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A Welcome Addition to Manhattan Beach: Mr. Cecil's California Ribs

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Who is Selig? The young European immigrant was called Seelegs (Sea Legs?), Felix, Skeezix, and Cecil by fellow studio employees who had difficulty pronouncing or remembering Selig Burrows’ name. Later showing respect for his increasing age and position he became ‘Mr. Cecil’.

That name graces his producer/director son’s Rib joints. The third and latest is a very welcome addition to Manhattan Beach, especially the night scene. Open until 2am Thurs-Sat, Cecil’s gives the bar a crowd another choice besides the Kettle.

Owner Jonathan Burrows was a theatre producer and director in New York. As his production of movies increased, it made sense for him to make California his permanent home. Like many in Southern California, he found the weather to his liking and perfect for Barbecuing. And in turn, many found his Barbecue to their liking.

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In the 90’s (after probably making enough off Fletch to do what ever he felt like) he was ready for a change of pace from the frantic movie biz. He took time off to devote to his increasing love of cooking at Chez Lui, pet-naming his kitchen for a hilarious 1800’s operetta of that name.

By 2000, Jonathan was ready to open a restaurant, and his wife Annie suggested his Dad’s pet name as a great name for their Southern style rib joint on Pico. Its success and critical acclaim prompted him to open a second on Ventura in Sherman Oaks. This month he opened his third on Highland Ave. They all look like a movie set, with ersatz brick and ‘Early Farm’ decor. Note the trouble light chandeliers.

He considers his food different from most barbeque and prefers to call Mr. Cecil’s a Rib Place. But Bon Appétit included him in their list of ‘Who’s Who in American Barbeque’. Others call Mr. Cecil’s the ‘quintessential California-style barbeque’. It really is a Cal/Pacific rim melting pot of technique and flavor The meat is marinated for a long time (Chinese style) in a secret blend that surely includes soy sauce and Asian spices, then dry smoked and grilled to a rich smoky flavor. Like Northern Chinese and Memphis dry rub, they are served without sauce, which JB says is unneeded. Spicy Cajun or sweet mesquite BBQ sauce is rustically served on the side in syrup pourers for those who insist.

For starters Mr Cecil’s has scrumptious hush puppies. Balls of cornmeal with herbs and Jalapeno bits are fried crisp and golden brown. Mouthwatering with a little butter and the honey bear squirt bottle next to the syrup cruets. Did we mention California style? The home made corn chips and salsa are ‘Bet-ya- can’t-eat just one’ bodacious. You’d think the salsa is made to order, but it’s made 3 times a day. None of that wateriness and oxidized tomato sharpness that comes when you store fresh salsa too long in the walk- in.

With the Hush puppies goes deep fried catfish nuggets. Also crispy golden brown outside, the inside tender melts in your mouth (well not really, ice cream melts) catfish.

We mentioned Beach--they also have a ‘not dried out but not sushi al dente’ shrimp special. Sweet slightly spicy Asian influenced marinade made these perfectly grilled shrimps hard to put down.

But one must ease into the meat. That was accomplished with Annie’s Southwestern Salad. Grilled chicken, fresh California salsa, corn, on a bed of lettuce with bbq ranch dressing. The chix is organic and low fat, which may make it seem dry to those who are used to the Colonel.

The Cajun Hot links with spicy Dijon are spicy enough to please but not so hot you grab for the creamy cole slaw. Also fresh and thankfully not overflowing with Mayo.

Buffalo wings at the other locations were always served according to Jonathon’s no sauce philosophy. At the Beach, democracy has prevailed. The wings are still crispy and don’t soak your fingers in a Louisiana hot sauce/butter mix, but they come with Bleu cheese AND ranch.

Now the main events. Even though baby back ribs seem to be in fashion (is it the Chili’s a- capella cooks?), they are often, well, ‘baby’. Like the meat has been trimmed and the fat cooked out till they resemble ‘Survivor’ jerky. Not these ‘babies’. The marinade and cooking technique assures they are moist and flavorful.

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The St. Louis style ribs are also pork, cut from the spare rib. They are meatier than baby backs, with the brisket bones and the rib tips cut off. Marinated and cooked in sweet sauce, they are fall off the bone tender and flavorful.

The beef ribs are Mr. Cecil’s specialty and most people’s favorite. Yabba dabba doo! Flintstone size slabs are tender, juicy and a little smoky. And healthy too- they’re using natural beef!

So far the late nights are a success. 40 minute waits are typical on Friday nights until about midnight. The late night special menu keeps the bar crowd coming til 2:30.

Anyway, that’s the time to dine casualyl with a burger you can pick up and maybe carry around if you’re eating outside. There seems to be a South Bay rule, especially in eateries with bars (or bars with eateries) that all burgers be a Full half pound. Mr Cecil’s delivers. Smooth in texture, sweet and juicy, served on a large English muffin with red onions, tomato and lettuce. Still no sauce, ketchup, or mayo. Nothing to hide the pure taste of the meat. There’s ketchup on the table for the fries, but try the burger without it first, like everything else in Mr. Cecil’s

Oh, the Fries. Deliciously crisp because they’re still fried the way a barbeque place should fry them. In lard, not soybean oil. You won’t need to but you can soak them in ketchup, and even sneak a little ketchup on the second quarter pound of your South Bay half pounder.

For desserts they have some cakes like a flourless Chocolate Mousse cake, Southern Pecan pie, and a California lemon bar. Big enough for 2, it’s the way to go. Delicious flaky crust covered in powdered sugar and a tangy lemon topping.

There’s a small but well thought out beer and wine selection. The brews range from Chimay, Stella and Red Hook IPA to Long Board, Widmer and St Louis style Bud Or you can cool the spicy taste with vino. There’s a crisp fruity Smoking Loon Pinot Grigio, and a Frontier California red by Fess Parker full of cherry and berry flavors. A smattering of French offerings includes a 1986 Laffite Rothschild for a mere $1,175 (Vintage subject to change)

The Laffite was redolent of violets and ….. Yeah, Right!!!

By Greg Thompson, Special to LAist

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