Road Foodie

Some people drive simply to arrive.

Wrong Burger in Paradise

Posted By on February 7, 2009

Roadfoodie and the road-dude at Baby Blues

Roadfoodie and the road-dude at Baby Blues

2.3.09 Venice Beach, CA
I always order the wrong thing. This has been a vexing constant of my traveling and eating life for decades. Often, I vow to stop doing it, but that sort of resolve carries mind-boggling potential for inverse logic. Venturing down this road, I might end up second-guessing myself to the point where I would never order at all, and that would be a pity.
(When I spent six months in Hong Kong as part of an academic program out of Lewis & Clark College—yes, Monica Lewinski’s alma mater—one of my fellow students, John Prendergrass (sp?), always ordered the right thing. During that six months, I had only to emulate John’s choices. Then came graduation, and an unavoidable need to take responsibility for my own choices. Which have not always proved to be spot-on.)
Perched unassumingly, on a corner of Lincoln near Fart and Sminal.

Perched unassumingly, on a corner of Lincoln near Fart and Sminal.


Cut to Venice Beach, circa last week. Both road-dude James Harper and chef Jill had recommended Baby Blues Bar-B-Q. So I carved out an hour between my annual physical in Santa Monica and the drive out to far Calabasas to spend a few days with my oldest friend Ronda (oops, so sorry, longest friend), and arranged to meet the road-dude at Baby Blues. This place has quite a following, and had we not been so early (right at opening time, 11:30am), two places at the counter could certainly not have been secured. Always on the lookout for a literate, preferably tongue-in-cheek title for my blog posts, I had resolved to have a cheeseburger. Then, I reasoned, I could title this post “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” Idiot Idiot Idiot. Sometimes, one must ignore one’s art.
(You see, when C is not with me, I listen to Jimmy Buffet; I’d recently been bombing down the 405 to one of his best songs, eponymously named for my putative blog post.)
Grill-master Eddie Jimenez offered a shrimp-rib sampler to us misguided types.

Grill-master Eddie Jimenez offered a shrimp-rib sampler to us misguided types.


It had seemed so right. But, not. For one thing, Baby Blues is a kinda North Carolina BBQ joint, and what you order in such a place is emphatically NOT a burger. Besides, they didn’t even offer a cheeseburger, just a (big, meaty) plain ‘ol burger, which right there should have alerted me to a conceptual break-down. But, no, caught in some sort of artistic imperative, I ordered it. Luckily, Eddie the smiling grill master took pity on my stupidity and offered up a complimentary sampler plate: two tiger shrimp with a haunting, remoulade-ish, mayonnais-y sauce, and two Memphis ribs. This, of course, is what to order at Baby Blues, and the menu item that combines them is helpfully titled “The Deuce.” The tiger shrimp have been violently seared to brown-crisp succulence. And the ribs? Please. That I will drive hundreds of miles out of my way so I can hit Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous in Memphis, and snarfle down a rack of their ribs should be a clue to how I feel about Memphis-style ribs. These two puppies were a
Eddie's on the right. Kinda short for a grill master....

Eddie's on the right. Kinda short for a grill master....

paragon of their phylum. They are cooked so long and so slow that all the fat become toothsomely gelatinous, but it’s still very much there, with all the smoky-spicy-dusky flavor that fat and judicious seasoning, augmented by a long swim in a smoky pit, can provide at the very best of times. I dream of my one rib as I write. A scant few days later, road-dude returned with his partner, Marilyn, to correct the mistake he himself had made at our lunch (by ordering the pulled pork sandwich—very tasty in itself but as nothing when held up against the example of the ribs.) Baby Blues offers a trio of sauces, which always goes over well with me, and all of them are in the vinegary vein of North Carolina BBQ, ie easy on the tomato (my favorite kind). There’s a mild one, a hot one, and a gingery kinda fruity thing, that wasn’t entirely my cup of tea. But my erstwhile burger came with a very nice raspberry mustard, an respectable pickle, and a rustically messy—and thus certainly homemade—slaw.
Tasty enough, but the wrong thing, writ large

Tasty enough, but the wrong thing, writ large

Hmmmm. Other sides, you ask? In North Carolina and Tennessee too, it’s common to order “meat and three,” and those three sides better live up to the meat or there’s no going back, ’cause competition is fierce. Collard greens were perfumed with pot-likker, and warmly unfashionable in their haphazard hacked-upness. The cornbread, though not a natural fave of mine, was pronounced excellent by road-dude. And then there is Blues on the Cob, a grilled ear of corn with crumbled blue cheese all over it. The concept makes sense in a way that makes me slap myself upside the head for not having thought of it before.
But there’s more than just food here. There’s an open and unpretentious camaraderie among diners and dishers-out unlike anything I’ve come across in the sprawling LA basin, especially in an establishment where people are not engaged in serious or talented-amateur drinking. On the initial journey of their discovery, road-dude and Marilyn had befriended a waitress named Kasey. Our waitress, Amanda, it turns out, is Kasey’s roommate and they are both in a band called “Miss Willie Brown” (misswilliebrown.com). Their CD is “Blackouts & Polaroids.” Drop in to the website and take a listen—I spent two minutes there and immediately ordered it. Although I’ll be off like the wind in just a few short days, road-dude and Marilyn will be dropping by an upcoming gig. (A menu item called “Get Down Miss Brown” was clearly influenced by these two boozy, ballsy, bluesy babes.)
Amanda: Pretty girl with a voice even bigger than her smile.

Amanda: Pretty girl with a voice even bigger than her smile.

It’s that kind of place.

I hear that Baby Blues will be opening in Hollywood, and in SFO’s Mission District, too, so this brand of grease and gladness must be striking a happy chord with a lot of folks. Check out www.babybluesvenice.com. Infectious grubby music on this site, too, and under “Galleries” you can look at “Grub Pix,” if you want to torture yourself like I just did. If you can get there from where you sit right now, just do it. Me, I’ll have to save up my tender, smoky fat-lust for Texas, and, in March, the pork tour from Marfa to New York. Better start my research now so I don’t miss one little morsel.

Some photographs courtesy of James Harper.

Next post (maybe, um, Wednesday): Malibu Brigie’s Excellent L’Aventure

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