt sandwich complete with sides of beans, fries, and coleslaw, waiting to be consumed.
Boar’s Breath in Clearlake is one of the more unique barbecue joints in the county. For over twenty years, they were a fixture in Middletown on the corner of Highway 175 and Highway 29. After the Valley Fire, they packed up and moved to their current location on the shores of Clear Lake.
“We didn’t exactly plan on being a barbecue,” Frank Stephenson, co-owner and self-professed ‘fry cook’ says. “But when we moved to this location, we ran out of loot and couldn’t afford signage. We had BBQ banner from an old catering job, so we slapped it up, brought over our gator pit smoker, and started out.
“Many of our menu selections come from our pit,” Frank adds, “To us, real BBQ means using the tried-and-true technique of slow cooking over long periods of time. We use the heat from the coals of white oak to perfectly season the meats in the cook chamber of our ‘gator pit’ smoker. It’s this perfect environment that creates the faint smokiness perfume of wood that creates that magical flavor.”
That flavor comes from Frank’s commitment to quality food. “So what I do, and have done since 94′ when we opened, is this,” he says. “I get what products are available, seeking out the highest quality whenever possible. I do not use food distributors, as one is stuck with whatever quality they send, or substitute. I handpick all my produce from different sources.” But he doesn’t stop there. “I cut my own steaks,” he continues. “And I break down whole free-range chicken, and grind my own ground beef for our burgers. That way, I know what is ‘not’ going into the grind.”
His commitment to good food creates magical flavors, and it comes through in every item on the menu; that way, you don’t need to worry about what you order. “Everyone has their favorite,” Suzie Stephenson, co-owner, says. “Some people only eat the butt sandwich, some only the tri-tip, and some only the ribs.”
Take the Butt Sandwich, for example. A large portion of pulled pork sits on a grilled bun, topped with coleslaw. There’s a bit of difficulty trying to fit it in; it’s so large and sloppy. But with the first bite comes the tang of the handmade barbecue sauce, filling the mouth with a sweet, spicy taste. The pulled pork carries a depth of flavor, while the zingy, mayo-based slaw sits on top, balancing out the heavier notes of the meat.
The Smokin’ Burger is one of the top-selling burgers. It’s a big burger, topped with smoked pork, pepper jack cheese, and a healthy dose of barbecue sauce. And, of course, there’s magic happening there. The sauce gives a creamy contrast to the grilled flavor of the burger, and the pulled pork slides across the top, layered with intention to draw out the fullness of the meat. The burger veritably drips with flavor, and across your hands and down your arms as well. It’s impossible not to get messy eating it, or not to leave full.
And you can’t go wrong with any of the sides. The fries aren’t ordinary fries. Coated with savory seasoning salt, they have a hint of sweetness. And they’re fried perfectly, crisp on the outside and creamy in the center. Or the beans, filled with a smokey, salty, oniony, creamy flavor. The coleslaw zings just right.
Frank doesn’t just cook to make money; he cooks with his customers in mind. “I give the utmost consideration to the folks ordering,” he says. They trust me to do that, and I do it with the utmost respect for their well being. It’s a two-way street. We need customers to stay in business and are glad for our many loyal locals. The other side of the street is that we and all other restaurants and bars, provide a fun place for people to come to.”
All the food at Boar’s Breath is intentionally created and all planned out deliberately. Frank has an incredible sense of balance and proportion and puts thought and consideration into each of his dishes. The upside to that is that it’s impossible to go wrong at Boar’s Breath. Whatever you eat will leave you stuffed and sticky with satisfaction.
Boar’s Breath is located at 14667 Lakeshore Dr, Clearlake, CA
Hour of Operation: 11-4 Tuesday through Saturday.