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Cox: Ribs and a smile


Among the extras on offer at the Red Bee BBQ in Santa Rosa is the friendly sociability of the husband-and-wife owners, two of the nicest folks you'll ever meet.

The "mom" of this mom-and-pop shop is Grace Wang, and the "pop" is Ge Li (pronounced Jee Lee), who originally are from Beijing, China. She immigrated to the U.S. in 2007 and he arrived a year later.

The Red Bee, like the owners, is a modest, unpretentious little shop, selling primarily Asian and Chinese-style barbecue. If you're looking for southern or Texas-style barbecue from a pit smoker, go elsewhere. This is barbecue in the sense of being cooked on a grill and, in a few cases but not all, being given a swipe of sweet sauce, like a bean-based hoisin.

The most notable aspect of the food at the Red Bee is the price. Grace Wang and Ge Li are not getting rich serving this food. In fact, one customer, commenting online about the price of the food, wrote, "I told the owner that he should charge twice as much money for half as much food, but he said he is just trying to make people happy!"

How refreshing is that attitude? These days, when jobs are hard to find, food stamps have been cut, and times for many people are really tough, it's great to know there's a place like the Red Bee. You'll find it on the east side of Stony Point Road, in the shopping center between Route 12 and Sebastopol Road, between a dentist's office and a Little Caesar's.

There's not much seating, just one small table with two chairs and a counter with four stools. The shop is really about take-out. It's a simple room, but neat and clean, with Li running the steam tables and Wang handling the barbecue gas grill and the cash register.

As you enter, you're greeted with an offer to sample anything you'd like from the steam table. This is lunchroom food, not gourmet fare. But care is taken with it. For instance, if you order the Brisket ($3.99, 2 stars), Li trims the fat from each thin slice and cuts the slices into inch-square tiles. They're chewy and served without barbecue sauce.

Pulled pork ($2.99, 2 stars) has been slow-cooked so that although it's stringy — as pulled pork appropriately is — it's tender, with its flavor enhanced by a little sweet sauce.

Barbecued Chicken ($2.99, 2 stars) is a leg and a thigh slow-cooked so they're tender and juicy. A slightly spicy, sweet barbecue sauce adds a punch of flavor.

On a recent night, these three items were part of a Three Meat Special ($9.99, 2 stars) that also included one side dish — a lot of food for under $10. Many of the entrees and side dishes can be purchased as combos, making them even more of a bargain.

Side dishes a la carte include a healthy serving of Barbecue Baked Beans ($1.99, 3 stars), tasty kidney beans in a thick, sweet, smoky sauce. These beans recalled days of childhood past, when a dinner of hot dogs and good home-made baked beans was cheap and filling.

Vegetarians can make a fully nutritious meal from these beans, a serving of the Red Bee's excellent Cornbread ($1.99 2-1/2 stars), made with cornmeal and a whole grain flour that gives it a rich flavor, and either Cole Slaw ($2.99, 2 stars) of crunchy fresh cabbage (which could use a little more sweet-and-sour dressing to fire up the flavor), or the House Salad ($2.99 2-1/2 stars), where you choose toppings for a foundation of fresh lettuce from ingredients like sliced bell peppers, onions, cucumbers, sprouts and more, with several dressing choices.

You can try the Mexican Style Roast Corn ($1.99, 1 star), but I wouldn't recommend it. Unlike a true Mexican roast ear of corn coated in a lime-queso slurry, this ear was a thawed-out and limp-kerneled affair blackened over the gas grill.

Two more meats worth trying are the Beef Short Ribs ($3.99, 2 stars ), consisting of sliced bone and meat, cooked on the grill, chewy and beefy, and served with no sauce. You can ask for sauce for any of the meats, however.

Barbecued Pork ($2.99, 2-1/2 stars) is what most Americans think of as barbecue: the pork is sliced and covered with a smoky sauce that's baked on. You get a generous amount and it's quite tasty.

There's no beer or wine. Sodas are $1.69 and bottled water is 99 cents.

To sum up: Fill up for less at Red Bee BBQ.

(Jeff Cox writes a weekly restaurant review column for the Sonoma Living section. You can reach him at jeffcox@sonic.net.)