Photo by Jeanne RiceChris & Pitts—rib purveyor to the working class—has meant so much to so many for so long. The several locations are settings of profound cultural significance in the lives of thousands of kids who have grown up after World War II in southeast Los Angeles and northeast Orange County—Southern California's Blue-Collar Belt, to the extent that your collars can have belts. It was the first restaurant I went to without my parents (not counting fast food). It's where I went on my first date (a move I do not recommend). And upon eating the house barbecue sauce, it's where I learned the painful implications of flouting the First Law of Culinary Physics ("A little of something is always better than a lot of it").
The Chris & Pitts concept is simple: serve big, labor-union-sized portions of pretty good food at fair prices. As ideas go, it's compelling (ranking up there with the invisible hand of the marketplace and the concept of forgiveness), and it influenced one of the hottest restaurant chains to pop out of the Southland: the Claim Jumper. Like me, Mr. Jumper was a working-class lad who grew up digging into Chris & Pitts' meaty ribs.
Whenever I think of ribs, I can fairly taste the sweet-and-sour flavor of Chris & Pitts' industrial-strength 'cue sauce.
My hometown Chris & Pitts is in Downey, but the Anaheim outpost is legendary in an OC-punk-scene kind of way. On Euclid just off the 5 freeway, it's still illuminated by a cool, Vegas-y sign flashing out front. As far as anyone knows, the restaurant has been there for 45 years.
Little has changed. Chris & Pitts offers the same collection of ribs, chicken and beef, all bearing that potent barbecue sauce. The prices will still make your eyes pop: a spareribs dinner with salad; baked potato; garlic toast; and four fat, meaty ribs goes for $7.95. Most of the steak dinners live in the $10 range. Even the baby-back rib dinner goes for only $10.95.
In the old days, I always ate the barbecued-pork sandwich. (There are a number of barbecued sandwiches to choose from, all priced at $5.25.) It's a relatively godlike hunk o' grub. But I'm a big kid now, so I ask the waitress for a combo dinner of two beef ribs and two pork spareribs.
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On the plate, the ribs look like small cudgels covered with sauce. Having the two types of ribs together recalled the Fifth Law of Culinary Physics: a pork rib will kick a beef rib's ass every time. Until I got stupid and began pouring on supplemental barbecue sauce and my mouth freaked out (see First Law again), I noted how very meaty and good these ribs were. Not the best, but damn good for 8 bucks.
My wife got the $6.95 pork-chop dinner. The plate came with four chops, each thinner than a miser's wallet. But they weren't leathery, as thin chops can get.
Around the time we got our $18 bill (we also got two Buds—no glasses; are you kidding?), the dinner crowd started rolling in—not a stockbroker or surfwear designer among them. This place gets packed at night, and since Chris & Pitts doesn't take reservations, the wait can stretch to an hour. But somehow, that, too, seems very democratic.
Chris & Pitts, located at 601 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, is open Sun. & Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-midnight. (714) 635-2601. Lunch or dinner for two, $15, food only. Full bar. MC and Visa accepted. Also at 15975 Harbor Blvd., Fountain Valley, (714) 775-7311.