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The Beverly Grillbillies!

February 18, 2011 3 comments

When you’re from “The 909”, it’s quite the undertaking to make a trek into the big city.  Making sure one’s wife-beater-tank-top is freshly pressed is just the tip of the iceberg.  The cow must be milked, the meth lab shut down, and the pick up truck taken off the cinder blocks.  So when The Fun Couple finally made it to Fogo de Chao in Beverly Hills, it’s understandable that we turned a few heads.  I’m sure all those West L.A. socialites were just jealous of my sweet mullet.

Okay, despite the bad rap my area code gets (the snooty folks in Orange County call the region “the valley of the dirt people”), I’ve never personally been featured on COPS, nor do I live on a farm (and I don’t have a mullet).  And even though The 909 (a.ka. The Inland Empire) is a bit of a culinary wasteland, we can definitely appreciate fine dining.  My dream restaurant has been Fogo de Chao, the upscale Brazilian BBQ chain that actually finds its roots in Brazil!  At over $60 per person, I assumed that it would be an elusive fantasy just beyond reach.  But thanks to Dine L.A.’s “Restaurant Week“, Fogo de Chao became a reality!

A quick tip for my fellow 909-ers who dare venture into such uppity places: THERE’S NO NEED TO GET INTO YOUR FORMAL WEAR!  You won’t fool anyone into thinking that you’re a “local” (the flannel shirt under your corduroy suitcoat will be a dead giveaway).  You’ll feel more than comfortable in respectable casual wear (meaning jeans and a nice shirt not shorts and a WWF tank top).

Fogo de Chao is a buffet fit for royalty.  You are encouraged to start with their salad bar, which is so much more than a salad bar.  Get Sizzler or Hometown out of your head!  It features all manner of fresh veggies, expertly prepared salads, fine deli meats (including prosciutto and smoked salmon), imported cheeses, and high-end oils and vinegars.  The highlight for the two of us was the Balsamic vinegar.  It was amazingly rich, sweet and complex.  We put it on everything!

You are given a coaster which gives the servers (gauchos) in their M.C. Hammer pants the cue to get the meat party started.  The red side means, “We need a break!”, the green side means, “It’s on like King Kong!”  When we decided to “go green”, the most beautiful parade I had ever seen got going.  Bacon-wrapped filet mignon.  Bacon-wrapped chicken.  Ribeye.  Sausage.  Garlic beef.  Lamb chops.  Parmesan encrusted pork tenderloin.  I tried everything that came my way, at least ten different meats.  I got seconds (maybe even thirds, it’s really none of your business, though) of the garlic beef, ribeye, and — surprisingly — the bottom sirloin.  Bottom sirloin can be chewy and livery, but it was tender, juicy and unbelievably tasty!  Simply seasoned and cooked to perfection using real wood, the premium quality of their meats really shine.  Wowzers, if only human evolution had taken the route of cattle … a couple extra stomachs would’ve been nice!

As if the salad bar and meat parade aren’t enough to make one spontaneously combust from “happy, happy, joy, joy” overload, you’re brought a trio of scrumptious side dishes: mashed potatoes, fried polenta, and fried banana.  They’re all very good, though I would prefer to have my fried banana topped with vanilla ice cream.  As soon as a dish is empty, they’ll bring you more.  The servers are very attentive without being annoying.  Service all around was excellent!

Commoners, peasants, and lowly 909’ers … Dine L.A. is your chance to experience the royal treatment!

I took a bunch of pictures, but they’re really lame.  Maybe I was trembling with excitement.  But here’s a taste of Fogo de Chao:

From the salad bar ... gettin' the party started right!

Terrible picture, I know. I guess I just have to go back to get a decent one!

Fogo de Chao on Urbanspoon

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Kansas City BBQ Pilgrimage

November 23, 2010 2 comments

Hardcore BBQ fans pray towards Kansas City, their smokey “mecca” that boasts the most BBQ joints per capita in the nation.  It may be the only city where tourism actually centers around a particular cuisine.  Foodies of all walks of life acquaint themselves dreamily with this city through TV, books, and the internet well before making their pilgrimages.  The Fun Foodie recently had the opportunity to spend two days in this BBQ bastion.  I was commited to visiting the three biggies: Arthur Bryant’s, Gates, and L.C.’s..  I had also hoped to make a couple surprise discoveries.

