Some of you may have seen a prior post where I said I was going to try to each lunch everywhere possible in Downtown LA. (the quest was actually picked up in LA Observed yesterday), and blog about it. I won't inundate you, but I did have a memorable trip yesterday. http://theamateurenthusiast.blogspot.com
We downtowners remember with fondness the Barbecue King on the corner of Cesar Chavez and Figueroa. Big open lot, random tables only partially shaded, and a huge barbecue cooker/smoker that started caressing the meat at dawn. Truth be told, it was one of those places that you always wanted to be better than it actually was, but still ... it was an institution of sorts.
Well, when Geoff Palmer wanted to build yet another suburban, fortress, faux-Italian, no-ground-floor-retail apartment building in Downtown (who rents these things? Answer: corporate execs and USC trust funders), the Barbecue King was no more.
But, like a phoenix, it has risen again on the corner of 7th & Grand, across from Bottega Louie. Admittedly, the Barbecue King is known more for delivery/take out - they don't really expect you to eat there. But hey, there were tables (2) and chairs (4), so I went for it. The big smoker has moved to their new flagship location at 53rd and Vermont, and apparently the meat is transported Downtown. Red flag number one.
Now, again, I have to paint you this picture. 7th & Grand is squarely in the middle of "workday Downtown." You're across the street from Bottega Louie, for chrissakes, and just next door to the almost-swanky Seven. You walk in. First, you realize that you can't spread your arms all the way out without hitting both walls. Second, you look ahead of you and realize that you see a cash register, with a few serving tins of barbecue sauce behind it, and that's about it. I know the meat is brought in; I have no idea where the sides come from. Third, you look around and notice that the "decor" is Raiders, Dodgers, Cowboys, and Lakers paraphernalia, with a picture of Heather Locklear thrown in for good measure. And to your left is the aforementioned 2 tables, which you almost tripped over when you walked in because you took one step that direction. Red flags galore.
Then, there's a guy there waiting to take your order. He looks kinda sketchy (though turns out to be pretty friendly). And, yes, he's reading a book called ... wait for it ... Serial Killers and Mass Murderers. Just there, open on the counter. You turn around, making sure the door is still open and that you haven't stumbled into Saw 6.
Relatively reassured that the meat you're ordering is of the animal variety, you order the tri tip lunch. $9.50. Your friend orders the tri tip lunch combo. $9, including soda. You order a Diet Coke. Total bill: $31.39. Huh? But they apologize and fix it. No harm done.
You sit at one of the tables. They bring you the food. It's only 4 steps away from the cash register, but you're still a little surprised. The meat is overcooked, natch. It is slathered in barbecue sauce that is way too sweet. The cole slaw tastes store bought. The BBQ beans taste ... store bought. They're out of cornbread, so you get a hunk of french bread.
Basically, I'm afraid that Barbecue King has always tasted like this. It just SEEMED better when you were sitting in a parking lot, under a makeshift covering, with a guy in a tall white chef's toque and a long stick poking the meat in a giant smoker 10 feet away from you. Now, the taste more obviously matches the surroundings. But my friend and I agreed that it actually tastes better once it has been delivered than it does when you order it in the "restaurant" - maybe they deliver directly from the Vermont location. Who knows. But at least we made it out relatively unscathed.
This whole lunch adventure is going to be interesting.
But still: keep your enthusiasm up and happy travels.