Archive for June, 2009

Tattoos, Toddlers and Tract Housing

June 17, 2009

Thirteen years ago the roots of the food marathon were laid forth. Conceived in the San Fernando Valley, a trip spawned from the minds of two adventurers. One pilot and one navigator took to twenty two hundred miles of California highway like truckers on meth. We barreled through Rancho Cucamonga, Visalia, Lake Elsinore and Lancaster, each a shining California version of Podunk.

suburbia

These any-towns have many things in common; their populations hovering around 100,000 ethnically diverse people, their forty five minute traffic-less commute to downtown LA (double that with traffic) and their stripmall-lined landscapes. In neo-Vegas architecture they embody suburban America, offering young families safe (read: soulless), fast-food-laden environments in which to raise their kids. They have many Denny’s and  TGIFridays. They also share the reason for our journey, minor league baseball.

Why travel thousands of miles for single-A baseball? Because it’s America. It’s the red states, just outside the sprawling metropolitan LA basin. It’s a different life, a different pace than the one in which we were brought up. It’s a place where entertainment isn’t endlessly offered in the form of cinematic brilliance, culinary excellence and musical showmanship. The rehabilitory breeding ground where hopeful athletes earn their stripes is also the place where locals find a beer at the end of their work week. And so during spring of our senior year of high school, before we even knew we would need food marathons, we went on the California League Tour.

Today, there’s no doubt that the trip would be called BBQ and Baseball (which we’ll get back to shortly) if we were to do it today. Having spent eighteen years in LA, we took for granted the taco trucks, In-n-Outs and chili fries. We didn’t know that in states without car culture, driving forty minutes to the Claimjumper to wait forty minutes for a table wasn’t a common activity. We took for granted Dodger Stadium, with its picturesque views and nitrate-filled Dodger dogs. We didn’t realize that some people choose the Epicenter as their Friday night outing- laughing at canned sound effect of foul balls breaking parked cars’ windows. We didn’t realize until we got to Rancho Cucamonga.

Rancho Cucamonga

The name itself makes Rancho Cucamonga the perfect example of a minor league baseball city. It sounds like an idyllic island- a tropical respite away from the hustle of the city. In reality it’s just a small town on the side of a freeway. Missing the culture and class of their patron metropolises, these minor league baseball cities require gimmicks to draw fans to the city’s highest level of team competition (besides high school football and rodeos). The San Jose Giant’s gimmick was BBQ and Baseball. Turkey Mike’s supplies the ribs, chicken, sandwiches and sides to fans that sit at picnic tables along the baseline. It was one of the highlights of the Cal League Tour.

Turkey Mikes

A lot has changed in the last ten years. Sub-divisions stretch north and south off the freeway in Agrestic-like mazes. Gigantic city/malls provide shopping “experiences” for tract housing inhabitants. These consumption complexes mimic cities in their Victoria Gardens

layout, with parks, sidewalks, streetlamps and pedestrian malls. The only difference is that every third store is a skate shop or adventure sport store. And the pedestrians all have tattoos. The thirty-something moms, the fifty-something dads, and possibly the six year old kids all have inked legs and backs. I swear I saw a three year old with a tribal band around his two inch bi-cep.

kid tattoo

Said Rancho residents inevitably end up at Lucille’s BBQ at some time or another. The giant restaurant serves surfboard-sized plates of smoked pork ribs, beans, greens, Lucille's bbqhush puppies, cole slaw, potato salad and anything else that belongs at a southern bar-b-que. We recently tried it and cleared through baby back and pork ribs, sipping mason jars of lemonade before sickeningly spooning banana pudding into our grossly overfilled guts. Waddling towards the car we swore off food for a month.

Revisiting the Epicenter a decade later we longed for the pre-marathon days when we would arrive at a stadium in a less-then food comatose state. We noticed that most minor leaguers are considerably shorter than your average pro. Genetics plays a larger role than you might think, so load those kids up with chemicals and horomones if you want them to stand a steroid-less chance of major league success (read: home run records).

Rancho Cucamonga’s Quakes don’t have BBQ like San Jose. I guess the proximity to Lucilles renders it useless. They do have Aftershock and Tremor, team dinosaur mascots… The legions of tattoed suburbanites fill the stands, toddlers in toe. Their homes sit similarly side by side. Their bellies are full of bbq. And once in a while I join them because it’s a nice getaway, and really, I just love BBQ and baseball. The only difference is now, there’s a six-stop food marathon between here and the stadium.

Fullerton’s Food: Fail

June 16, 2009

Butterscotch shakes and Omaha steaks, that’s what the College World Series is all about. I like the College World Series because it’s team baseball and anyone can win on any given day. I also love the ‘ping’ sound that metal bats make.

2004 CWS Fullerton

Futher, I really love BBQ and Omaha is the home of steak, so what better then to combine the two.

Grand Slam Grill

Unfortunately I’ve never been to Omaha, so we headed down to Fullerton for the CWS Super Regionals two weekends ago. I mean, Fullerton should have good BBQ and baseball, right?

Wrong. We tried Big B’s, which is a mile from Cal State Fullerton’s stadium. It’s a little place that has all the signs of a good strip mall BBQ joint. Unfortunately the ribs were just ehh. They were definitely tender but had no other discernible flavor- slight char, slight tang, slight smoke… boring. The sides were average-at-best.