With The Fun Family in tow (my wife plus four kids, 13 and under), the first stop was a relative newcomer, Gregory G’s just around the corner from the Truman Presidential Library.  Reviews were very promising, but our experience was mediocre at best.  Supposedly a “mom and pop” establishment, but the mom and pop were missing.  Had they grown so quickly in such a short amount of time?  If they ever served legit ‘que, it was a thing of the not-so-distant past.  Their food felt commercialized and sterile, lacking any personality or soul.  The ribs were nice and tender, with just a slight hint of smoke.  Decent, but forgettable.  The brisket was sitting pre-sliced in the steam table and was a bit on the dry and bland side.  The sausage was no better than the vacuum sealed links you can find at the grocery store.

Gregory G's brisket; a healthy heaping of beef, but where's the smoke ring?

My highest hopes rested in Arthur Bryant’s, probably the most famous BBQ restaurant in the nation.  This legend came into existence in the 1920’s and has been the focal point of countless television specials, magazine articles and blog posts.  Its locale in a run-down industrial area of downtown may be off-putting to some, but it really isn’t all that bad.  Regardless, the smell of their unique blend of hickory and oak will be comforting.

You’ll think I’m exaggerating, but my heart went all a-flutter upon entering this holy shrine.  We arrived at just a hair before 5:00 pm and were lucky to beat the dinner rush.  I walked right up to the counter guy who was behind a plexi-glass barrier that told me the area probably was as bad as I had read.  I ordered a sausage sandwich and burnt ends with fries.  Burnt ends are a Kansas City delicacy that is difficult to find elsewhere.  The fattiest, smokiest, most charred pieces of the brisket are lovingly trimmed off, drowned in sauce and re-smoked.  We’ve found them at one place in California (check out my cyber-alter-ego review here) and they were really good.  Arthur Bryant’s burnt ends were quite the let down.  The problem was the sauce and the method.  The meat was super tender, but was more like a pot-roast then smoked brisket.  Cooking in all that sauce amounted to more of a braise than BBQ.  Most importantly, the sauce tasted weird.  It had a sharp flavor that was really out of place and overwhelmed the burnt ends.  Just couldn’t get passed it.  Not terrible, just … weird.

The sausage was also weird, but in a good way.  It was sliced thin and, thankfully, served without sauce.  Very savory, smokey and moist.  Arthur Bryant’s lard-cooked, fresh-cut fries are some of the most talked about sides anywhere.  But what we were served were luke-warm and a bit soggy.  Definitely not fresh.  They were tasty enough to let me know that they would be quite special right out of the fryer.  All-in-all, Arthur Bryant’s was a pretty good experience, but pretty good is disappointing when you’re on a pilgrimage.

Arthur Bryant's burnt ends, aka pot roast.

Really, that's sausage. Different looking, but super tasty!

Arthur Bryant's Barbeque on Urbanspoon

Not even ten minutes after finishing up at Arthur Bryant’s, we were being yelled at at Gates BBQ.  They have this strange tradition of yelling, “May I help you??” to customers as they walk in.  Some may find it welcoming, I see it as contrived and fairly annoying.  As we were quite full from our first dinner, the six of us split one burnt ends sandwich and a couple orders of fries.  After ordering, I watched a guy pull a blackened hunk of meat out of the pit and heard him do the meat cleaver boogie for what seemed like hours.  He hacked and hacked and hacked away and placed a huge pile of burnt ends on a roll.  I was shocked at the size of the sandwich, easily enough for two hungry adults.  It comes unsauced, which tells me they have nothing to hide. The meat was great, crispy and smokey, but just a tad on the dry side.  Sauce is a must, not to make up for any short-comings, but because their sauce is excellent!  Well balanced, with chiles, cumin and garlic making for a savory accompaniment.  Gate’s Extra Spicy BBQ Sauce is right up there with the very best I’ve ever had.

