Burrell's BBQ - Santa Ana
I ate my lunch under the shade of an old pine tree. A garden fountain trickled beside me. Leaves rustled with the passing breeze. Next door, a neighbor's dog barked. A postman made his rounds.
Where was I? In Fred Burrell's backyard, buried in the belly of Santa Ana, in a residential part of town.
The likes of it must exist around every street corner in The South. Hole-in-the-walls serving food out of someone's garage. Makeshift dives borne out of a grandmother's home kitchen. Burrell's is this kind of joint.
But in Orange County, it's an anomaly of zoning -- a treasured oddball in an area otherwise meticulously master-planned.
A rusty screen door creaks shut as you enter. Inside, you compete for wiggle room in a space crammed with a soda coolers, a hot meat display case, and an Igloo from which you are to scoop out your own ice. Autographed headshots of Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Tom Bradley hang, each with a shout out to Fred and his food.
Too bad I didn't dig the grub as much they did (or as much as others who have lauded Burrell's for years). The baby back ribs ($8.95 with one side and cornbread) were sopping wet. Not oversauced, but wet. It had been sitting and ruminating in its own moistness -- stewing its way closer to "boiled", farther away from "barbecued". The result was more like pulled pork, but still on the bone.
Otherwise, it was full-flavored, bolder than average, and ten times meatier than Kate Moss. Yet, I longed for the caramelized burnt edges; for that sticky, gummed-up, carbonized bits of sauce that gets wedged under my finger nails.
The collard greens were a different story; perfect in its crudeness. Bitter, sweet, and warm -- packed with chlorophyll and flavored with pieces of ham hock. The only thing more faithful to The South was the corn bread -- a crumbly, moist block cut from a cake pan. But really, I've never met a corn bread I haven't liked, especially when eaten with grass under my feet.
305 N Hesperian St
Santa Ana, CA 92703