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There is no endeavor more futile than debating barbecue. The folks at Beachwood BBQ know this as well as anyone. Recognizing how touchy the subject is, they preface their website with this prologue: “BBQ, the great divider, the true American cuisine, differing from region to region, appreciated by millions, is the gateway to endless dialogues about technique, authenticity and even meaning.”
With that out of the way, the pit masters continue by spouting their own barbecue ethos anyway, complete with a discussion on pink smoke rings and an argument against sauce. You want sauce? Use the bottles supplied tableside. Ranging from the sweet to the spicy to the mustard-and-vinegar-based, Beachwood seems to say, “We’ve taken them this far; from here on out, do what you want.”
I’m a finger-lickin’, saucy-rib kind of guy, so I slathered on a good amount from the bottle labeled sweet. But the bones, so liberally covered with spice rub they looked like the furry side of a Velcro strip, could have stood on their own. The meat wasn’t fall-off-the-bone tender—by design. Texture, Beachwood argues, counts for something, too. It has a point, and the hour-long wait times are proof it’s well-taken.
On one Saturday night, I saw people jumping for joy when their name was called. This ’cue joint—with a bar you can barely squeeze through and a dining room that isn’t much bigger—takes no reservations. About the only kind of advance planning you can make is to check out the live feed of a webcam pointed at a blackboard with an ever-revolving list of craft beers on tap. It’s called the “HopCam.”
While in wait-list purgatory, I suggest taking a stroll around the block or to the Seal Beach pier. Cherish your mobility while you have it because after your meal, you’ll barely be able to waddle. Beachwood’s food is not for the faint-hearted nor the lily-livered. It’s big, it’s bold, and it’s buttery.
A heavy cast-iron skillet of the baked macaroni lands with a thud, bubbling over with a sputtering Gruyère sauce, an excess of smoky bacon and a heap of crispy, toasty bread crumbs. You’ll have to remind yourself it’s just an appetizer.
Also contributing to your waning hunger are the tempura-light, deep-fried pickle chips; they are far too easy to gobble.
Be thankful the deviled eggs come only five to an order. If you get only one appetizer, let it be this. Think about it: When was the last time you saw deviled eggs outside a potluck?
My advice for the fried-green tomatoes? Instead of the appetizer, opt for it as a salad, with cubes of smoked mozzarella and a zippy Tabasco vinaigrette. You need the extra greenery and roughage to offset the richness to follow. Beachwood’s barbecue plates are purposely portioned to leave you pounding the table for mercy.
Dense cornbread is obligatory, but knowing the magnitude of their protein-laden meals, you’d be smart to break off the wedges in measured amounts. Oh, and plates come with your choice of two sides, all of them made with no regard to your diet.
The creamed spinach is almost white—so thick and rich, it’s spackle. The thinly sliced carrots leave a yellow puddle of butter on the plate. By comparison, the sweet-potato fries are practically a health food, each stick crunchy and greaseless. They compete against the straw-thin smoked asparagus for the attention of your greedy fingers.
On a shortlist of game meats, the wild-boar meatloaf cuts with a fork and eats like a skinless bratwurst buried under a blueberry-flecked white gravy as thick as a truck stop’s.
I had a not-quite-fatal attraction to the Brunswick stew, a shredded-meat mélange of rabbit and chicken cooked with lima beans and corn niblets. The two proteins commingle so seamlessly you can’t tell the poultry from the Thumper. Yes, it’s rustic all right. Perhaps too rustic. My bowl contained errant bits of bone fragments I had to spit out. But this dish, above all others, is the kind of meal a hunter would boil in a campfire pot and eat with drop biscuits, a type of savory scone.
If I were hungrier, I would’ve ordered the venison chili to consume side-by-side with the stew so that Bambi could be reunited with his best bud, at least in my belly.
Instead, I asked for the shrimp and grits, the bowl that finally bested me. I still have half of it in my fridge. I haven’t decided whether to give up on it after not being able to make a dent after two days. This is a dish of unreasonable quantity, rich with cheese, bacon, piquant bits of preserved lemon, reedy shards of fried leeks and shrimp folded into the grits’ starchy whiteness like skiers waiting to be rescued from an avalanche.
I think I’m going to need more beer. Hmm, let’s see what’s on the HopCam.
Beachwood BBQ, 131 1/2 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 493-4500; www.beachwoodbbq.com. Open Tues.-Sun., 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Appetizers, $4-$12; entrées, $8-$23. Beer and wine.
This review appeared in print as "That’s Your ’Cue: From ribs and game to grits and mac and cheese, Beachwood BBQ offers all the right stuff for stuffing yourself."