Sunday, June 5, 2011

Bonnie B's Smokin' Barbeque Heaven

Has it really been 13 months since I wrote about my maiden trip to Bonnie B's? I know time goes faster and faster as the years go by, but this is getting ridiculous. It seems like maybe it was two months ago that my mom and I had lunch here one afternoon. But it wasn't - it was May of last year.

On Saturday, Elizabeth and I both felt like barbecue. We had been feeling that way since the previous weekend, when we stood around at Zeke's for several minutes and weren't acknowledged (and we went elsewhere for lunch). We considered going down to Long Beach, but we had several errands to run in town and we wanted to stay close. That certainly narrows the options; Perdue's and Barner Burner are closed, Gus's isn't real barbecue, Zeke's apparently doesn't want our business. Robin's is pretty good most of the time but we wanted something quicker. I suggested Bonnie B's.

It was pretty busy when we walked in. Several women were waiting for to-go orders and only one table was vacant. We looked at the menu briefly then Elizabeth sat down while I placed our order at the counter.

There are three bottles of sauce on the table at Bonnie B's: mild, medium and hot. As usually happens at places like this that serve three tomato-based sauces, all three taste mostly the same. The mild is too sweet and the medium and hot taste almost identical. None of the sauces were bad, but none stood out. I much prefer a place that offers a mustard and/or vinegar sauce in addition to the ketchup-tasting sauce.

Elizabeth had the brisket sandwich with a side of potato salad. She was really enjoying it and offered me a bite. I stabbed at a piece and ate it - it was way too fatty.

"I don't think this is fatty at all," she said. So I took another piece and it was very good. So I took a third, also very good. I guess that first bite was an aberration.

I had the hot link on a bun. It was great: dense, meaty and smokey. I easily could have eaten two of these. I added some spicy sauce to my last few bites and it was an okay complement, but really the link needed nothing else.

The potato salad was awesome. It wasn't overloaded with dressing; the taste of potatoes was dominant. I sprinkled several shakes of pepper over my portion just to add some spice, and I ate every bite of mine and finished off Elizabeth's.

I wish they offered some pulled pork at Bonnie B's, as well as slaw and a different kind of barbecue sauce, but those are small complaints. Overall I like the place. They are very friendly and the 'cue is good.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tootie's Texas Barbeque

Tootie's Texas Barbeque
68703 Perez Rd
Cathedral City, CA 92234

Wow it's been a while since I've updated this blog. In the fall and winter, barbecue just doesn't come to mind very often when I'm thinking about what to eat. Every once in a while I want some, but overall I associate barbecue with the spring and summer. If I can't watch a baseball game while eating some 'cue, something is lost. I suppose that makes me a contextualist, one of those annoying people who claim you can't eat barbecue unless you're sitting in a roadside shack in the South. The same people who have always bothered me. So I'm a hypocrite. Whatever. It's a free blog.

My friend Tim was in Palm Springs for three days this week for a work event, one that involved attending banquets at night and playing golf during the day. But Tim decided he would rather explore the area's bars and restaurants during the day than play golf. This is one of many reasons why I like him. I emailed him a link to Tootie's website, explaining that I'd heard it was very good but that I'd never been. 

Thursday, Tim sent me all of the above pictures from his phone, explaining that he was about to test the place out. I was particularly hungry and he kept sending pictures. What an asshole.

Three hours later he sent a text asking if I was at home. I responded yes. "I'll be there soon with BBQ" he replied. Like I said, what a great guy.

I am not going to offer my opinion on the following items, just state what they are. How could I accurately describe food that sat in a styrofoam container for three hours before it was eaten? I will say, however, that the barbecue sauce was spicy. I love spicy, but if I ever visit the restaurant I will not be using this sauce on my food, it is distracting. 

Sausage, brisket and pork. 

The "homemade cajun hot link sausage." This was the spiciest of all things I tried. Since all of them had sauce, I imagine this is normally hotter than the other items.

Pulled pork.


