Meat the vittles. Photo by Tenaya Hills
Meat the vittles. Photo by Tenaya Hills

This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

I've lived by a set of rules where barbecue joints are concerned. Eschew those that sell "official" T-shirts and mount fake guns, animal heads and vintage photos on the wall. Beware of those that don't offer sweet potato fries, or whose mascots are animals in chef's hats.

BAD TO THE BONE BBQ in San Juan Capistrano violates all these rules; it also posts a sign near the entrance that tells diners to "Leave Your Guns at the Door."

"Lame," I told my lunch buddy during a recent visit to Bad to the Bone.

There were no tables available.

"Busy restaurant—good sign," Lunch Buddy offered.

"Not really," I snapped back, cringing at the sound of nonstop blues.

We ordered and shared a table with a lady who told her husband she liked this place because it always tuned in to the FOX News Channel.

The food came swiftly—a house sausage sandwich for me, chicken and pork tips for Lunch Buddy; we shared an impressive bowl of chili fries, topped with green onions.

And thus I discovered that my rules were mere prejudice; what followed is sometimes called a paradigm shift.

Barbecue sandwiches are usually messy affairs, but Bad to the Bone's house sausage sandwich is as austere as it is sumptuous. A lean, sweet pork sausage speckled with pepper bits and accompanied by sautéed onions and bell peppers, it strikes several notes, the wonderfully bitter distinct from the sweet and salty. The crunchy French roll lends a taste of honey.

Lunch Buddy, meanwhile, gnawed on his chicken and pork too fast and had to leave the meal halfway through to gather himself outside. I stole a drumstick and rib while he regrouped; both were moist, rubbed with pepper and dabbed with one of the great 'cue sauces in this county: a thick, murky liquid that starts with a meaty sweetness and quickly introduces vinegary, spicy touches. The chicken had no fat; the ribs did, which accounts for their sweetness. I didn't touch the sides of ranch beans and coleslaw, only because whatever part of my mouth was not stuffed with meat had chili cheese fries in it.

Lunch Buddy returned. We took swigs of Capistrano Brewing Company honey pale ale and sat, stuffed. "Told you it was great," he beamed. I said nothing, busy as I was eating crow.



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