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What's Cookin' Behind the Curtain - BBQ in the 'Burbs

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Every Friday, LAist is taking you on a trip down to Orange County to uncover the unique dining experiences that await adventurous eaters willing to explore beyond the county line.

With the holiday weekend and the news that The Pig was closing down, I was in the mood for some barbecue. I wanted that heavy feeling in your stomach that you get when you’ve ingested a whole cow and/or pig, when your fingernails reek of barbecue sauce, and your body yearns for something, anything green.

Of course, finding true Southern-style barbecue is difficult out here. While there certainly is good-tasting barbecue locally, it’s more difficult to reproduce the overall smokehouse environment with sawdust floors, wooden benches, and big-ass cuts of meat served on wax paper with white bread. So I decided to go the opposite direction and cased out The Beach Pit BBQ (and no, it’s not the Peach Pit like BH90210 – that was my first reaction as well) in Costa Mesa. Angel fans will also recognize Beach Pit as the new barbecue concession in right field at the Big A which opened this season. In fact, the restaurant is owned by Tim DeCinces, son of longtime Angel third baseman Doug DeCinces. He’s managed to create a restaurant which I consider California-style barbecue.

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What exactly is California-style barbecue? The best way for me to explain it is to describe Beach Pit. On the surface, it certainly qualifies as a BBQ joint, with wood-smoked pulled pork, beef brisket, smoked sausage, and ribs among the available cuts of meat, its own special barbecue sauces, and usual sides like baked beans, slaw, and cornbread on the menu. And unlike most of the rib-centric BBQ restaurants in SoCal, it’s counter service. But then there’s this weird section on the menu for salads and pizzas. Huh, what’s that? And they serve wine?!? Which should be mentioned, is offered at a 25% discount on Thursday nights (as well as a no corkage fee if you BYOB).

The ambience is also an infusion of traditional barbecue and California sensibility. The restaurant itself is a converted house set off from the street, so it is barely noticeable when driving by. It’s got a white picket fence which gates the front yard, with a little playground for kids to run around in. The inside of Beach Pit does have wood floors, but only a few tables – the majority of the seating is actually located outside on the front porch in the form of faux benches, along with a little fire pit that customers can cozy up to in lounge chairs while sipping on their merlot.

Of course, barbecue enthusiasts shouldn’t be scared off; the food is still solid, though not necessarily traditionally prepared. I got myself the “Alabama Slamma”, a three-meat combo plate (my selections: pulled pork, beef brisket, and pork spare ribs) with twelve total ounces of meat, which came with two side dishes (I opted for baked beans and sweet potato fries – more on that later), plus I added on a piece of blueberry cornbread. Now, Beach Pit is not a rib joint, as evidenced by the fact that they have no beef ribs on the menu and only spare ribs and baby back ribs to choose from. Supposedly, it is most well-known for the pulled pork. I was pleasantly surprised at all three of the cuts of meat as far as their tenderness and moistness was concerned. The spare ribs in particular were of the fork and knife variety, practically falling off the bone, which is sacrilege to some, but fine by me. I was hoping for a bit more smoky flavor to the meat, since Beach Pit prides itself on its “blend of wood and spices”; I actually found the pork to be on the bland side when eaten without the sauce. On the other hand, I thought the beef brisket was more zesty; it was my favorite out of the three types of meat.

Good barbecue is as dependent on the quality of sauce as it is the cuts of the meat and the preparation methodology. Beach Pit serves two different sauces, a mild and a spicy. I strongly preferred the mild sauce, which is of medium thickness, slightly sweet – perhaps closest to St. Louis-style (although my BBQ sauce knowledge is admittedly a bit lacking). The spicy sauce was not all that spicy (one of the staffers referred to it as “Newport Beach” spicy), but it was considerably thinner and much heavier on the vinegar, and far less sweet (perhaps Carolina-style). I thought the mild sauce went best with the pork, while the spicy sauce most complemented the beef.

Then there’s the sides. All I need to say is sweet potato fries. Good lord, they were phe-NOM-enal. By far the best thing I tasted all night. The sweet potatoes were julienned, and lightly fried so they retained their natural flavor rather than the oil. They were light and crisp, seasoned with chili powder, and served with (drumroll, please) a side of ranch dressing. The fries on their own are among the best sweet potato fries I’ve ever eaten. But when you throw in the ranch to accompany it, I mean, seriously, what doesn’t go well with ranch? I’m fully convinced that bacon and ranch could quite possibly solve all the world’s problems.

As far as the other sides were concerned, the baked beans were quite good, using a mixture of kidney beans, pinto beans, and navy beans, in a sweeter sauce than either of the barbecue sauces served with the meat. The blueberry cornbread was light and a bit crumbly, but the sweetness of the blueberries was very subtle and a nice palate cleanser from the spicy sauce.

The food is priced a bit on the high side, with lunch plates starting at $9 and dinner plates at $13 for one type of meat and two sides, up to $18 for the Alabama Slamma. The portions of meat are fair, though far smaller than what you’d get at a Texas BBQ, while the sides are served in small cups that could almost be considered garnish. But considering how health-conscious many of us attempt to be in LA, perhaps they’re doing us a favor by not letting us overeat.

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If you’re a traditionalist, you may be disappointed that you won't leave feeling that rib-sticking goodness. But as far as I’m concerned, The Beach Pit BBQ provides a nice change-of-pace barbecue experience while still letting me get my meat on.

The Beach Pit BBQ
1676 Tustin Ave.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

All photos by Ryan Young for LAist

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