The key ingredient to Gate's burnt ends? The meat cleaver boogie.

Gates Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Alas, the time had come to leave mecca.  But I still felt empty.  Figuratively, speaking, of course, as I had eaten enough to feed a small third world country.  I had eaten some very good BBQ in my short time in Kansas City, but I was looking for something more along the lines of a life-changing religious experience.  Heading south out of town, my final hope was L.C.’s BBQ, a smallish joint that was a bit off the beaten path.  It’s billowing smokestack was like a lighthouse drawing me to safety.  The air inside the restaurant was smokey and delicious.  The BBQ pit was right behind the service counter, and I looked lovingly into the heart of this humble joint as each order was filled.  Our order?  Pork spareribs, brisket sandwich, burnt ends and fries.  I don’t remember where I started, all I know is that I didn’t want it to end.  The ribs were amazing!  The meat pulled easily off of the bone without falling right off of them, had a great spice rub encrusted on the exterior and were wonderfully smokey.  The sauce complimented the meat nicely without overpowering it.  It was as close to a perfect rib as I’ve ever had.  The brisket was amazing!  Sliced thin, tender and smokey.  The burnt ends were — you guessed it — amazing!  They were chopped up into perfect little bite-sized pieces, with just the right balance of lucious fat, crispy crust and succulent meat.  Somehow, these tender morsels would just melt away upon contact with my mouth, but still had some substance and bite to them.  I felt like bowing my head to honor this meat after each bite.  Remembering the barred windows outside of the restaurant, I felt like I was in a BBQ prison … but with no desire to escape.  Wow.

And the fries cooked in lard were quite epic, too.

L.C.'s Ribs.

L.C.'s brisket sandwich.

L.C.'s burnt ends.

L.C.’s = Best.  BBQ.  Ever.

LC's Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Cheaters Sometimes Prosper

May 31, 2010 2 comments

Hard core pit masters with the time and equipment will baby ribs for up to seven hours in their smokers.  Without the aid of gas or electricity, much effort is put into keeping the temperature and smoke just right.  As much as I revere this ever-so-pure form of authentic All-American BBQ, the reality of limited time and a cheap smoker brings out the cheatin’ heart in me!  I’ll clarify later.

If you want good ribs, you can’t cut corners in the preparation.  First off, I prefer spare ribs, as opposed to the yuppy choice, baby backs.  Spares come from the belly of the pig and are bigger and much meatier.  But they require some surgery.  There are two distinct sections in whole spare ribs: the tips and the actual ribs.  The tips have a whole bunch of cartilage and gristle and cook up differently.  We split the sections, BBQ the ribs, and use the tips to make some killer New Mexican-style Green Chile Stew (the tips make some crazy good broth).  Also, there’s a rubbery membrane on the back of the ribs that needs to be removed.

Removing the membrane is a cinch.  Use a knife to get under it right on top of a bone.  That's one slippery booger, so use a rag or paper towel to just pull it right off...

Removing the membrane is a cinch. Use a knife to get under it right on top of a bone. That's one slippery booger, so use a rag or paper towel to just pull it right off...

See, just like that!

With the ribs properly trimmed and peeled, they’re ready for a good rub.  My seasoning rub consists of (in order of prevalance): celery salt, sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, New Mexican red chile powder, chipotle chile powder, black pepper and cumin.  I like to let the rack and rub get to know each other for a couple hours.

I’ve come to prefer “grill smoking” ribs.  That means I put them directly over a thin layer of lump charcoal along with a chunk of hickory that smolders over to the side.  You’ve got to be careful with this method, as you can torch your ribs if you don’t keep the temperature low.  Let ’em brown on the meaty side for about five minutes (depending on how hot your coals are), then flip to the bone side.  I keep it in the smoker this way for about an hour.  The initial blast of heat makes for a tasty crust, then the coals slowly cool off enough to gently smoke.  The flavor is unbelievable this way.  But here’s where the cheatin’ comes in.  After the hour in the smoker, I wrap the ribs real tight in foil and finish them off in a 225-250 degree oven.  Total cooking time will be between 4-5 hours.  I like my ribs to be tender, but still have some integrity (not quite “fall off the bone”).  At the very end, slather generously with your favorite BBQ sauce (try this Dr. Pepper sauce sometime) and char under the broiler or, better yet, over some lump charcoal.

