Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Zeke's Leftovers

There was still half a pulled chicken sandwich left from the previous day's trip to Zeke's. I warmed it up in the microwave and discarded the lousy bun. I grabbed a couple slices of white bread. Yes, white bread is boring. That's why it's all you need when you have a good piece of barbecue. Fancy buns, dense buns, pretzel buns and ciabatta buns are what you use when you're trying to disguise what your 'cue tastes like.

I piled the chicken on a slice and put some Philthy Phil's barbecue sauce on it. I added a couple pickles, some slaw, and a couple drops of Tapatio. (That probably seems incongruous with my previous statement about not disguising what barbecue tastes like. I realize this. But I had already tasted the chicken by itself the day before so I wanted to jazz it up a little and see if it tasted better that way. It did not.)

Next time I go to Zeke's I may just bring some white bread with me. Their meat is always good and deserves a better platform.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Zeke's Smokehouse

As I wrote in my first post on Zeke's, I have been there at least a couple dozen times over the last few years. It's not my favorite barbecue around, but it's consistently good, service is always great, and their sides are as good as any barbecue restaurant in the area. And, on a day like yesterday, it is magnificent to eat outside.

My friend Elizabeth just returned a few days ago from a trip back to New York City for Christmas and New Year's. Obviously, it was pretty damn cold there, so yesterday, when it was over 80 degrees, she suggested we go to lunch outside somewhere. The Sunday farmers market was going on in Montrose so I suggested we head up there and either eat at Three Drunken Goats or Zeke's. I have not been to the former and have wanted to try it for months - and we stopped and looked at their menu and it looked great - but they did not have any outside seating, so we opted for Zeke's.

Both Zeke's and the farmers market were very busy (predictable for an 80 degree weekend day in January, I suppose) but we were seated immediately and given iced teas. I don't usually order specials at restaurants - it's not that I think they're inferior, it's just that I usually know what I want before I sit down to eat - but Zeke's always has interesting specials, and this time they had a "chipotle pork quesadilla" on the board. I love chipotle and I've always enjoyed Zeke's pork, so I ordered that. Elizabeth ordered a pulled chicken sandwich with sweet & sour slaw (that version of their slaw is one of my favorites around,) and we got an order of kettle chips.

My quesadilla was very good. There was not as much pork as I was expecting, but what was there was delicious, and it was mixed with the perfect amount of a chipotle sauce. The salsa on the side was very good, although I used their Carolina mustard sauce for the most part. Elizabeth's chicken sandwich was very good - the bun was better than it usually is at Zeke's, although I still don't understand why they use such dense buns - and the kettle chips were the best I have ever had there. They were much larger than usual and fresh out of the fryer. I requested a side of their spicy chili mayo, which my friends and I learned several years ago goes perfectly with anything fried at Zeke's.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Kansas City BBQ Company

Kansas City BBQ Company
10863 Magnolia Blvd
North Hollywood, CA 91601

I'm always leery of barbecue restaurants with the words "Memphis" or "Kansas City" in the name. It always seems like an overcompensation, or perhaps a distraction, as if somehow I'm going to like a lousy plate of barbecue more if they invoke the name of some famous barbecue city. (I once asked the waiter at a terrible barbecue restaurant with the word "Memphis" in the title what made it Memphis-style barbecue and he replied "I don't know. Is Memphis a place or a person?")

I had read some decent reviews about Kansas City BBQ Company, so I figured I would try it out. I much prefer Carolina-style barbecue, but Kansas City is one of my favorite cities in America and some of the restaurants are spectacular. I once had a plate of brisket and hot links at Gates BBQ that may well be the most perfectly cooked barbecue I have ever tasted.

KC BBQ Co. is in a small strip mall just east of Vineland. I walked in and there was no one there, just a couple people working. The floor was bare cement; the walls weren't much different. There was an unplugged jukebox against the wall and the tables were covered with faded, checkered tablecloths with a napkin dispenser and worn squeeze bottle of sauce on top. I loved the place. They had four beers on tap - including Alaskan Amber, one of my favorite amber beers in America - but I went with my usual iced tea.

I ordered a burnt ends sandwich with slaw. Ordering burnt ends outside of Kansas City is always a risky move. Spring Street Smokehouse - downtown on, well, Spring Street - once served me the best order I have ever had, but most places don't do a good job. This place was no different. There were two pieces of burnt end in the sandwich, but that's all. The rest of it was just shredded beef. Now, to be fair, it was very good beef. But I had expected burnt ends.

The sauce was very good, although they put too much of it on the sandwich. I prefer vinegar sauce with pork, but when it comes to beef I want something a little bit thicker. Gates' sauce is my favorite for beef (although my buddy Les keeps telling me I have to try Everett & Jones,) and this sauce is somewhat similar - neither too thick nor too thin, and full of spice but not hot.

I liked KC BBQ. It's not as good as the now-closed Swinging Door, but it's cheap and it was tasty. But it's not a place I ever seen myself going out of the way to visit again.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Canyon City Barbeque

Canyon City Barbeque
347 N San Gabriel Ave
Azusa, CA 91702

Canyon City has some of the most divergent opinions of any barbecue joint I have ever come across. The people who love it talk about it in terms that I have rarely heard about barbecue in California. The people who hate it can't understand why anyone would possibly call it good barbecue. The other day I was going to lunch with my parents, we were planning to go to Zeke's in Montrose, and I suggested trying Canyon City instead.

This was actually my third trip to Canyon City, although it's the first time I've ever eaten there. The first time I went, about a year ago, I walked inside and stood there for perhaps ten minutes without any recognition. Waitresses were passing by and looking at me and not saying anything. Not one "hi" or even "I'll be right with you." So I left.

About two months ago, on Election Day, my brother and I voted together then went out for lunch. Canyon City was closed, however. Apparently they are closed on Tuesdays. So we went to Matt Denny's instead.

This time when we walked in we were greeted immediately by not one but two women. The inside is decorated with posters from barbecue festivals around the country. I looked for Memphis in May but did not see it. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich, with slaw on it, and some sweet potato fries. My dad ordered a larger version of the pulled pork sandwich, and my mom ordered the brisket sandwich.

I cannot believe I did not make more of an effort to try this place sooner. It was the best pulled pork sandwich I have had in the San Gabriel Valley. There was visible smoke ring on the pork and no noticeable fat. The bun was the perfect accompaniment for a barbecue sandwich: soft enough not to get in the way but sturdy enough not to fall apart. I ate about a quarter of my mom's sandwich and it was fantastic, too. I'm not a huge brisket fan but I could eat this every day. My sweet potato fries were above average; not the best I've had but better than most places.

My one complaint - and it seems petty to complain but this is something that could turn this restaurant into a legend - are the sauces. There are two on the table, and, as usually happens around here, they both tasted the same. The "spicy" sauce was just a slightly spicier version of the ketchup-tasting "regular" sauce. A mustard sauce or a vinegar sauce like Beechwood BBQ would make this place indistinguishable from a Southern barbecue shack. Well, that and some sweet ice tea.