This site blasted off with a quick intro to Bludso’s BBQ and often, the soul food in LA is just far more interesting than Asian food. Aside: can we ponder, for a second, the effects of dry rubbing ribs with modified five spice, then marinading in virgins (fish sauce), finished by long smoking with apple & oak mix? I mean, am I onto a new restaurant concept here? Mr. Chait, can I get a quarter mil interest-free loan?

Stephen I-am-ex-military-do-not-fux-with-my-kitchen-door Randolph opened his rib shack on March 10, 2011. This not-so-black-person celebrated the first anniversary of Randolph’s Smoke House by ordering a whole slab of ribs (well over 3 lbs), sauce on the sauce, on March 11, 2012. Conclusion? We were all robbed the last 12 months, duped by the LA foodierati that presume to know shit, when in reality they (and “we”) really are not pounding the S. Central pavements hard enough. You know who would’ve found Mr. Stephen earlier? Erik “Six Months, Already?” M, bless his-out-of-town heart. All you hipstahs who cruised Lockhart for a side of BBQ to go with that #SXSW? Should’ve looked a bit closer for the bullet proof turnstyle.

I have to admit I only bookmarked Randolph’s end of last year. I sat on that shit cuz I was afraid. It was bookmarked at the same time as Smoke Star BBQ (K-town, promised smoke, turned out to be a total farce, a trickster), Nitty Gritty (Closed January 2012 for lack of public health permit), Dr Q (laters, don’t know what happened to you). Garrett Snyder, currently scribbing for the JBF-nominated Los Angeles Magazine food section, randomly hit me up last month and was like: dude, watchu know about South Central. And I was like: uhmm… I really loved “RIZE”?

And so on a random weekday lunch, I, with the whitest lad in town, descended upon Randolph’s for some smokey noshing. Let’s just say Mr. Snyder sniffed out the smoke through some CAT5 and found LA’s new BBQ jackpot. Mr. Randolph does not suffer the fool, and he does not suffer shit bbq (“3 Bears, Rib Nest, Mom’s”). Through the brotherly connections (Mr. R’s local lodge for the successful homies), Stephen Randolph found himself “staging” with The Neelys a couple of years ago. Before you go: The Neely’s are some faux cooking celebs from DEEETROIT, what the hell do they know about BBQ? Well, the Neely’s have an uncle, by the name of Jim Neely. He owns Interstate BBQ. OHAIMEMPHIS BBQ. The LA and to Memphis BBQ express just got a bit more interesting. So interesting I had to touch base with Chicago’s Professor Q, Gary Wiviott, to discuss the finer nuances of BBQ lore. Turns out, Mr. Jim Neely was “perhaps” Jay Bee’s first pitmaster. Yes, Jay Bee’s BBQ in Gardena, CA. The very same one ruined by Guy Fieri. Jay Bee’s owner, Beverly, is Jim Neely’s sister; Beverly’s family belongs to the same lodge as Mr. Randolph; Randolph’s Smoke House is LA’s rendition of Interstate BBQ. Per Wiviott, the world may never know whether Jay Bee is still using the Neely method, as BBQ circuit is full of chest thumping and fluff, even more so when competitive families are involved. What is obvious is Randolph’s distinct Memphis inspired dry rub. You should sit up now as this gets even more peculiar.

Nate’s Home BBQ shuttered last year after being a smokey beacon in Compton for decades. No one shed a tear cept one lonely Chowhounder. I covered Home BBQ in January 2009; it (I) got no love. This was before Smoke City, before BigMistas. Mr. Randolph, being the brotherly entrepreneur that he is, needed a pitmaster since he operates several enterprises. Mr. Doonie (“like Doonie And Burk”), previously of Home BBQ, now suddenly without a job, was brought onboard to hold down the Ole Hickory at Randolph’s. Feel free to google map your way to Randolph’s Smoke House right about now.

Despite the vastness of Southland and the continued demand for comfort food, LA has had a tough BBQ timeline in the last decade. Woody’s, per Steven Randolph, has steadily walked a less tasty path due to the death of the founder. Dr. Q’s didn’t survive year 3 despite Lynwood Swag’s ostentatious (and rather errant) Youtube upload. Home BBQ, as previously mentioned, is gone. Smokey’s, in Long Beach, disappeared after relocating up Long Beach Blvd & the lauded Tasty Q shuttered sometime in 2010.