Maybe some day I'll make it out to Cathedral City and do a real review of the place. I mean, I'll have to find out where Cathedral City is first (I literally have no idea without looking at a map), but maybe one day I will.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wood Ranch: The Pulled Pork Sandwich

There are very few restaurants of any kind - let alone barbecue restaurants - with which my relationship has changed more over the years. When I first started eating at the Wood Ranch in Agoura Hills, in 1999, there was perhaps no restaurant on Earth at which I would rather be. Not the Crab Cooker, not Hutch's, not the Far Western Tavern. The "America's Best BBQ Beef Sandwich" was arguably that (or at least I thought so at the time): a crusty roll stuffed with tender tri tip and drenched in sauce.

Then it changed and I changed and the love affair ended. We were both at fault. In 2000, I took the first trip of my adult life through the South and ate lots of barbecue along the way. I learned I much prefer pork to beef, and, more importantly, I prefer spicy vinegar and mustard-based sauces to the ketchup-based, sweet sauces of the Midwest and West. Wood Ranch's sauce is about as sweet as you can get.

I began to understand Charles Kuralt's advice in his magnificent memoir "Charles Kuralt's America":

“I have spent a good part of my life looking for the perfect barbecue. There is no point in looking in places like Texas, where they put some kind of ketchup on beef and call it barbecue."

For its part, Wood Ranch didn't make the effort it used to, either. I lived near the Grove for a while and visited the Wood Ranch there a few times. The portions were not close to the size of what I received out in Agoura Hills. After a couple visits to the Wood Ranch in Arcadia I decided I was probably done with the place. The portions were still small, and the tri tip sandwich was more often than not full of fat. This always perplexed me; tri tip is one of the leanest cuts. Did they actually add fat to the sandwich so they could use less meat?

Prices kept going up, quantity and quality kept going down, my barbecue tastes had changed. It was time to move on. Don't think twice, it's all right.

Then my friend Phil repeated a rumor he had heard somewhere that Wood Ranch was going to be coming out with a pulled pork sandwich. That grabbed my attention. For as good as the tri tip used to be at Wood Ranch, they didn't offer much else in terms of actual barbecue, other than ribs that tasted suspicously oven-baked. There was no pork, no brisket, no pulled chicken or hot links. The idea that they would start pulling pork was intriguing.

Once every few weeks I would go on to their website and check out the various locations' menus. There was never any mention of pulled pork. Finally I started seeing mentions of it showing up on Yelp, eventually enough that I figured the pulled pork was available.

Yesterday my brother and I decided to go out to lunch together. I came up with some suggestions, like Zelo ("I don't want pizza"), Din Tai Fung ("Last time I went there it was terrible") and Wood Ranch. Barbecue sounded good to him so we headed down to the Arcadia mall.

It was 11:28 when we walked in. The sign says they open at 11:30. Several people were sitting on the bench waiting. "It will be another five minutes." the hostess said. So apparently they don't open until 11:33. This would not be a big deal to me if it wasn't for the fact that several servers were standing around the bar joking with each other, and two others were play-boxing in another part of the restaurant. Apparently that's what they do until three minutes after their posted opening time. Of course, having been to this location about a dozen times, I was not surprised.

My brother and I did one lap around the food court and returned to the restaurant. We were shown to a booth. The table was covered with debris - several pieces of dirt, bread crumbs, and even a dead bug. You can re-read the previous paragraph and insert your own joke. I took the napkin on the table - rolled up around the silverware - and swept the debris off the table. The napkin was covered with crud.

"This napkin is filthy," I said to the server.

"Sorry," she said sweetly, "that's embarrassing."

She seemed like a very nice girl and was genuinely embarrassed, so I did not tell her why the napkin was filthy. She asked if I wanted a Coors Light, which surprised me. I do not know if I have ever been to a sit-down restaurant where the server flat-out asked me "Would you like a Coors Light?" Maybe I just look like a Coors Light kind of guy.

It was 11:35 in the morning, though, and it was already over 100 degrees out, so alcohol was the last thing on my mind. Okay, that's not true, it was probably the fourth thing on my mind, as usual. But all I wanted was water - I didn't even want the iced tea that I usually drink with barbecue - so I ordered one and turned my attention to the menu.

Not only is it pulled pork, but it is prepared Carolina-style, my absolute favorite style of barbecue. The menu promised the pork is smoked over hickory and apple wood (the latter is my favorite wood for smoking pork) and served with slaw and a vinegar sauce. I was equal parts very excited and apprehensive. That's the ideal description of how I want barbecue cooked and served, and yet, there was a nagging feeling that they wouldn't do it right.

