Lucille's Smokehouse - Tustin
In what seemed like a blink of an eye, a new shopping center materialized at the corner of Barranca and Jamboree. This, of course, is The District –- a puzzling assortment of retail stores, a movie theater, and dining establishments built beneath the shadow of the Tustin blimp hangars.
Why is it puzzling? Well, there’s already a Lowes, a Home Depot, a Costco, a Target and a Best Buy just three miles down the road, on the same street no less! Do we really need two of each barely minutes apart?
Either the developers have short attention spans or they think we do.
But it isn’t all carbon copies of things, at least not of things that already exist within a five mile radius. The first is the new AMC, which, I have to say, is great since all shows before noon on weekends are just six bucks. Regal/Edwards Cinemas' strangle hold on South County residents is now over.
And for eats, there’s Lucille’s Smokehouse, which makes two for South Orange County (the other is in Lake Forest).
There’s a quaint, rags-to-riches fable written on its website (and its menu) about Lucille Buchanan, its diminutive founder from the South who learned how to make barbecue from her Granny. But let’s get it straight right now: the story is a complete fabrication; a tall-tale; a work of fiction, albeit one crafted by a master stroke of marketing genius. The man behind the curtain is actually an established restaurateur named Craig Hofman, of Hof’s Hut fame.
Lucille Buchanan is just as real as Ronald McDonald, and the restaurant can trace it’s humble beginnings all the way back to 1999, when it first opened in the L.B.C. (Long Beach), which means it has more in common with Snoop Dogg than B.B. King.
The lore extends to the interior design theme –- a faithful and loving tribute to roadstops seen from Arkansas to North Carolina.
There’s Southern kitsch all over the walls; checkered flooring; fanciful illustrations of pigs; and plaques with quotes that sound like they were penned by Mark Twain himself. All of it contributes to a down-home look, requisite charm and warmth not seen west of the Mississippi.
Even the drinks are poured into Mason jars. The beverage of choice to sip out of said container? Why, sweet tea ($2.75) of course! And instead of bread, it’s a basket of biscuits with apple butter. Although I’ve had better biscuits, Lucille’s was fluffy and enjoyable enough to kill your appetite. My warning to you: try a bite, but that's all.
The reason? Their portions are designed for Southern appetites, which is to say, they’re huge.
The Appetizer Platter ($18.95) was a meal for three onto itself. The best item on the gargantuan plate was the BBQ wings, hickory smoked in Lucille’s big metal contraptions. The fried chicken strips were also surprisingly juicy –- a rare thing to behold since once breast meat is ripped from the carcass, usually dryness inevitably follows.
The rest of the crew included more fried foods than a physician would recommend in one sitting: fried green tomatoes; onion straws; stuffed jalapeno; Dixie egg rolls (basically diced chicken and corn inside an egg roll wrapper); and a tri-tip quesadilla, which wasn’t fried exactly but definitely not what you call heart-healthy either.
And if your stomach can take it, there’s Lucille’s main attraction: the Baby Back Ribs ($24.95 for a full rack). Now I must preface this part with a disclaimer: I’m not an expert on BBQ. I don’t claim to have ever tasted the barbecue in Kansas City, Memphis, or Texas, but I think I know a good rack of bones when I see one -- and Lucille’s was pretty darn tootin’ great.
There’s the meat, which had a pink luster due to the permeation of smoke into each molecule of pork. To say that it's smoky and sweet is probably not necessary. And yes, it's fall-of-the-bone tender. But the best feature of these ribs in my opinion? Those crusty, charred areas -- where pork fat, brown sugar, and carbon fused together to form a tasty burnt mass.
In the end, with our fingers throughly gunked and sticky with cue sauce, we resorted to holding the drinks between our palms.
By the way, the plate of ribs came with two sides. In our case, mac n’ cheese and fries. The three of us (who shared the meal I’ve thus far chronicled), only managed to make a slight dent in the fries (which were battered, crispy and delightful). The mac n’ cheese was pristinely untouched by the time our bill arrived.
And how was Lucille’s “famed” peach cobbler? I have no idea. In the times I’ve patronized the Long Beach and Brea branches, I’ve never made it past half of the main entree. The same goes for this new Tustin store. Someday, I might just cross that finish line and try one of their desserts. On that day, I'll go home on a stretcher.
2550 Park Avenue
Tustin, CA 92782