Cheatin’ never tasted so good!

Categories: BBQ, Recipes Tags: ,

A BBQ Gem in Gold Country

February 20, 2010 4 comments

Vacations are for rest, relaxation, and research.  Food research, that is.  Recently, the FUNdamental Family vacationed in the majestic winter wonderland that is Yosemite National Park. Always in search of legit BBQ in California (read my definition of real BBQ here), Yelp sent us to Doc’s Texas BBQ in Sonora.  Yelp, I love you!

Doc’s has a real “down home” feel, with obvious regulars greeting one another and Doc himself.  I was quite concerned that I didn’t smell any smoke whatsoever in the parking lot or even inside.  My fears were put to rest as our food came out almost glowing with that beautiful pink smoke ring that true BBQ fans look for.  Doc told me that he uses oak (I found his three upright smokers out back). 

Spare rib, tri tip and sausage combo with fries.

Brisket plate with slaw and beans.

Doc's smokers. I was tempted to load one into the van. Seriously.

We had the pork spare ribs, tri tip, hickory sausage, jalapeno sausage, and beef brisket.  Everything was tender, juicy, and pleasantly smokey.  The brisket may have been just a bit on the crumbly side with a little too much gristle, but was still very enjoyable.  The jalapeno sausage had a nice kick and was right up there with some of the tastiest I’ve ever had.  The tri tip was amazing.  I’m usually not a fan of smoked tri tip as it normally gets very chewy and tough.  I usually grill it to no more than medium rare.  Doc has found a way to smoke it for hours and keep it tender and juicy.  Pure magic.  The fries were even amazing-er.  Made from fresh potatoes, which is great, but the flavor is just over the top!  It’s as if they’re fried in lard or bacon grease or something along those heavenly lines.  Or maybe it’s just more of his magic.  Absolutely the best fries I’ve ever had.  The sauce was very good, slightly sweet and tasting a bit of coffee.  I just wish there was a hot version.  The beans and cole slaw were decent, nothing spectacular.

Doc’s Texas BBQ is one of the best BBQ experiences I’ve had anywhere (including the Lone Star state itself) and easily the best in California.  But why, oh why, oh great Mr. Doc must you be so far away?

Doc's Texas BBQ & Burgers on Urbanspoon

Smokin’ Hot Wings

February 5, 2010 4 comments

Man food. **Insert cave man growl** Corn dogs, ribs, meat loaf, and bratwurst are fine examples of masculine culinary expressions.  With the Super Bowl upon us, it behooves me to provide a recipe that will delight the masses of men meaning to munch on meat.  This ultimate sporting event stimulates a surge of testosterone that causes us to consume copious amounts of flight appendages.  I can eat me some hot wings.  There’s just something about that combination of buttery, tangy, and spicy.  But let’s add another element: smoke!  Does it get any more manly than that?

I like to grill-smoke my wings for 30-35 minutes.  I put them directly over a thin layer of lump charcoal with a chunk of smoldering hickory working it’s magic over to the side.  The initial blast of the charcoal will put a nice crust on the wings, but with the smoker closed, it will cool off enough to gently cook them without torching them.  Then they go into the fryer to crisp up.  It only takes 2-3 minutes to get them golden brown and delicious!  Toss in the following garlicky buffalo sauce and you’ve got a manly (and low carb) treat.

**This should be plenty for 20 or so wing pieces.
1/2 stick of butter
1-2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
1/4 cup of your favorite red pepper sauce (Red Rooster, Louisiana)
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
Salt and Black Pepper to taste

Melt the butter slowly with the garlic over medium low heat.  Remove garlic before it has a chance to brown.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.  Then let the chicken wings party with the sauce!

