Mr Cecil's has taken a lot of flack in the past for one reason or another, so Tom and I thought we'd check it out for ourselves. It can't be THAT bad, surely!
read on, MacDuff...
From a distance, Mr Cecils certainly looks the part, like a ramshackle que hut thats been hauled up to West L.A. out of a cartoon version of the Deep South. Apparently, its a converted Chilli Bowl restaurant, and now it's all curved walls and red and white paint, topped off with a hokey smokestack.
Inside theres both booth and table seating. Pig-themed frippery abounds, from Porky Pig-like statuettes to framed cartoons all over the wall. Rickety screen doors, no aircon, jury-rigged lighting, fake exposed brick. So far so good.
Up close, however, something doesnt smell quite right, not least the fact that there IS no smell. The first eyebrow-raiser was a flyer on every table touting fine wines. My other eyebrow went at the sight of the right-hand column of the menu. But, ever wise, ever reasonable, my companion Tom pointed out that despite the nudie bookstore next door, we were in West L.A.
Beef ribs, St Louis-style pork ribs, baby-back ribs, hot links, beans and fries. Everything came in its own little red dish with a greaseproof paper lining. All the ribs came dry, with mild, medium and hot sauce on the side.
We lined em up between us, then mentally totted up the bill. It was just as Id feared. With just four pork ribs per portion (and just two beef ribs), and the bill already coasting around the forty-buck mark it was painfully clear that we were about to be fleeced.
But, as Tom pointed out, yet again, we were in West L.A., and we hadnt even tasted the food yet. These could be the best ribs in the county, dammit, and we were complaining without having even tasted them.
Start with the fries. Double-fried, I thought at the time, only to find out later that theyre fried in lard, which is most un-West L.A. Very crispy, very greasy, but very tasty too. The beans were adjudged very sweet by Tom, who didnt finish them up, a rare occurrence indeed.
Then the links. Big beefy links, which tasted as though they came from a very reputable source, if the owner didnt make them himself (I couldnt ask, because he wasnt there). Spicy, not too fatty, yet pleasantly moist and with just enough resistance to make them a thoroughly satisfying starter.
The beef ribs looked very dodgy from the outset, long, blackened and glistening, and apparently devoid of any meat. They were suspiciously hot to the touch, as if theyd just been plucked from the depths of an oven, and they were every bit as greasy as they appeared to be. After wed waved them around in the air for a while to cool them off, we gnawed away them for a few minutes like a pair of dogs, each with a greasy bone. When we dropped them back on their plate, they didnt look much different to the way theyd looked before we started, frankly. I actually swore to Tom at the time that Id never eat a beef rib again after that. He looked pretty skeptical. Hes a smart guy.
Ive never had St Louis style pork ribs. These looked as though theyre prepared with a mild dry rub, and while theyre not very big (in fact theyre very small, and did I say you only get four per portion?) they are jolly tasty. We found them very tender and easy to eat, and the rub added a pleasant zing to the taste. They were so good, in fact, that we ordered two more portions, as it was very clear that what we had on the table wasnt going to do the trick.
The baby-backs were meaty, but the portion, once again, was very small. They were also very fatty, however, so we didnt feel much like a second order there. The meat was surprisingly bland, despite its succulence, and it took a liberal dousing of the hot sauce to bring it up to scratch.
I had braced myself for the bill from the get-go, but I was still stunned when it arrived, steaming in at well over $60 for the two of us, after the tip. Id like to say that we wobbled out to the carpark, but I have to tell you that I was neither full nor particularly satisfied. Perhaps I should have plumped for another side, but the idea of accompanying barbecue with vegetable kebabs didnt appeal much. As for dessert a distressingly short menu featuring brownies and lemon bars, which, frankly, I can make myself.
Looking back, I think that Mr Cecils suffers from an identity crisis. It calls itself a Rib place, but it offers a discordant variety of stuff, including catfish, buffalo wings and a burger that, according to an L.A. Times review, comes on an English muffin (blimey guvnor, what next? Scotch eggs? Bratwurst?) Its a shame because the building looks like a fun place to go, and its close to where I live. Just as well the freeway is, too.
Mr Cecils California Ribs
12244 West Pico Blvd
310 442 1550