How does all this BBQ gossip translate onto the plate? Well, you best aim straight for the ribs. The rib tips are a bit too generous, too meaty. They lack the crisped, chewy, burnt bark of Bludso’s. For most, this version, on Central Ave., will probably be a crowd pleaser. It’s cheaper than the ribs, it carries full blown smokiness, and it contains more fat than the ribs. The tips, as in ribs, need no sauce. They proudly stand on their own little cartilages.

Mr. Randolph doesn’t settle for less than the best, so he doesn’t “mess around” with brisket. That is a damned shame. The tri-tips are fine, but lacked the unctuous texture of fatty brisket. The deli thin sliced tri-trip work well as a sauced sandwich, but would probably be unconvincing on its own. On the other hand, this could very well be a fine tri-trip; such is the dangers of an under appreciated barbeque house in desperate need of higher volume.

And now, the pièce de résistance at Randolph’s: full slab of baby back spare ribs ($18). Before we discuss the gloriousness of these pork chest bones, let’s do a little comparison shopping. Smoke Star full slab: $21. Bludso’s full slab, $20.50. Charging more than $21 for a slab of ribs must in turn yield better ribs than Bludso’s. This is a hard thing to do. Is Randolph’s 86% as good as Bludso’s? Hell to the yes. Love thy rub, rub a dub dub. Also, note the painted slogan: “where the fire never touch the meat”. As Dr Wiviott says in his book: Low & Slow. When Mr. Randolph probed Doonie on the temp of the commercial gas smoke, the pit master replied: 220. 220 degrees is the low & slow holy grail. Backyard BBQ junkies constantly chase that magical number, sometimes going to the digital extremes. It’s apparently the BBQ equivalent to sous vide. After four to four and a half hours, the dry rub on the ribs are nearly blackened. With constant monitoring and moister spray down (a known “cheat” to increase meaty pleasure), the bark is gentle. To be truthful, the flesh is a bit tender. It’s definitely not “fall of the bone” per the parboiled hotmess often found at Baby Blues, but it leans towards the more pliable side. Softer too, is the smoke. It’s not the oversmoked champ ala Philips, but it’s absolutely evocative of BBQ as described by Jim Neely. Which is to say, it’s a “beautiful woman”, one who is beautiful in the way Lou Amdur would appreciate. The “eye shadow” for this BBQ Rosario Dawson is a blackened, smokey, paprika’d puree, thickened with sugar, carrying a very upfront heat that bludgeons nothing. Randolph says they make nearly 30 gallons of this every day. Save them a bit of cost, and, again, ask for sauce on the sauce.

This post is already well over 1000 words, but the sides warrant a few hundred more. Cook Doonie used to also man the stoves at Prayer Assembly Church of Christ. With its inconsistencies, PACC’s Q wasn’t universally loved. However, the sides, especially the salty, vinegary, collards (Mr. Randolph: “That’s straight from a can, we make ours from scratch.”), were decently tasty. Here at Randolph’s, the collards take on similar characters, but avoids the canned mushiness. The baked beans, done by Mrs. Randolph (the mother, not the wife), swing the opposite of the mustards. They were so improbably sugary and carried just a dollop of spices. It’s best just to take 2 bites, for they will obliterate any remaining subtlety of the gently spoke ribs. However, a grown man, not a diabetic child, has been known to plow through a large order of the baked beans before even starting on the second rib. The corn bread? Moist, corny, a bit sweet, pairs well with the BBQ sauce. Despite the successful sides, Mr. Randolph does not plan on expanding the pastry/dessert menu. At his ripeful age, and as a ex-military leader, he knows his boundaries. As a contributing member of his community, he wants to give folks opportunities. There will be 7-Up cake, there will be cobblers, but both will be sourced from expert local bakers who are able to meet his stringent business standards. To start, he’s already sponsoring Blue Belle Ice Cream, which is unrelated to Blue Bell Ice Cream, the Texas commercial ice cream producer. This ice cream, per Mr. Randolph (who used to be a Thrifty fan), changed his opinion on ice cream forever. He’s so willing to bank on this “artisanal”? ice cream’s commercial success he convinced even visiting preachers (“in them fancy crododile shoes? I KNOW they have $8″) to dish out the cash.

Will people lash out and mock the current state of Interstate’s BBQ goodness? Perhaps. Should LA still get out and vote with its wallet? What’s the alternative? Driving out to BFE for some neanderthal beef ribs?