Dr. Pepper BBQ Sauce

January 12, 2010 4 comments

A BBQ sauce recipe needs an “X-Factor” of some sort to make it stand out.  I’ve heard that coffee BBQ sauce is a big thing in Texas and have seen a couple recipes that included cola in its base.  I’m sure I’m not the first person in BBQ history to try Dr. Pepper in a sauce, but I challenge you to find a tastier recipe than the one I’m posting (I’ll even challenge Bobby Flay to a Throwdown!).  I’m not a huge fan of this funky soda as a beverage, but it adds sweetness and a unique fruitiness to this sauce.  I’m sure I’ve tried more than a couple dozen sauces in search of that perfect balance of sweet, tangy, and spicy.  This really is right up there with some of the best I’ve had.

2/3 cup ketchup
1/3 cup Dr. Pepper
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3 TBS honey
2 TBS Worcestershire Sauce
2 TBS rice vinegar
1 TBS bacon grease
1 TBS ground New Mexico red chile (NOT chili powder; I’m sure your favorite ground chile will work)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp liquid smoke
1/8 tsp celery salt
1/4 tsp red chile flakes (more or less to your desired heat level)
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Sweat the garlic in the bacon grease over low heat just until it is fragrant (shouldn’t take more than 30 seconds; be careful not to scorch).  Raise heat to about medium low and stir in ground chile and cumin to allow flavors to bloom in the grease.  After about 15-20 seconds, add the remaining ingredients and let simmer for about five minutes.  As far as heat goes, I would say this sauce is medium.  If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen!  Just kidding.  Substitute the New Mexico chile for it’s milder cousin, California red chile and forget about the red chile flakes all together.

Low carbing is easy here!  Just use reduced sugar ketchup, diet Dr. Pepper, and sugar free honey syrup (you can find that at grocers like Whole Foods and Wild Oats).  If you don’t have the honey syrup, just use one packet of Splenda.

Bring it on, Bobby!

Frisella’s Roastery

January 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Frisella’s opened in my hometown of La Verne, CA in 1993.  It seems I have to drive quite a distance to eat seriously killer food and have been hoping to find something along those lines locally.  Restaurant.com offered a $25 gift certificate to the Glendora location for just two bucks (details here) so we decided to conduct our research there.

You wouldn’t know it by its name, but Frisella’s is a BBQ restaurant.  Maybe the word “Roastery” was a marketing strategy for the slightly uppity foothill communities.  Or maybe “Roastery” is a more accurate description than “BBQ”.  I’ll explain….

For starters, we ordered the mozarella sticks (which were pretty much what you can get frozen at Smart and Final) and onion strings (which were pretty good).  The marinara sauce that came with the mozarella sticks was excellent, with a bright and fresh tomato flavor and a nice hint of garlic.  I ordered the half rack of baby back ribs, and chose cole slaw and beans for the sides (pictured above).  The ribs were pretty close to perfectly tender and moist, but had barely any smoke flavor.  There was about an eighth of an inch of a smoke ring, which means it was probably smoked for less than an hour.  They use red oak, which has a more mellow flavor than other hardwoods (like hickory, which is what I prefer), so they should be smoking for much longer.  The ribs had a tasty and pleasantly crispy crust from the seasoning rub, but Texans and southerners would scoff at calling this BBQ.  Frisella’s ribs definitely suit the Californian palette that tends to be more in tune with propane grills.  The cole slaw and beans were bland, and the BBQ sauce was boring and a tad on the sweet side.  We also ordered the pulled pork sandwich that came with a side of their homemade (and very enjoyable) potato chips.  The pulled pork was nice and moist, but also lacked smoke flavor.

Though tasty, I would not return for their barbequed meats.  They certainly beat out Chili’s or Tony Roma’s, but I’m looking for a heartier smoke.  They did have a nice selection of italian dishes and the marinara was good enough to pique my interest.

Frisella's Roastery on Urbanspoon