Friday, February 7, 2014

Lucille's Smokehouse Bar-B-Que

Last week my husband was eating a vegan diet.  I was really proud of him for keeping it up, but he caved at a Super Bowl party.  I think he was really craving meat, because while he was there, his ears perked up when he heard someone mention a great BBQ restaurant they tried recently called Lucille’s.  He came home from the party determined that we eat there as soon as possible.

I like to look at restaurant websites before eating there the first time so that I can get a sense of the menu and the prices.  My husband sent me the link, and I drooled over the menu that evening agreeing with him that yes, we’d need to eat there sometime soon.

A couple days ago, we headed over to the Lucille’s in Valencia.  We’re in the valley, so it was the easiest one for us to get to and avoid rush hour traffic.  There’s another location in Culver City that would be more convenient if you live further south or on the west side.   

We had never been to Valencia before, so we let our GPS guide us.  Lucille’s is attached to a mall, and for some reason our GPS led us to the JC Penney entrance.  We went inside and asked an employee how to get to Lucille’s.  She basically explained how to walk to the other side of the mall, so we got back in our car and parked closer to where we had first entered the mall parking lot.  Lucille’s is located next to a couple other restaurants and to the right of Macy’s.  

We arrived a little after 3pm, and the restaurant was mainly empty.  Considering the time of day, that wasn’t a surprise.  The hostess almost insisted that we sit in the bar area.  We didn’t mind as long as we could have a booth instead of actually sitting at the bar.  The bar had a lot of flat screen TVs, which I usually don’t like since I hate the sports bar atmosphere, but sitting at our booth, I hardly even knew they were there.  I had a better view of a brick wall covered with paintings of blues musicians.  There was also blues music playing, and there were string lights hanging from the ceiling.  The restaurant had a New Orleans atmosphere which I liked.

Our waiter, Sean, was really friendly and informed us that we had arrived during Happy Hour, and that the lunch menu was also still available.  Turns out that arriving between 3pm and 4pm and sitting in the bar is the best deal going since the Happy Hour menu starts at 3pm (and is only available in the bar), and the lunch menu ends at 4pm.  You also have access to the main menu as well.  I love options!  Sean also explained that all of their meat is smoked on site for 2-24 hours.  Impressive!

We decided to start with the Happy Hour menu and order a couple appetizers.  I really wanted to try the Fried Green Tomatoes.  They’re described on the menu as “You don't need to make a whistle-stop to enjoy these thick-sliced green tomatoes coated in cornmeal and deep-fried until golden brown. Served with roasted red pepper cream.”  I’d eaten Fried Green Tomatoes once before but couldn’t remember what they tasted like.  My husband really wanted to try the Gumbo, so we ordered that as well.  It’s described on the menu as “A bowl of traditional New Orleans style gumbo made with a dark roux savory broth, shrimp, smoked chicken and andouille sausage. Served with steamed white rice.”  He also ordered a Sweet Tea, but I stuck with water.

We looked over the main menu and the lunch menu while we waited for our appetizers to arrive.  There are a lot of options!  They have everything from BBQ to catfish to a veggie burger.  In the end, my husband decided to go with the BBQ Lunch Platter off of the lunch menu where it’s described as “Your choice of baby back ribs (3 bones) or St. Louis spare ribs (3 bones) or beef rib (1 bone) and your choice of two of the following: pulled pork, beef brisket, tri tip, hot link, rib tips or one quarter smoked chicken.”  Sean recommended the St. Louis ribs, so he decided to order those along with the tri tip and the one quarter smoked chicken, which he requested to have white meat.  The meal also came with one side.  There are quite a few sides to choose from, but he wanted to try something unusual, so he ordered the Honey Roasted Peanut Slaw.

I ordered the Smoked Brisket Salad off of the main menu where it’s described as “Smoked and shredded beef brisket with corn salsa, black beans, pico de gallo, roasted pasilla peppers, red onions and tomatoes tossed with crisp greens and our spicy ranch dressing. Topped with tortilla strips, fresh cilantro, diced avocado and our special cilantro sour cream sauce.”  I requested to have the spicy ranch dressing and the sour cream sauce on the side.

Both of our meals came with Homemade Biscuits with apple butter, so Sean brought those out right around the time our appetizers arrived.

Now for the fun part.  What did we think of the food?

I tasted the Fried Green Tomatoes first.  The Happy Hour serving gets you two tomato slices.  I’m not sure how much you get with the regular appetizer.  On first bite, I thought, these are okay but not anything special; however, the more I ate, the more I liked them.  The tomatoes really are green, and the roasted red pepper cream was great.  I really need to learn to make Fried Green Tomatoes.  They’d be a great addition to the menu at my next Mardi Gras party.
The Gumbo came in a descent size bowl.  It was plenty for an appetizer.  It was thicker than the Gumbo I remembered from New Orleans, but to me that’s a benefit.  My husband really liked it and said “it just tastes like Gumbo.”  I thought it tasted burnt.  My husband told me that that’s the roux, but I’ve had Gumbo before, and I didn’t remember it having a burnt taste.  One bite was plenty for me.  

The Homemade Biscuits looked really good, but they tasted more like sugar doughnuts.  No joke.  They actually had sugar on top of them.  The apple butter didn’t look or taste like any apple butter I’d ever had before.  It tasted more like sweet honey butter, and when spread on a sugar doughnut biscuit, it was overwhelmingly sweet.  Now, I’m sure these biscuits would be amazing for breakfast with some jam spread on them, but they were too sweet to be eaten between Fried Green Tomatoes and a salad.  I would’ve preferred some normal dinner rolls, perhaps topped with a little garlic butter.  They should really move these biscuits to the dessert menu.