Big B's BBQ Big B's BBQ

Big B’s shares a wall with another let down, Brian’s. It’s a beer bar totally unlike the wonderful beer bars that we visited on the Food GPS Food Marathon. Serving Coors and Bud Light en masse to college kids, this place is a perfect compliment to Big B’s- boring.

Rigoberto's

Things took a turn for the worse when we crossed the parking lot to Rigoberto’s. This was probably my fault for not yelping properly. Housed in an old Taco Bell, Rigoberto’s serves huge burritos, tacos and tortas solely meant to soak up booze.

Rigobertos1

The tacos were inedible- over sized wet tortillas filled with nasty, dried meat, guacamole from a bag and flavorless pico de gallo.

Finally at the game, Fullerton played a scrappy game and spanked Louisville to gain entrance to Omaha.

Cal State Fullerton Baseball

Since then Fullerton got dropped in their first two games and are already out of the series.

So in summary Fullerton baseball isn’t bad, but Fullerton food, like their lawn art:

Cal State Fullerton

Fail

The Food GPS Food Marathon

June 15, 2009

Josh aka Food GPS is one of the most knowledgeable LA foodies I know. Writing about food actually is his job, as opposed to the rest of us bloggers who are relegated to working day jobs to support our food addictions.

He and I had discussed his leading the fifth blogger mashup marathon- one that originally was gonna be an SGV-based marathon. With the recent influx of new gastropubs in the south bay, and Food GPS’ penchant for writing about beer, the south bay beer and food marathon was ultimately the course we would run.

Manhattan Beach Redondon Beach Sign

I should note that the frat-house-forever, consummate-sandal-wearing, long board lifestyle in the south bay is not one that I run towards. I get that it’s laid back, but that relaxed attitude always meant mediocre food, tequila-shot-centric bars and poor service (not to mention odors of vomit mixed with sea water).

A big group was assembled (because it’s not hard to convince bloggers to drink during the day) and we met at Simmzy’s, Manhattan Beach’s newest gastropub. I should mention that I stole a lot of Captain Sean’s photos for this post. Upon arrival I immediately remembered that people who live in Manhattan Beach always drink during the day- so the bar was packed.

Simmzys Sign

The look of the place was actually a huge step up from what I expected. Then the extensive draught beer list immediately discounted my past notions of Jaegermeister youngsters, and stepped the south bay’s game up tenfold.

Simmzys Beers

I began the long day with a Saint Bernardus ABT.

Simmzys Beer

Food-wise, it was upscale bar food and after the low expectations I was pleasantly surprised. My pork panini was flavorful, chock full of onions and cheese.

Simmzys Pork

The blue cheese fries were more like mac-n-cheese with fries instead of mac.

Simmzys Fries

Overall it was nice, and a good start to a day of food and drink.

Najas Place

We followed the sound of a live band to Naja’s Place. Said band was butchering Blues Traveller covers (poor song choices and singing quality) at a volume that required shouting over. We were lucky to commandeer a quiet corner of the side bar. Now despite any complaints about the dirty crowd or dirtier bar, Naja’s beer wall was overwhelmingly brilliant. We’re talking scores of beers I’d never heard of, let alone seen on tap in LA.

Najas Beer Wall

I was directed to the Dogfish Head for it’s rarely-on-tap qualities.

Dogfish Head Beer

It was definitely a robustly flavored beer, hoppy… and you know what, I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I’m just saying what other people said. It was cold and bold and did the trick.

Quality Seafood

Maintaining the pace, we moved down the marina to Quality Seafood for live sea urchin. Plucked from the tank, displayed momentarily before being cracked and scooped, then served up for succulent devouring. At seven dollars per pound, I don’t get why it’s one of the more expensive items on a sushi menu. Either way it was as delicate, rich, decadent and still moving while we eat it.

Sea Urchin

Onward up to the pier for Churros. Hot and heavy, these sweets are some of my favorite desserts in the world. It’s hard to compete with La Casita Mexicana’s, but these pier churros were definitely better than Disneyland’s.

Churros

Last stop of the marathon was at Hudson House. Off the water, but in a large, comfortable space, we settled in to finish off the day. I’d been to Hudson House before so I knew the food would be better than Simmzy’s. The burger, lamb on sugar cane skewers, cauliflower fritters, sweet potato fries and beer battered Twinkie, proved as much.

Hudson House Twinkie

I can confidently say the south bay is growing up right before our eyes. Still a drinking town, but with about a hundred and fifty different kinds of beer between our three stops. Still a lot of shorts and sandals, but with solid bar food and beachfront locations it comes with the territory. All in all it was a very fun, well-executed marathon thanks to Josh.

Hudson House Beer

Finger Lickin’ Links

June 3, 2009

On my way to work I saw a truck parked outside of a house. The truck was a mobile BBQ grill cleaner, which I thought was called Dirty Grills. Unfortunately I can’t find a website or company by that name. ANYWAY, it’s BBQ season so clean your grills. These grilz too, if you can still afford them.

Speaking of bar-b-que, The Smokin’ Joint is taking over that prime 3rd Street location that I’ve often complained about being under utilized.

The Smokin Joint BBQ

Other BBQ related news includes hope for an upcoming College World Series food marathon in Fullerton. Chris and Pitts is on the list, per Dig Lounge’s suggestion. Also check out the BBQ and Baseball blog.

Chris and Pitts BBQ

Lastly,it’s no news that Food Trucks are taking over LA. Jump on the bandwagon at the new LA Food Truck blog.

kogi korean bbq truck


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