Photo by Chris ZieglerThe numbers never add up the way you think they will in the restaurant business. Maybe you have great food, and maybe you have good prices, but somehow you're still coming up less than zero in the customer department. And that's what's going on at the Orange Bar.B.Q. (in Orange—so it's not just a clever name). It's so empty in there they could have dirt-bike races around the steam tables. And I don't get it.
They started out strong: I went to the grand opening, and it was so packed the only seat I could find was next to one guy who kept asking where the nearest liquor store was and another who kept flipping open his cell phone every few minutes so I wouldn't try to start any conversations. Sure, there was the obligatory small talk, but it didn't go far:
"I'm from India," said the liquor-store guy. "Where are you from?"
Ouch. So much for small talk. Thank God the buffet opened and we had something to do with our mouths besides faking smiles. The butter chicken? Just like they make it on the subcontinent: slathered in sauce, blackened and firm old-school style, and spicy enough to gently sterilize your sinuses, which is just how we like it. And the naan, you ask? The naan was awesome. Awesome naan. Dishes like this, you'd think they'd be a lock. But then I went back two weeks later with some friends, and we were the only people in the entire restaurant.
What gives? Is it the slogan "No one beats our meat"? The location? Because they're kinda tucked back in the armpit of the strip mall, where you're supposed to find manicurists or fly-by-night auto-insurance companies, not Indian-Pakistani restaurants. And then they're stuck with the dorky "Orange Bar.B.Q." name, which probably means a lot of confused dudes with beer bellies and cowboy hats are getting baingan bharta when they had their palpitating hearts set on buffalo wings. They needed help, so they got us again.
"You guys are reporters, right?" asked Shaista, our sassy hostess. (And was she ever sassy: "Sometimes we tell customers we have no bathroom because it's against our religion," she said.)
"We're totally reporters!" we said, guzzling creamy mango lassi. And this is our report: seriously, people, go here. For a restaurant offering the elbow room of a blimp hangar and the tasteful frescoed ambiance of your better black-tie saag paneer—ask for it by name!—joints, they're pretty much giving the food away. They even have to throw it away sometimes because the lunch rush ends up being, like, one guy who was just trying to find a good manicurist and begrudgingly settles for a little baingan bharta—and he's probably gonna leave a crummy tip anyway. And that's just criminal.
They brought us lassi. They brought us naan and little pots of mango curry and spicy cilantro-lemon sauce. They brought us airy basmati rice. And they brought us a plate of barbecued "crazy" chargha chicken seasoned with just a dab or two of lemon, hot steam hissing off the plate. And it was all fantastic and we couldn't even finish the whole chicken because we were so full of everything else. And then they tried to give us desserts, and we said we were full, and they insisted, and we started bawling and massaging our distended bellies, and they smiled and packed up our leftovers for home, and we lived off their crazy chicken for two days, and it was even fantastic cold. And the whole time, we were the only ones there. You people are so stupid sometimes.
Orange Bar.B.Q., located at 1840 N. Tustin Ave., Ste. C, Orange, is open daily, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. (714) 974-5500. No alcohol. Dinner for two, $10-$12, food only. Discover, MC and Visa accepted.