Sweet Tea seems to be a very southern thing.  I’m from Ohio, and I don’t remember ever having Sweet Tea or even seeing it on a menu.  My husband’s from Texas, and he told me how he remembered his grandfather making homemade Sweet Tea when he was growing up.  He liked his Sweet Tea, but he said he probably wouldn’t get it again because it wasn’t worth the price for tea with a ton of sugar in it.

Shortly after we finished our appetizers, our meals arrived at our table.  Before we dug in, Sean explained the BBQ sauces to us.  There were three BBQ sauces on the table.  The orange one was mustard based, which Sean said was his new favorite.  Then there was Lucille’s original BBQ sauce and a spicy BBQ sauce.  My husband tried all three with the meat on his lunch platter.  He hated the mustard based one, said the original one was very sweet and the spicy one was also very sweet, basically just a spicy version of the original.  He told me not to even bother trying them because they were too sweet for me to like.  I really don’t like sweet BBQ sauce.  I buy Hunts Original to use at home, in case you’re wondering what I consider good BBQ sauce.  I’m not saying Hunts is the best, I’ve had better at a couple other restaurants, but it’s delicious when we make ribs or chicken at home.

All of the meat on the BBQ Lunch Platter was smoked really well.  It was also already coated with BBQ sauce, so it all tasted sweet to me, and I don’t like sweet meat.  I hate pineapple rings on ham too and sweet and sour sauce at Chinese restaurants, so I learned that I don’t like the BBQ at Lucille’s.  However, the chicken was really tender and juicy.  That was my favorite for the three types of meat.  It needed some seasoning though.  At home, I’d add TexJoy.  The ribs were my least favorite.  They weren’t fall-off-the-bone tender, and I just thought they were fatty.  My husband cut off a bite for me to taste, and it was all fat, so he cut off another meatier piece, and there was some meat on it, but there was also a huge chunk of fat.  Realize that this is all just my opinion.  My husband finished the meat on the plate and seemed to enjoy it.  There was a little crock of beef juice on the plate for dipping, but I don’t think he used it.  The meat was juicy enough on its own.  He said he’d probably try something else next time, but he definitely liked it more than I did.  However, he wasn’t crazy about the Honey Roasted Peanut Slaw.  It was basically just some peanuts on top of some cabbage.  I think he was picturing more of a peanut sauce.  He didn’t finish the slaw.

My Smoked Brisket Salad was really big.  I’m a fan of a large salad, but I needed my husband to help me finish it in the end.  They brought the dressing and sour cream sauce on the side as I requested.  For some reason, they also put the fresh cilantro on the side.  I love cilantro, so I dumped that on the salad.  The sour cream sauce didn’t have much flavor, so I didn’t use it.  The dressing, on the other hand, was the best part of the salad; it was amazing!  I did the dip-your-fork-in-the-dressing trick to save on calories, but a little bit per bite was all I needed to get that delicious flavor.  I wasn’t crazy about the brisket.  It tasted kind of sweet to me, like all the meat I’d tasted on my husband’s lunch platter.  Maybe it had a little BBQ sauce on it, or maybe they add sugar to it while it’s being smoked.  Either way, I wouldn’t want to eat a plate of it.  Mixed into the salad, I hardly even tasted it though.  Actually, the salad would’ve been just as good without the meat.  The only other negative about the salad was that a lot of the mixed greens consisted of iceberg lettuce.  I would’ve preferred romaine, spinach or a spring mix.  I liked the salad, but I’d try something else next time.  If I’m in the mood for a really big salad, I’ll just go to The Cheesecake Factory.

We definitely weren’t hungry after our meals, but Sean brought out a dessert menu, so we looked it over.  Sean recommended the Old-Fashined Banana Pudding, which is another item that seems very southern.  It me, it just sounds extremely easy to make at home, so we decided to try Chris' Famous Bread Pudding instead.  I love bread pudding!  It’s described on the menu as “A luscious mixture of sourdough bread, peaches, Southern pecans and sweet custard, baked until golden brown. Served with warm bourbon sauce.”  There’s a regular size and small size.  Since we were already full, we decided just to share the small size.  I was impressed with how big a small serving was.  It was definitely big enough for two people to share after eating a big meal.  The bourbon sauce was too sweet for me.  I thought it tasted like pure sugar.  My husband liked it though and mopped it up with every bite.  He thought it tasted like a caramel sauce with a rum aftertaste.  The aftertaste is probably actually bourbon, but we’re rum drinkers, so to my husband, it tasted like rum.  I avoided the bourbon sauce and dipped my bites in the whipped cream which was really thick and delicious.  The bread pudding itself had a nice mushy, custardy consistency, which I liked.  However, I only tasted one nut, and I didn’t taste the peaches at all.  I later asked my husband if he tasted the peaches, and he was like, “there were supposed to be peaches in it?”  I wouldn’t order it again.  It needed more flavor, maybe some cinnamon or something.  I’ve had much better bread pudding at the buffets in Las Vegas.

In summary, it’s best to arrive between 3pm and 4pm and sit in the bar area so that you can order off of the Happy Hour menu, the lunch menu and the main menu.  The atmosphere is nice and reminds me of New Orleans.  All of the BBQ sauce is really sweet, and a lot of the menu items are overly sweet as well (including the BBQ meat and the biscuits which taste more like sugar doughnuts).  If you love really sweet food, you’ll love this place.  The servings are really big, the staff is friendly, the prices are reasonable, and the menu is huge.  I’d come here again, but I’d order something else, maybe the catfish.

Happy eating!

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