New chef at Broken Record in Excelsior neighborhood play out nicely 

The oxtail ragout – tender meat served over pappardelle with cheese, mushrooms and tomatoes – is a Broken Record standout. - ANNA LATINO/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Anna Latino/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • The oxtail ragout – tender meat served over pappardelle with cheese, mushrooms and tomatoes – is a Broken Record standout.

‘Can’t mac and cheese just be good? Isn’t that enough?”

I was caught. A friend and I were at Broken Record, everyone’s favorite Excelsior dive. I had just eaten some of chef Mark Furr’s mac and cheese, and made an obnoxious comment: “What’s interesting about it?”

Apparently the fresh pasta, pork belly, top-shelf cheese blend and pickled jalapeños didn’t adequately dazzle me. What a spoiled brat.

I wonder if customers at Broken Record, accustomed to the cooking from former chefs James Moisey and Shane LaValley, are similarly spoiled. Looking at online reviews, I saw a lot of bellyaching about how things have changed since Furr came on board.

Get over it, everybody. Furr, former smokemaster supreme at Smoke BBQ, is doing a pretty good job. It may not be the same as before, but life is change.

I mean, how could you dislike the “jambalaya fritters” loaded with crawfish tail meat, andouille sausage and rice, then deep-fried and served with bacon-tomato mayo? My friend Steve certainly couldn’t put them down, even after admitting his low expectations.

And the Thai-seasoned fried pork “wings” — meaty bone-in pork shanks in a spicy glaze — were decadent and intense. A green papaya salad on the side made the perfect complement.

Furr’s cheeseburger, served on a fresh Chestnut Bakery roll, was extremely moist and rich due to its high fat content. That’ll happen when you use 100 percent beef brisket, ground in-house each day.

The Reuben was solid, unsurprising given Furr’s experience with a smoker; his excellent pastrami was juicy and marbled with fat, perfectly crisped around the edges.

Let’s get to my favorite dish, the oxtail ragout. “Midwestern boy” Furr, himself a fan of big, hearty meat dishes, also gives this one top honors. It’s nothing wild, just aggressively slow-cooked, tender shreds of oxtail served over fresh pappardelle with manchego cheese, roasted mushrooms and tomatoes.

What really brought this dish home was the rich gravy, made with roasted veal bones and broth from the oxtails. There was something addictive about this sauce that made me eat well past the point of fullness.

In sum, I had a couple of really good meals at Broken Record, long after the departure of its glamour boys. That’s not to say there weren’t some low points — the desserts were just OK, the sauteed broccoli rabe didn’t stand out, and of course there was the (unfairly) maligned mac and cheese.

But you’d think Furr was serving roasted kitten from the tone of some of the online reviews. And I suspect this has more to do with resistance to change than actual distaste.

People miss some of Broken Record’s old standbys, like the shrimp and grits, the pork tenderloin sandwich, and the — don’t look at me! — lobster mac and cheese.

But there’s a new game in town, and you want to know one of its best qualities? The lines are short. The Moisey and LaValley fanatics have migrated to Rickybobby, leaving ample table space at Broken Record.

Now that it’s lost the amped-up electricity of a hot foodie discovery, Broken Record just feels like a casual neighborhood joint where you can order a great meal. “Isn’t that enough?”

Note: Both times I visited, Broken Record was out of pulled lamb. It’s rumored to be stellar.

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Jesse Hirsch

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