When something is cooked with love, you can tell. When something is cooked by Love, you can also tell.
Because the barbecue coming out of chef Heather Love’s kitchen is unmistakably tasty. But don’t take my word for it. Take the word of my co-workers who swarmed the two boxed of smoked meat from her new downtown Modesto restaurant The Burnt End faster than any other food I’ve ever brought into the office.
The new low-and-slow smoked barbecue joint just off the corner of I and Ninth streets opens Monday and will begin serving complimentary sampler plates during lunch. Then, a week later on Sept. 24, the restaurant will begin regular paid lunch and dinner service.
My co-workers, and myself, had the good fortune of trying the fruits of one of the eatery’s many training runs. She had planned to open the restaurant for business Monday. But due to all the wildfires across Northern California, PG&E workers weren’t able to connect her gas lines in time for inspection.
So instead next week the restaurant will open and hand out samples with a donation to the American Red Cross from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., while supplies last, with proceeds going to wildfire relief efforts.
Luckily Love doesn’t need her oven or stove to crank out barbecue. Her meats are prepared in two smokers, a small one inside that can hold up to 500-pounds of meat and a larger one out back that can fit a whopping 1,500 pounds – or three whole pigs.
Her barbecue features the signature styles from across the country: Texas beef brisket, St. Louis ribs, Carolina pulled pork, Kansas burnt ends and California tri-tip. She is also serving up smoked chicken, turkey and bison sausage.
Her staff comes in at midnight to begin cooking, with brisket taking the longest at 12 hours. All the meats are smoked over almond wood — an intentional nod to the Central Valley’s agricultural roots. All of the dry rubs and sauces are also made in house.
Her menu includes a range of familiar sides with little contemporary twists. There is mac-and-cheese with applewood smoked bacon, caramelized onions and a panko breadcrumb crust, two kinds of baked beans, apple slaw, potato salad, loaded baked potatoes, macaroni salad that mix Southern and Hawaiian flavors. Wash it all down with beer, wine, soda, sweet tea or fresh-squeezed lemonade.
Two-meat plates start at $15 and three-meat running $20 and come with a side, corn bread, honey butter, onions and pickles. There are also an assortment of sandwiches served with choice of beans on the side for $12 to $15 (which can be ordered as “meat sundaes” without the bread for the low-carbers/Keto folks out there). Or you can just buy any of the meats by the pound. And every weekday there is a different dine-in blue-plate special for only $10.
The restaurant seats 50 inside, and Love plans to have an outside patio set up within a month or so for additional seating. The place opens with a staff of 26 and is still looking to fill some positions.
Modesto native Love is no stranger to restaurants. The Downey High alum is a graduate of two of the country’s top culinary schools: the International Culinary Center and The Culinary Institute of America. She also studied in Georgia with professional barbecue pit master Myron Mixon.
Her father, Ron Bailey, owned the successful Howdy’s Hot Dogs on Ninth Street in the 1980s. In 2010, she and her brother opened their own downtown Modesto restaurant on J Street, and named it Rotten Ron’s in homage to him. While it has since closed, more recently she was the executive chef and general manager of Cow Pig Bun in Maui, Hawaii.
She returned to Modesto almost two years ago, because of issues with her husband’s health. So opening a new restaurant in the city just came naturally.
“I wanted to bring this to Modesto because I love Modesto,” Love said. “I grew up here and want nothing but beautiful things for Modesto.”
And she is bringing more than just beautiful food. The restaurant has two large murals on its outside walls. The first faces I Street and features a pastoral Central Valley scene and imagery from the Modesto Arch, which stands just across the street from the restaurant. Then on the opposite wall near the entrance is a mural of butcher diagrams.
Both murals were commissioned and done by Modesto tattoo artist Vincent Cabrera, and his work also adorns the inside walls.
While Love has a long culinary resume, female pitmasters are still rare. It’s that challenge that helped to motivate her.
“They don’t expect women to do this. When I went to barbecue school it was 25 men and me. And there I was picking up 85 pounds of meat with them,” Love said. “But I love it because fire and meat is amazing.”
The Burnt End, at 822 Ninth St. in downtown Modesto, will be open for full lunch and dinner service from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday starting Sept. 24. For more visit www.theburntend.net.