East County is getting Texas barbecue

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Fifteen minutes out from Downtown El Cajon, along dusty Olde Highway 80, in what used to be the Flinn Springs Inn, a new establishment is joining the neighborhood – namely, traditional Texas-style barbecue.

“I’ve spent every summer of my life, practically, in Texas – I’m constantly eating that kind of BBQ and I really feel it is superior,” said Andy Harris, La Mesa resident and owner of Grand Ole BBQ y Asado in North Park. “I’m the only one doing it and North Park has sold out almost every day for three years.”

Fifteen minutes out from Downtown El Cajon, along dusty Olde Highway 80, in what used to be the Flinn Springs Inn, a new establishment is joining the neighborhood – namely, traditional Texas-style barbecue.

“I’ve spent every summer of my life, practically, in Texas – I’m constantly eating that kind of BBQ and I really feel it is superior,” said Andy Harris, La Mesa resident and owner of Grand Ole BBQ y Asado in North Park. “I’m the only one doing it and North Park has sold out almost every day for three years.”

Flinn Springs Inn has seen quite the makeover under the ownership of Harris and partner company Social Syndicate. The dirt yard in the back has been covered with lawn, the palm trees – all twenty of them – have been replaced with lush, friendly oaks, and the music stage has been moved to sit at the foot of the canyon cliff-face backdrop, a jaw-dropping view if ever there was one.

To be honest, it looks a lot like Austin, Texas now.

And that was kind of the whole point, said general manager John “JP” Patton.

“I walked into the property and thought ‘I’m sold,’” he said. “As a general manager, I knew my job would be easy because we already had great food, I’d just have to kill people with great service and we would have a knock out.”

Patton and other members of the team made a research trip to Austin to see for themselves what made Texas barbecue, and barbecue houses, so phenomenal – Harris stayed behind, he already knew.

It was an educational visit, Patton said, and much of the Grand Ole BBQ in El Cajon was inspired by the Texas trip. Most notably, the Grand Ole BBQ will have pit tours for anyone who wants to see the process of cooking quality barbecue.

The outdoor cooking pit will contain four 1,000-gallon smoking pits for brisket and other cuts, and a rotisserie cooker for slow cooking ribs.

“Out here is the heartbeat of everything we do, this is why we think we’re so special,” said Patton. “This is the number one smoking pit in California now.”

To accompany the great BBQ will be a great selection of taps – 20 inside and 18 outside.

“It was something they had done in the past but they didn’t do it right,” said Patton of the previous establishment. “We have a couple of bartenders who have been here a very long time, like David Stein. The community knows him, they love him, and we want to show everyone that we’re the same people, it’s just a nicer building.”

If Stein’s next-door-neighbor charm are not an indication of the pleasant atmosphere at the Grand Ole BBQ, his strawberry Moscow Mules are sure to be – lively, flavorful and just sweet enough to leave one reminiscing afterward.

Inside the restaurant is as uniquely branded as the outside. Although the old set up remains mostly intact, with comfortable booths lining the wall and seats trimming the bar counter, there have been some major alterations.

A large window near the entrance allows patrons to view the kitchen and butcher counter where meat is being prepared and pies and breads are baked.

Inside the restaurant is a different dining experience almost entirely.

“If you come here a lot and you don’t want BBQ every day, you can come around this side and have a full-service menu,” said Patton. “You’re going to have plenty of options. This will be full-service, so it’ll kind of be two restaurants in one. We love the variety.”

The whole place is family-friendly. Patton, a father of young children himself, said they wanted to create a space that allowed parents time to sit through a nice meal without having to rush home with the kids. Everything from the wooden train on the grass out back to the depictions of Disney’s Woody and Jessie on the bathroom doors indicates that this is a family restaurant.

“I wanted to build a place where bikers will not feel like fighting,” said Harris with a grin.

And it seems like anything Harris wants to build, or smoke or barbecue, turns to gold.

“Andy is extremely critical of himself and the quality of the food,” said Patton. “Everything has to be authentic. One of the reasons I was so happy to join this is because I have an affinity for perfection myself.”

Harris said barbecue is his passion, and the Grand Ole BBQ in El Cajon is just one more step towards his dream of creating his own little Austin in San Diego.

“It’s the biggest smoke yard west of Texas for sure, to have the capacity to smoke that much meat,” Harris said of the new location. “I’m hoping to get a mix of locals and people coming in for a destination. I don’t think there’s really anything like this in San Diego.”

The restaurant is set to open in late September, just in time for folks to enjoy outside-sittin’ weather next to the large fireplace in the backyard.

It promises to be an invitation worth waiting for.

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