For decades, Long Beach's best BBQ has come from a small homegrown catering company out of a North Town backyard. And until a few years ago, it had only been tasted by those lucky enough to attend a party where Robert Earl's slow-smoked Texas-style brisket, ribs and chicken were on the menu.
But as soon as the Greener Good farmers market began taking over the empty lot on the corner of Artesia Blvd. and Atlantic Ave. in summer 2012, Earl decided it was time to turn his lifelong passion for meat into a serious career and began rolling up weekly with his custom smoking rig, selling sandwiches and sides for the price of a few tamales.
With easy quality comparisons to nearby buzz-building BBQ joints Bludsoe's and Leadbelly's, he often sold out.
Today, Robert Earl's BBQ is one of the most delicious Uptown success stories, with an eight-month-old brick-and-mortar within spitting distance of the empty lot where it first went public and a whole neighborhood of supporters who crowd its tiny dining room daily at the first smell of hickory.
Inside the family-run joint are gingham-lined tables and a vintage Victrola stocked with a vinyl collection (think: Isley Brothers and Al Green) that is almost sexier than the food itself. In the back parking lot, however, is where the magic happens. That's where Earl semi-permanently plopped the BBQ setup that started it all–a trailer stacked with four chopped-up oil drums that continues to serve as the restaurant's tried-and-true meat cooker.
Going bigger has allowed Earl to expand his menu (his wife's macaroni and cheese is as decadent as it is complex), but it will never change what made his fans' mouths water to begin with: brisket and ribs.
Normally sliced like beefy bacon strips, Robert Earl's brisket is so slow-cooked, it self-destructs at any sign of movement, leaving $7.50 lunch combos of the meat a heap of crumbled brown goodness. The ribs are at least a half-foot-long a piece (a $7.50 lunch combo has two plus a side) with a bone that nearly slides out and onto the plate at first bite. Cover both–or the thick-skinned beef links or too-tender chicken breast–in the paste-y house BBQ sauce and you'll be too engrossed in culinary heaven to even ask for a napkin.
Like fellow North Long Beach restaurant LBJ's, Robert Earl's soul food sides are made vegetarian and yet never falter from the salty, fat-filled flavors that are all but required for authentic baked beans and collard greens. And desserts–like Robert Earl Jr.'s creation, the "golden nugget," a slice of cornbread with a scoop of banana pudding on top–are so sinful that the owner himself warns you of certain hellfire and brimstone upon eating.
Stopping at Robert Earl's once is all it takes to become hooked on the Texas-tinged food and family-friendly feel that permeates every inch of this up-and-coming hype-free eatery.
With Long Beach's BBQ offerings otherwise limited to more upscale sit-down places like Johnny Rebs and Beachwood, local BBQ lovers are only beginning to discover the competition-worthy grub from the low-key pit master no longer hiding in his North Town backyard.
Robert Earl's BBQ, 703 E. Artesia Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 726-1116