Breakfast tacos, schmreakfast tacos. Why isn’t anyone talking about the other side of Texas breakfast? The one that makes me long for mushy sweet potatoes and shredded brisket hash slathered in rich maroon barbecue sauce like they serve at Bigmista’s Morning Wood in Long Beach?
Because while most of us were too busy arguing over who invented the idea of putting beans and scrambled eggs into a flour tortilla (hint: Mexicans), I went on a hunt for a different kind of comforting Texas-ish breakfast. I found it — along with a baby-making soundtrack of Jagged Edge and Dru Hill — in a 15-seat barbecue brunch shop in Lakewood Village.
Morning Wood is the second outpost for pitmaster Neil Strawder and his wife Phyllis, who, I’ll admit, aren’t Texas purists when it comes to barbecue. With a style culled from years of lurking barbecue forums and experimenting with the best regional techniques, the Strawders went from winning barbecue competitions to popping up at farmers markets across SoCal to earning big-time acclaim for their hodge-podge “L.A.-style” smoked meats to opening two brick and mortars all in a span of a decade.
Propelled to fame by the tenderness of their brisket (you can’t stab, must scoop), the secret spices in their pulled pork (pretty sure one of them is cayenne) and the so-called “juiciosity” of their ribs (sliced to order), Bigmista’s was followed around L.A. markets for years by the foodie droves, who salivated for their next move. (It didn’t hurt that they also offered a brilliantly self explanatory dish called the Big Ass Pile of Meat.)
That is, until an announced opening in downtown L.A.’s historic core fell through and Bigmista’s opted to open a permanent spot Long Beach, the Strawder’s hometown. Bigmista’s BBQ & Sammich Shop opened without much fanfare in the suburban abyss off Los Coyotes and Palo Verde in November 2014; Morning Wood was met with similar silence when it came on board exactly one year later.
But L.A.’s loss is Long Beach’s major gain. The Sammich Shop is an old-school barbecue counter that can get crowded enough with locals — construction workers, bored teenagers, Southern food fanatics and white-haired AARP members alike — who order filling plates, snacky bowls, sandwiches on soft house-baked bread and the signature Big Ass Piles of Meat that can be eaten at the six-seat window counter or on the few tables outside the former strip mall bakery space. If you’re into smokey pastrami and crusty rib tips, this is also the place to sign up to be on their specialties call list.
Bigmista’s Morning Wood gave the Strawders a whole new meal to tinker with, which of course they did in the only way they know how — with more of that decadent barbecue. The menu at the tiny brunch spot includes additions like fatty pork sausage, cheesy grits, house-made biscuits, white gravy sprinkled with crumbled bacon and sweet potato tater tots, all of which are available on heaping breakfast plates until it’s all been ordered or until breakfast stops at 11 a.m.
Because of the extra super limited seating (a party of eight fills half of it), the place overflows on weekends, when the sandwich bread and smoked turkey runs out early and the sweet potato brisket hash is more than just a Texas-ish breakfast taco alternative — it’s one of Long Beach’s most crucial hangover cures.
Bigmista’s Barbecue & Sammich Shop, 3444 N. Los Coyotes Diagonal, Long Beach, (562) 425-4227;
Bigmista’s Morning Wood, 4331 E. Carson St., Long Beach, (562) 452-7300.
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.