Texas style Barbecue in West Los Angeles.
The place was a madhouse at 6:30pm on a Friday, and I don’t expect most places to be madhouses that early…even on a Friday, but this place has a buzz going about it.
This is what you can expect for the next couple of weeks/months with Bludso’s Bar-&-Que, supposedly the best Texas Barbecue in Compton now moved into the Tar Pit’s old space. Fortunately, I was traveling solo, so I was able to pounce on a chair at the bar and get me my food.
Looking around, I could see the bits and pieces of the old Tar Pit. I mean, the bar was were it was before, as was the kitchen. I knew were the bathrooms where.
But the vibe is different. When it’s less crowded, I’m sure I’ll be able to describe it as easygoing and comfortable. There are long woodblock tables, and TVs showing the latest game. This place can be fun if I ever manage to get a table, and–
–wait a minute. Something’s wrong here.
Yeah. After looking around these last couple of minutes, I am near 100% certain I am the only black person in this–
–no, wait. Take it back. There’s somebody. I see ‘em now. Whew.
I think I count a total of five African-American faces in Bludso’s, including my own. The crowd seems to be mostly (white) West Los Angeles Hipsters eager to try the new thing.
Me? I’m different, this food is my birthright. Not only am I African-American (I think I may have mentioned that before), but my Parents are both Texans. Every bite of Barbecue I had until maybe my late teens was Texas Barbecue. So how Texas is the place?
They have the stations of the Texas BBQ Cross on the menu, that’s all that matters: Brisket, Ribs and Sausage. If you didn’t have those for sale, you might as well close down tomorrow. They also have Collard Greens and Mac and Cheese, so not only am I getting Texas cooking, I’m getting black Texas cooking…
…in…West Los Angeles.
Don’t care. Don’t matter. It all comes down to the sauce now.
I order, and when my plates arrive, they are adorned with the red and white checkerboard pattern of a picnic table cloth. Cute touch. It all looks and smells right. It does leave me wondering if all these rubes know what they’re getting or missing.
Only one way to find out.
WHAT SHOULD I GET?: Every region of the country has their own Barbecue style. Every style corresponds to things like meat selection and preparation, but more to the point it corresponds to how the sauce tastes.
North Carolina Sauce tradition is sweeter. South Carolina is mustardy. There’s a region that leans more on Vinegar.
Texas is all about the Pepper, Black Pepper. That’s the first thing that’s going to hit your tongue when you bite into some Texas Barbecue: a peppery tang with a kick of pepper, and maybe some more spices. Sugar…eh, not so much.
The problem (in life as it turns out) North Carolina style is what most people are familiar with, and except when they get Barbecue . People pour their sauce on, expecting sweet.
So it was a little disappointing that the Bludso’s Bar-&-Que, the Texas-style Barbecue place, had a sauce that was, a little too sweet for me. (Again, this here’s my birthright).
Honestly, it was like they took a bottle of North Carolina Sauce, and the real, real good Stuff at Goode BBQ Company, and threw it together. The Texas twang is there, but it’s pushed to the back behind a burst of sugar.
And this is not to say it sucks, and that you shouldn’t go. No. It’s good, and you should go (when the initial hoopla dies down) but if you’re going in expecting to get the Texas style taste, uhhh…this ain’t a 100% it. It’s about 50-60% it.
Your meal will come with mild and spicy versions of the House Sauce, on the side. The sin of “non-Texan-ness” is committed more by the mild sauce than by the spicy. (The spicy gets about 75% of the way there). You stick with the spicy sauce, you still get a little sweet, but nowhere near the degree as the mild.
The meal itself ranged from okay to spectacular. The stations of the Texas Barbecue cross were well represented: Brisket (quoting Bourdain’s joke that only Jews and Texans know Brisket), Ribs and Sausage Links.
Of course, I went with Brisket, Sausage Links…and Pulled Pork.
Look, it was really crowded, and I didn’t want to make a total wreck of myself eating ribs at the bar, lest I get jostled at the wrong moment.
The Brisket was nice and tender. It didn’t help that most of it was a big hunk of fat (a mistake Goode’s never makes), but I was okay with it because at least that was a slice where all the flavor was (Fat is flavor, after all). The Pulled Pork was a little dry, but still good.
The Sausage…oh man, that Sausage was worth betraying everything you love and hold dear to get at. It was tender and delicate to the point of making me wonder if Bludso’s cases it themselves. It’s that good. And it was a proper amount of heat, again always a good thing. You spend your meal dipping Spicy Sausage into the spicy House Sauce, you’ll get yourself a good sweat.
I also had Collard Greens and Cornbread. Both of which, met the basic standards of anyone who’s had both all their lives. The interesting thing was the Cornbread had a cake-like consistency to it (which is usually a bad sign) but it was the right level of sweet to it. Very good. Vegetarians though should be warned. The Greens come with more than a bit of Ham in them, which is how they’re supposed to be prepared. Still, it’s not Veggie-friendly. I would have liked to see them spicier, but I used the House Sauce to adjust that toot-sweet.
Drinks wise, I had me the Sweet Tea, which may have been the worst thing on the menu. Maybe it can be called “Mildly sweetened Tea”, but it was not Sweet Tea. I also had the House Cocktail, the Jackpot, which is bonded bourdon, Ginger syrup, lemon (with a slice of lemon peel), and soda. It’s a great tasting Cocktail. Still, with all that Ginger in it, maybe it’s not the thing to get if you’re going to be chomping down a lot of spicy barbecue sauce.
I will say the staff at the Bar work really, really hard at what they do, and put a lot of care into what they serve. Tip them well.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: First off, for the next Calendar year, until March of 2014, Bludso’s is subject to the Opening Day Jitters rule. So try to forgive them their trespasses, they’re working out the kinks. At the same time, as of this writing, the place is very, very hot, and EVERYONE wants in.
Second, this new location is based in West Los Angeles/West Hollywood (I’ve heard both described). Be prepared to pay West L.A. Prices.
Third, the racial composition of the restaurant (for what is ostensibly old-school Southern cooking) was a bit jarring to your humble African-American reporter. I did not ask for Hot Sauce when I was eating, because I was relying on the Spicy house sauce to serve that function. I sincerely hope there will be no funny looks if I go back and ask for the stuff. There are traditions that must be maintained.
Fourth, eat the Cornbread last. I mean, dead last. This is not a light meal you’re having, and bread (corn or otherwise) tends to expand in the stomach, so…do yourself a favor, make it dessert.
And then of course, there’s the matter of the…
PARKING: Yeah, like all La Brea places, like the Eatz or the former Tar Pit, things boil down to two choices. You can park on the street and get yourself a meter (depending on the hours), or you can use the House Valet service. If you go early enough in the evening, you’ll be fine as far as meters go. If you’re willing to walk a block or two, you can park for cheap. The further you get away from Melrose (the more populated part of the intersection), the more likely you’ll be to find spaces. But that changes as the evening wears on. I’d suggest that as of 9pm, if you’re still down for Barbecue, rely on the Valet. It may just be easier.
I will say that the block just south of Bludso’s is not particularly well lit. It’s not a particularly dangerous neighborhood either, but you should keep your head on a swivel just in case.
609 N. La Brea
Los Angeles, CA
Tuesday-Sunday 5pm-10pm (Closed Monday)
They don’t take reservations.
Yeah, that’s a black place all right.