We snacked on some of their garlic rolls while waiting for the food. My sandwich arrived and I studied it for a couple minutes. It certainly looked great. I decided to try a couple bites first without adding any sauce.

Wow. It was outstanding. I mean, this could have been a Big Mista sandwich. The pork was devoid of any fat and was slightly juicy with a touch of smoke taste. The slaw was very good. The sauce was okay. It was certainly better than the cloying house barbecue sauce, but there were some strange flavors in it, including a fair amount of, I believe, cinnamon. I would have preferred that vinegar be the main flavor of the sauce instead of the spices, but that is a very minor complaint, especially when the sandwich was this good.

The pulled pork sandwich is cheaper than the tri tip sandwich and more filling. I can't say that I now am once again in love with Wood Ranch, since this was my first time trying the pulled pork, but I certainly can say that I loved this particular sandwich, and I would gladly return to try another one.

My brother had the tri tip plate for lunch. He wanted to take pictures of it.

"Aw, man, these are going to be the best pictures that have ever appeared on your blog." My brother is nothing if not modest.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Robin's: The Bodacious "Que" Stacker

Once more I am back at Robin's, a combination of circumstances both bad (a blown tire on my car that ruined my plans for the day) and good (my mom offering to take me to lunch) and a desire to eat some barbecue. It's been a while since I've been to Robin's; I don't think I've eaten there in almost a year. I have no good reason why. In my most recent post on the place, in August of last year, I wrote that their consistency has improved dramatically in the last few years. I just haven't been in a while.

There is a new (to me) sandwich on the menu: the "Bodacious 'Que' Stacker" - tri tip, pulled pork, a hot link, pepperjack cheese and "hell-fire" pickle chips, all doused with Robin's Mad Dog barbecue sauce.

I immediately sensed several things that could go wrong with this sandwich. Robin's tri tip has always been my least favorite of their meats. I am always suspicious of barbecue sandwiches served with cheese. The Mad Dog sauce is my least favorite of the four sauces that Robin's offers. And, as is always the danger in a sandwich with multiple meats, if one of them isn't good it can ruin the whole thing.

But then I figured: Why not?

It was well after the lunch rush and there were only a couple other tables occupied in the joint, so our food came out remarkably fast. It might have been less than five minutes. My sandwich certainly looked and smelled good when it arrived, a dense tower of barbecue and cheese. I took a bite.

It was really, really good. The tri tip was unquestionably the best I have ever had from Robin's. It was thin and juicy and lined with smoke ring. The pork was very good, as it has been on every occasion in the last couple years. The hot link was dense, smoky and flavorful. These resemble the hot links that the Robin's BBQ stand sells at the South Pasadena farmers market in the same way that this year's Angels team resembles last year's. Not much.

There was no need for cheese on the sandwich; it added nothing and I took some of it off, but it wasn't bad. I had assumed the hell-fire pickles would be spicy but they were not, not even the slightest bit. I was thankful that the sauce had been used sparingly, and I requested a side of their Carolina mustard sauce to eat on some of the more porcine bites of the sandwich.

I ate the whole thing and, although I was full, I would be lying if I said I didn't wish there were a couple more bites.

I will try not to let another year go by before I return to Robin's.

If anyone wants to see something a little healthier, my mom got a tri tip salad with the dressing on the side. She said it was her favorite thing she has ever had from Robin's.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dodgers vs. Yankees: Elizabeth's First Dodgers Game

Despite the way I feel about the Dodgers these days - basically nothing - there is nothing better than a summer game in Dodger Stadium. And 5PM is the perfect start time. Elizabeth has lived here for more than two years and, although we have been to several Angels and Quakes games, we have never been to Dodger Stadium together.

She loves the Yankees. Yes, this is perhaps her biggest flaw, but I can't say I blame her. (I mean, I love the Lakers; I can understand people calling that my biggest flaw.) She grew up in New York, going to Yankees games with her dad. She was born during a Yankees game and it took a while to find her dad because he was off watching the Yankees. She went to school in New York City (Fordham University - just like Vin Scully) and the Yankees won the World Series 3 of the 4 years she was in college. She can't help it.

