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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Barbecue Tour! Beachwood BBQ and Johnny is BACK!

A good friend of ours is getting paid to do a barbecue tour of Kansas City and I am jealous. Truthfully he is has been travelling to Kansas City for work and since he happens to be staying overnight has been able to venture through the epicurean world of smoke and pork--but he is getting paid and he is touring the KC smoke spots so I stand by my opening line.
Locally Leslie and I did a mini-tour of local barbecue joints this past Friday and Saturday evenings and since there were some similarities (small, family owned) our weekend excursions provided a perfect opportunity to compare our Friday dining at Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach and Johnny Reb's in Long Beach.

Disclosure: I have been a big fan of Johnny Reb's since working across the street in the mid-to lat 1980's. Sealing my personal affinity was game 7 of the National League Championship Series. Our tickets for the series put us in seats directly in back of several guys who worked at JRebs, after the Dodgers lost game six to force game seven they said, "Don't y'all worry bout dogs tomorrow, we're bringin' the pork." And bring it they did. Big pans of pulled pork, sausage, corn bread, biscuits. What a way to watch a game! When the Dodgers opened it up in the 2nd we're holding dripping biscuits filled with pork in one hand a beer in the other and spilling both all over each other--and loved it!

Further disclosure: Cheryl Carter, owner and founder of Johnny Reb's, is a friend of our family and has been our girls Sunday school teacher with her daughters for the past year.
Friday at Beachwood was a night out with two couples who we know from the PTA and whose kids go to school with ours. The had told us of Beachwood and Tom's eyes rolled back in his head a bit when he told me about their beer selection. Being a lover of both barbecue and beer Leslie and I were excited to try the place out. Beachwood has a great location, it has about a storefront and a half it looks like, with one side being a bar and the other the tables and sit down restaurant. The place was crowded, but not obnoxiously so, and the single bartender (who someone told me was one of the owners) was doing a great job of ensuring the bar was tended well, taking care of those seated watching the Lakers and those of us standing and conversating.

The bar at Beachwood, or rather the offerings at the bar at Beachwood, is what differentiates this place. There were sixteen, seventeen possibly eighteen different beers being offered. The offerings were not the standard American bar beers (Bud, Coors Light, Amstel Light...) but were small distinct brews ranging from ales to lagers to stouts to Belgian Trappists. It was fun to have a couple of beers before dinner and sip and taste the choices others made and compare.

For dinner Leslie and I both chose a two combo plate with sides so we could share and compare. I chose babybacks and brisket with cole slaw and baked beans; Leslie got the sausage and pulled pork with asparagus and baked beans; cornbread was served with both. The portions were generous and the price was very good (about $15-16 for the combo). The food arrived dry as there was sauce on the table, spicy and mild. In a taste test we could not differentiate between the two sauces. I make my own sauce and am able to adapt for several variations of heat and flavor, so I know this can be done--for some reason it was not at our table. The sauce is very good, and it needs to be as some of the meat products were over cooked a bit and needed the sauce to moisten it up.

The flavor on the ribs was good, but a bit tough and as I said dry. I like moist meaty ribs and these were tight; flavorful but not the texture I like. The brisket was excellent. Three or four slices that were moist and full of flavor. Leslie's pulled pork was dry I thought, the flavor was okay but not something I would go back for at this point. Her sausage links were fantastic and mental note for self, next visit concentrate on sausage and beer. On the sides we were both very disappointed in the beans, a bit crunchy/hard, little flavor--Leslie makes great beans so we always compare those and she wins this round. Her grilled asparagus was terrific and a good addition to the menu. The cole slaw was very good and I will re-order that probably every trip. Leslie tasted Ann's sweet potato fries and said they were very good and she would order next time. We were both very disappointed in the cornbread, very small portion, dry and not a whole lot of flavor.

Overall I would say definitely visit Beachwood BBQ for the beer, taste the various offerings and have fun with it; eat the barbecue because you need to eat when you drink! The beers and barbecue are a great combination and with some good base flavors I think over time the pit master will hit his or her stride and deliver better meat in the future. We will definitely be back. A great place to spend an evening with friends, some great beer and good food--but not great food.