Randolph’s Smoke House – Where The Fire Never Touch [sic] the Meat
8472 S. Central Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90001
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Randolph's Smoke House on Urbanspoon

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  • Raphael Sasayama

    *drool*

    i know where i’m going this week.

  • http://twitter.com/Chownoir Chow Noir

    I hit this place last summer and wasn’t impressed. Maybe I caught them on a bad day. But the pork was dry, the ribs not tender. I was crusing south la exploring and their sign caught my eye. Popped in and had high hopes. Hopefully my experience was an aberration. 

  • Anonymous

    Chow Noir, today marks my third visit in as many weeks, and I can absolutely appreciate your experience. They’re still only smoking perhaps twice during the week days, nearly daily starting Friday. This is after a whole year of operations. You went in when they were only a few months young. The ribs were probably sitting in the fridge, or waiting in the meat holder for god-knows-how-long. 

    I’m not making excuses for them, but I think this has long been a catch 22.Brother’s BBQ ribs were barely edible when I went in early on a Saturday during an “away” day (their smoking trailer was at a festival in Long Beach). But I’d go back. I think they’re doing good things.

  • http://twitter.com/SearchandDevour Garrett Snyder

    It’s a tough situation for a small BBQ joint to be in. Good BBQ waits for no man, and its mainly established places like Phillip’s, Bludso’s, Jaybee’s, etc. that have the ability to smoke daily and ensure they sell all their product. Your best bet is to go on weekends, or even order well ahead of time.

    I’m hoping that increased notoriety will mean they can smoke multiple times a day and sell out…

  • http://twitter.com/Chownoir Chow Noir

    Which is a completely valid point. That’s why I tempered my response. Asides from the fact I’m not a big fan of knee jerk, this place sucks responses, I do try to take into consideration that I could have caught a place on a bad day. But then it does need to be mentioned when effusive praise is being lavished. It warns people that there could be inconsistency challenges.

    As I recall, I hit them on an early Sunday afternoon. So I’d hope they still had a decent amount of product and fresh. I understand it’s a challenge for a new business but they maybe shouldn’t be selling me product as tired as I received, just say they were out of it. I would have gladly come back and try another time.

    And if I had a better experience, I would have posted about it and maybe they would have gotten noticed sooner. Not that I have any kind of influence, but just another voice speaking up. Then maybe you and other influential voices might have noticed my post and gone over there sooner to try. Instead of them waiting a whole year before being noticed by you and the Weekly.

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  • fIGURIN iT oUT

    I went to Smoke Star BBQ last week, and I have no idea why you’re hating on the place.  My ribs had a nice smoke ring and the meat fell off the bone.  I thought that it was good stuff.  I don’t know what you mean by “farce, a total trickster”…  If they smoke the meats (which you can tell that they do just by tasting it and seeing the smoke ring) and they make the sides, that’s seems to be real bbq to me.  How can you claim to know anything when you’re comparing prices for baby back ribs to spare ribs?  Not the same thing bro.

  • sinosoul

    Thanks for commenting fIGURING iT oUT.

    Why the dislike? First, the smoke ring is rather pathetic. Take SSB’s  down south and compare side by side to Randolph’s & Bludso’s. I hit 3 BBQ places that weekend. Smoke Star wasn’t as bad as Rudy’s, but it was the no Randolph’s. Second, the rub doesn’t penetrate the bark. There’s no flavor in the meat, whether it’s pulled pork, or ribs, etc. You have to use sauce. What little flavor it had was evocative of kalbi marinade. Third, the sauce is hermaphroditic (again, like kalbi marinade). It doesn’t belong to any genre, and it’s poorly executed. In fact, let’s justs call it bland. Fourth, and this is about the spare ribs vs. babyback issue – Chili’s and Lucille’s uses babyback. No self-respecting pit paster would smoke babyback. It doesn’t hold up in low and slow heat, and has less fat. It cooks faster, which is why Smoke Star’s Q is nowhere as smokey. It’s why everyone orders the spare ribs at Philips, it’s why all the competition BBQers use spare ribs. Fifth, the sides are laughable compared to the beans at Randolph’s and collards at Bludso’s.

    Hopefully that’s enough reasons. It’s not all bad though, The Park’s Best pork ribs and tips are equally as flavorless. While The Park’s sauce is vastly superior, the ribs are even less smokey than the Smoke Star. 

    Basically, in LA, until Bludso/Tar Pit opens, there’s no edible Q north of the 10. South of 134.


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