(While Marie and I take a week off from food writing, our friend Neal continues filling in with a week’s worth of reading about some of the meals that he’s enjoyed while out in southern California on business. Enjoy!)
It may seem a bit silly to travel 2500 miles to southern California and then seek out a “southern” barbecue joint when there are dozens of them back home in the real south. SoCal certainly has plenty of places to sample their local flavor, but after a disastrous lunch the day before I was in the mood for some comfort food, and I was admittedly a bit curious about what people in Orange County considered “southern” barbecue. I presented my lunch demands to my coworkers and was met with blank stares. Sadly, barbecue does not cross their minds often as a viable lunch option. It is tragic really. I had to resort to the Urban Spoon app on my Droid. When I locked in Irvine and barbecue and gave it good shake Lucille’s was the first place to come up. Only one person at the office had eaten there and she is the worst food snob I’ve ever met. She wrinkled her nose and declared that Williamson Brothers back home in Marietta was far superior, but that as far as barbecue in Irvine was concerned we weren¹t likely to find anything better. Not exactly a glowing review but I was determined.
Lucille’s is located at The District in Tustin which is one of the many open-air shopping centers here in Irvine. It backs up to the old Tustin air field where two enormous wooden zeppelin hangars still stand. They are so large I am told that small storm clouds form inside during especially humid summer days. I’d love to roam around inside one sometime.
Lucille hails from Greenville, North Carolina where she learned the secrets to good barbecue from her grandmother. The war and her husband brought her to Long Beach where she was unable to find anything close to what she was used to eating back home, so she opened a shop and began selling slow cooked, Carolina barbecue. Sixty or so years later Lucille’s has turned into a moderately successful area chain with a dozen or so locations scattered across Southern California and Arizona. It has that corporate look of trying too hard to look haphazard and shabby with random artifacts littered across the walls that have nothing to do with barbecue or food. I don’t really care for places like that as they have no character but if the food is good I can forgive bad décor and the smell of the barbecue cooking quickly distracted me.
The menu was a bit daunting. In addition to barbecue they also serve shrimp, steaks, catfish, pork chops and “Jambalaya Me-Oh-My-A” All of it sounded wonderful but I was there for barbecue, so I went with the chicken and rib tips platter. The lunch portion comes with only one side, and after seeing the choices I couldn’t pick just one. I got the BBQ beans and then added an order of the Honey Roasted Peanut Slaw. Each plate comes with biscuits and their famous apple butter which I renamed Magic Butter and proceed to smear on everything I could find to put in my mouth. This stuff was heaven in a ramekin.
Unlike the main writer on this blog, I am unable to distinguish between the various regional barbecue styles and flavors. I prefer my barbecue sauce sweet and I like lots of it. My meal was prepared with “Memphis style” sauce but they provide three additional sauces available; spicy hot, Memphis and Lucille’s Original. I figured since I planned on reviewing this place I should try her signature sauce. It turned out to be a wise choice. The Memphis sauce was okay but her original recipe is thick, sweet and smoky and everyone at the table chose it as their favorite.
The real star though was the Honey Roasted Peanut Slaw. I love good coleslaw and this was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. The cabbage was left in large pieces instead of shredded and it was coated with a rich honey glaze and mixed with peanuts. I would go so far as to say it almost reminded me of something you’d get at a Thai restaurant if it hadn’t been so sweet.
Rumor has it that Lucille makes a mean fruit cobbler but I was nowhere near able to enjoy any, much less walk after I finished my meal. Overall I think the food snob was right; better barbecue can be found back home in Atlanta, but Lucille’s certainly holds it’s own out here in the land of swimmin’ pools and movie stars.