So, with the Yankees coming to Dodger Stadium for the first time in years, I knew we had to go. In a typical Dodgers move, they did not sell tickets to this series unless you bought a season ticket plan of some kind, so tickets weren't the easiest to get. But my friend Tim came through and was able to get us two tickets on the field level.

I have a Dodgers hat and I like to wear it when I really want to cheer for the Dodgers - basically, when they play the Giants, Red Sox or Yankees. But I wasn't sure where the hat was. I looked for it for quite a while, then decided maybe it was at my parents' house, so we went over there. Sure enough, it was there - buried in a duffel bag back on a shelf in a closet. I put it on.

"I thought you didn't like the Dodgers," my mom commented.

This is a common misconception amongst my friends. It's not that I don't like them - although I did hate them when I was a kid - it's just that I used to have a lot of fun going to Dodgers games when I was a teenager, and I actually did like them. But too much has changed with the team in the last decade and I hardly ever go to games anymore. I liked cheering for Piazza and Karros and Chan Ho and Nomo. There hasn't been anybody on the Dodgers whom I have wanted to cheer for in the last few years.

My dad told us that he had stopped by Philippe's to get sandwiches on Friday night and the place was packed with people going to the game. One guy was trying to sell an extra ticket that he didn't need.

"He was only asking face value for a ticket in the Loge level," my dad exclaimed. "And it was fifty dollars! I had no idea you had to pay that much for a ticket these days."

Instead of dealing with the parking, we took the Gold Line down to Union Station and the free (as long as you have a ticket) shuttle bus to Dodger Stadium. This was spectacular; I don't know why anyone would do it differently. Ten minutes after boarding the bus at Union Station we were dropped off in center field about 300 feet from our gate.

We sat in our seats for a few minutes and I ate some garlic fries. They were full of garlic but not very warm. This could have been a great stadium food, but it was not. We had 45 minutes until the game started, so we walked around a bit.

I wish I could have seen Koufax pitch: 4 no-hitters and 3 Cy Young Awards, when he won the pitching triple crown each year.

At least we knew where we weren't going to eat...

Andy Pettitte: Elizabeth's favorite Yankee of the last 15 years. She was lucky enough to see him pitch and, since it was at the Dodgers, see him bat. He actually put down a pretty good bunt.

Elizabeth wearing the shirt of her favorite Yankee of all time: Don Mattingly. More than any other team I can think of, when you see Yankees fans they are often wearing jerseys and shirts of their former players. (Well, almost every girl between the ages of 12 and 35 is wearing a Jeter jersey, but the others often have older players.)

"It's funny," Elizabeth said, "how many people are wearing jerseys of past Yankee greats."

"Yeah," I said, "and Don Mattingly."

This is somewhat unfair, although I often like to make fun of her love for Donnie Baseball. He was a great player, but one fact remains: the Yankees played in the World Series in 1981. Mattingly came up with the Yankees in 1982. They did not play in the World Series for his entire 14 year career. They did not even make the playoffs for 13 years. Then he retired after the 1995 season. The next year, 1996, the Yankees won the World Series, the first of four championships in 5 years.

My Dodger Dog: mustard, relish, onions.

Elizabeth's first Dodger Dog: only a little mustard. Simplicity.

Elizabeth's $10 Budweiser. At Yankee Stadium I once paid $11 for a Miller Light, so I guess this was a "deal."

The reason I think 5PM is the perfect start time in the summer: it's an afternoon game, then everything in Chavez Ravine turns golden and it's an evening game, and then it becomes a night game. Well, it would have been for us, except....

We left after the 8th inning with the Dodgers up 6-2. Elizabeth was sick of the way the Yankees were playing. "They can't come back," she said. I was just plain sick - I had a headache from the out-of-control fans of both teams screaming insults back and forth at one another in our section. A girl a couple rows back was actually going hoarse from screaming "Yankees suck!" I guess that's fun for a lot of people. I hate to be the grumpy old man, but I would rather relax and watch a ballgame, cheering when my team does something good and reserving boos for only the most deserving of instances. Like whenever ARod bats.

So we took the Dodger Express bus back to Union Station and the Gold Line home, and got back just in time to see the last out of the 9th inning - it was now a tie game. The Yankees scored twice more in the 10th and won the game. Oh well. For the most part it was a great time at the ballpark, and Elizabeth loved her first trip to Dodger Stadium.