Sunday, April 19, 2009

Spring Street Smokehouse

As I wrote last August about the Smokehouse, I have been eating here for years, through varying degrees of quality. In those early days, the place was somewhat of a mess: boxes of napkins and plastic silverware piled in the dining area, a dilapidated stand at which you ordered your food, a counter full of meat that did not look appetizing. Of course, when the food was good (which it usually was) you didn't give a damn what the place looked like. Sometimes the food was lousy, however, and you felt like you were eating in a high school cafeteria.

Over the years, though, the place has definitely been spruced up (it helped a lot when they finally got a license to sell beer.) They have servers who wait on you now (all very nice) and the walls are no longer bare, they are decorated with Dodgers signs and other various barbecue-related paraphernalia. A couple years ago my friend Tracie and I stopped in for lunch and found that they had built a very attractive bar. These days they have one of the better beer lists in town: several Belgian beers in the bottle, and even Bear Republic's Racer 5 IPA, one of the best IPAs in America. (I went to the Great American Beer Festival one year and this won the Gold Medal in the IPA category.)

A few times over the years I have eaten at the Smokehouse and picked up some of their burnt ends for my mom, who loves them. Her birthday is in a few days (I won't say which birthday, however I will say there is a song on side 2 of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band that is appropriate for the occasion.) My brother and I told her we would go out to lunch with her, but we did not say where. Saturday we drove down to Spring Street with her, my dad, and Elizabeth. She thought perhaps we were going to Philippe's; it wasn't until we'd parked and I pointed at the Smokehouse that she figured it out.

We all ordered different things. Here is the rundown:

My brother ordered a half pound of the trip tip. It was smoked perfectly and melted in your mouth. It was drowned in sauce, which, in my opinion, was not necessary, but my brother ate it all up and loved it.
My mom ordered her beloved burnt ends. These were definitely not the best ones I have tried here. (I once had an order that were the best burnt ends I have ever tasted, better than any I have even had in Kansas City.) I had three of her pieces, and two of them had a disgusting layer of fat underneath the charred crust. When I picked off the fat, the meat was delicious. But it was still an effort.
Elizabeth ordered the smoked Cajun shrimp, served over a bed of rice with some roasted vegetables (peppers, onions, and zucchini. I have always loved shrimp and I have eaten it thousands of times in my life, so I do not write these words glibly: these were in the top 5 of any shrimp I have ever eaten. The were spiced and cooked perfectly. Perfect is a word that is thrown around a lot (including by me,) but the definition is appropriate here. I cannot think of a single way these could have been improved.
Elizabeth also got a side of cole slaw. This was better than I remembered it being - easy on the dressing, with just the right amount of bite.
I had the smoked chicken sandwich. I'd never had this before, I pretty much always order the pulled pork, but I was the last of us to order and I wanted to finish off the trend of all of us ordering different dishes. I was also the only one of us to request the spicy sauce instead of the mild. The chicken was very good. The sandwich was sitting in a pool of sauce and the bread disintegrated, so I after cutting the sandwich in half and trying to eat it that way, I eventually gave up and ate the chicken by itself. My fries were fantastic. Elizabeth and my mom liked them so much that they ordered some to split. My dad had the pulled pork sandwich, with slaw on top. He liked it very much.
It had been quite a while since I had been to the Smokehouse, but I am already planning my next trip.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Robins (Yet Again)

Today my brother helped me exchange mattresses between my place and my parents' house. The advantages of having a younger brother with a truck! After we finished we were trying to decide what to do for lunch. He wanted to go by Whole Foods so he could get something quick and be on his way. (Apparently he has other things to do with his life than be my servant all day.) But our mom was at home - this is her spring break - and she really liked the idea of us getting some barbecue and bringing her something back. So we went to Robins.

I convinced my brother that we should start with an order of the tri-tip and cheddar potato skins. I have always enjoyed these in the past but today they were below average. The tri-tip wasn't bad, although they were much smaller pieces than I have had before. But there was a lot of the potato left in the skins, and it wasn't fully cooked. It destroyed the flavor of the skins. For my last couple bites I added some sour cream and some of their "spicy" barbecue sauce. (Which isn't spicy but is still tasty.)

I almost always get the "Carolina Chopped Pork Sandwich" at Robins, and it's usually quite good. But I've already posted pictures of that on the blog so I figured I would try something new. I opted for the "Smoked Ham Sandwich." I once tried a plate of ham at Robins and it was less than memorable (I'm being polite; I like Robin's so I won't go into detail about that particular meal,) so my expectations for this sandwich were low.

The sandwich was awesome. The ham had very little fat on it and was piled high on a roll, blackened around the edges with the perfect amount of saltiness. This was one of the best smoked ham sandwiches I have ever had in California. I had asked for a side of their Carolina mustard sauce, with the idea of slathering it generously on the sandwich if the meat wasn't good. I did not need to use more than a couple drops. I will definitely try this sandwich again.

My brother got something called the "Big Pig Jig" - smoked ham, chopped pork, and rib tips. It reminded me of this interaction from The Simpsons:

Homer: Are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?

Lisa: No.

Homer: Ham?

Lisa: No.

Homer: Pork chops?

Lisa: Dad! All those come from the same animal!

Homer: Hee, Hee. Yeah, right, Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.

His ham was just as good as mine, although it was covered in their original sauce, which is tasty but much too sweet for any kind of pork. His chopped pork had a nice smoke ring to it and was tasty, although the piece he shared with me had a lot of fat on it that had to be pulled away. I did not try the rib tips.

We got my mom a chopped salad with tri-tip. It looked very good, although I was preoccupied and forgot to take a picture (or, I guess, ask how she liked it.) This was definitely one of the better trips to Robins I have had. Other than the potato skins (and the meat on the skins was still good, it was just the potatoes that were poorly cooked) everything we had was good.