Wipe Claim Jumper from your mind.
The chain-restaurant-that-went-kaput three years ago at Blackstone and Nees avenues has been pushed aside for a new, locally owned restaurant that is sure to get Fresno's attention.
Westwoods BBQ & Spice Co. opened last week. It's the latest creation of Fresno restaurateur Dave Fansler. You may know him as the guy who created Tahoe Joe's, Pismo's Coastal Grill and Yosemite Ranch restaurants.
His newest niche is barbecue and I'll talk more about the food in a minute, but first let's focus on the place. The restaurant name refers to the woods of the west, a tribute to Fresno County and its farmers.
The space, at 15,000 square feet, is huge by restaurant standards. Fansler gutted it all and redid it as in, knock-down-walls, tear-out-a-fireplace and relocate-the-bar kind of renovations.
"We wanted you to forget what was here previously," he says. "I don't want to put lipstick on a Claim Jumper and call it barbecue."
He and investors poured several million dollars into revamping the space. Holes were knocked in the roof to add skylights. Entire walls open up like garage doors on nice days. A keg room holding only California beers has pipes running under the floor to the bar. A 16-foot long painting of Fig Garden that's 94 years old and from the Downtown Club hangs on the banquet room wall.
It's not unusual for customers to walk a little slower than normal as they're led to their tables, gazing at all the wood and steel and brick and marble, says Fansler's daughter, Savonna Fansler Coelho.
And this columnist couldn't stop staring at the ceiling. The wood ceiling is made from old pickle barrels and reclaimed barn wood.
Other ag-inspired details abound, such as bases of bar stools made from old discs that once plowed fields. The windmill out front was rescued from a Sanger property.
Westwoods has a dining concept that's growing in popularity in Fresno: traditional sit-down service on one side, quick-service on the other.
On the quick-service side, customers order at a counter and are given a pager, but it won't light up or vibrate. The pager connects to a magnet in the table, allowing employees to look at a computer screen and know exactly where your food needs to go.
The food is "barbecue that Dave likes," Fansler jokes. He and a few chefs took a three-week cross-country tour, eating at barbecue restaurants around the country to find what they liked. The result is a more contemporary version of barbecue. The meats aren't drowning in sauce. There are salads on the menu and gluten-free portobello mushroom fries breaded in garbanzo bean flour.
The fried chicken and tri-tip sandwich are popular, along with the burnt ends brisket that spends 12 hours in the smoker. The smoker is the giant thing out front. It holds 1,800 pounds of meat and has a Ferris wheel-style contraption inside ensuring all meats get equally smoked.
Westwoods also employs a pastry chef. She went through 200 corn bread recipes before perfecting the final product.
And don't forget to check out the drinks. In addition to local beer, many cocktails are named with a Fresno flair. There's the Woodward Park Porch Swing, the Blackstone Mary and the Security Bank Bellini, for example.
On the smaller side of things, one restaurant that may have escaped your notice is Buffalo Ranch Wings & Things. This one opened quietly in a former Taco Bell in August at 4315 E. Shields Ave.
It's all about the chicken wings here. The wings range in heat from mild to atomic.
The second-to-hottest rating, "suicide," is "hot but it's edible," says owner Lam Uong, who runs the restaurant with his wife Rattana.
All the brave souls out there who think you can handle the hottest of the hot, don't be surprised if you get a little pushback from Uong.
"If they say they want the atomic, I say, 'Are you sure?' " Uong says with a smile.
The wings also come in flavors such as garlic Parmesan and lemon pepper. There are burgers and Philly steak sandwiches on the menu, too. They bread and fry their own zucchini, mushrooms and onion rings here.
This is Uong's second wing restaurant. He ran the first in Arizona in the 1990s.
At the end of our conversation I asked Uong if I should be referring to his wings as buffalo wings instead of chicken wings since the name of the restaurant has Buffalo in it.
Uong's saucy response, given with a big grin: "We know buffalo don't have wings."
Details: The restaurant doesn't have a website, so call (559) 369-6495. It's open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6431, email@example.com or @BethanyClough on Twitter. Read her blog on fresnobeehive.com.