Last August Leslie and I were in Tulsa with Dad and sister Sharon visiting family and friends and attending the PGA Championship being played at Southern Hills. While there I was checking in on emails and whatnot and one evening clicked on the Press-Telegram site to see what was happening back in Long Beach. I was stunned to see that Johnny Reb's had a big fire and was severely burned. We were both sad for Cheryl Carter and the workers, and selfishly sad that we would not be able to enjoy JReb's cooking for some time. Over the several months we kept inquiring of Cheryl how the rebuilding was going and anxiously awaited the re-opening. On more than one Saturday afternoon we thought, "we could get some smoked chicken salads for us and some ribs/chicken for the kids....oh shoot they are still closed."
Last week Cheryl contacted us and invited us to a pre-re-opening party they were throwing at Johnny Reb's to get their legs back and the rhythm between the cooks, servers, etc. and would we like to come? Uh, gee let me think about that and get back to....YES! What time??
The restored Johnny Reb's is just that, restored. The place looks like it did in 1984 when it opened. Same decor, same layout, same ambiance, just fresher and newer. We were pleased to see that the servers were back as were the busboys and girls. It showed the loyalty and dedication of management and the employees to each other that during the closing shifts were taken at other Johnny Reb's locations and everyone worked together to ensure when re-opened the staff would stay together. It is that kind of place.
We started off with the appetizer platter: smoked sausage, hot links, hushpuppies, onion rings and big cup of sauce for dipping. The sausage is so good. This is usually a better way to start with a bigger group than just the four of us, but we missed it!
After that the girls tucked into beef ribs (Blaire--she looked like Fred Flinstone chewing on his brontosaurus rib it was so big) and chicken strips (Jenna--these are tasty as they use the same batter as the fried chicken I believe). Leslie and I went our separate ways. Leslie had been missing the grilled chicken salad, which is loaded with fresh tomatoes, bacon, cheese, chicken-lots of chicken, and other stuff. I went for the combo of St. Louis style ribs and chicken. And they were cooked to perfection, as I expected. The meats at Johnny Reb's are always moist, full of flavor and solid portions. My biggest complaint is that they tend to smother their thick sauce on their meats; I don't ask for it on the side because I like the sauce and it works for me to just scrape it off--I get the right amount on my food and the taste comes through without overpowering the main event. Finally, either biscuits or cornbread--tough choice but you cannot make a wrong one as both are excellent.
My sides were the cole slaw and dirty rice, and both were very tasty; I really like their rice and slaw and they really compliment their meats. Blaire ordered the beans and the contrast in flavor and texture to those we had tasted the night before was very apparent. After almost 25 years Johnny Reb's has maintained great quality. Every item on their menu is full of flavor and served the way I personally like (with the exception of too much sauce for my taste), the menu is broad and never disappoints--at least the Long Beach location. I will say that in the past at work we had ordered large lunches from the Orange location and the quality and flavor has been significantly lower than the Long Beach location. I do not know if this is the store and personnel preparing the food, or if it is because it is large lunch order that requires shorter cooking time and therefore we get food a little before it is finished. But the Long Beach location has never disappointed us.
Welcome back Johnny! We missed you, as did your legions of fans in the area.
Scorecard for the weekend barbecue-off gets titled to our local favorite, Johnny Reb's. The quality, flavor and texture of our meats was better and the sides. Beachwood gets the tilt on the beer, outstanding and worth the trip. As well Beachwood gets the nod for the separate bar and restaurant to allow for comfortable enjoyment of a beer, or two, while waiting for a table to open up.
I rank Beachwood BBQ above Naple's Rib Joint (our last experience there was very disappointing with dried meat, lack of flavor, poor quality--just not that good) but below Johnny Reb's from a food perspective; but I give the newcomer big pluses for the location, the beer and the atmosphere.
Visit both and tell me what you think!

1 comment:

Pandora said...

Keep up the good work.