Monday 2:00pm - 9:00pm
Tuesday 10:30am - 9:00pm
Wedneday 10:30am- 9:00pm
Thursday 10:30am - 9:00pm
Friday 10:30am - 10:00pm
Saturday 2:00pm - 10:00pm
Sunday 2:00pm - 9:00pm

640 N. SPRING ST.
LOS ANGELES, CA 90012
213-626-0535


 


COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: BARBECUE
Down-home, in downtown L.A.
It doesn't look like a barbecue joint, and the menu is a tad odd. But the Spring Street Smoke House knows its stuff.

By Charles Perry, Times Staff Writer


Sure, you can get smoky ribs or hot links at Spring Street Smoke House. No problem.

But unlike most barbecue joints, it will also serve you fire-roasted veggies or green salad with raspberry vinaigrette. If you don't feel like a soda, there's plenty of Pellegrino water. At one time the smoked chicken sandwich even came with tarragon sauce and the sliced brisket included a side of au jus.

But this place's uniqueness isn't about it being pretentious. It's located at the border of Chinatown and Olvera Street, where it occupies one of the all-time oddball barbecue rooms. The white linoleum walls are spotted with posters about fruit varieties and cheeses of the world, none of which has anything to do with what's served here. One wall is mirrored, as at many a small Chinatown restaurant; another is hidden behind stacked-up cardboard boxes of breakfast cereal and so on, in the country store/bait shop manner.

It's disorienting. It's enough to make you grab a restorative vitamin drink from the restaurant's cold case.

And yet this peculiar outfit is the very reverse of flaky. Spring Street Smoke House turns out to be owned by D&L Catering Inc., a downtown outfit that's been around for more than 30 years, so it's a very professional operation under all the weirdness. And it turns out some rarely found dishes that are worth making a trip to try.

Spring Street offers all the classic barbecue meats, hickory-smoked from four to 18 hours. The chicken is wonderfully dense and smoky.
The place also smokes its own hot links (beef or chicken), and they are exceptional. In our part of the country hot links tend to be scrawny and chewy, but these are plump ones, with the proper astringent Louisiana-style dose of chile.

The perfectly acceptable ribs pale a bit by comparison. The barbecued brisket and tri-tip, otherwise perfectly fine, are sliced paper-thin, like deli meats, so when they're dosed with the house barbecue sauce, a ketchup-y version with a lively dose of vinegar, it's really impossible to tell one from the other.

So far this may sound like a caterer's idea of a barbecue, well executed but far from down-home. But Spring Street Smoke House has a couple of items so down-home you never see them in the Southland.

One is listed on the menu as "BBQ pasta."

On the face of it, there's no reason smoked meat and barbecue sauce shouldn't make as good a pasta topping as marinara, but I've only seen pasta at one other barbecue place around town, and there the pasta was ordinary spaghetti. Spring Street uses penne rigate, a shrewd choice for holding the sauce because of its broad, ridged surfaces. The resulting dish may have a sloppy look, like a photo from one of the "White Trash Cooking" cookbooks, but it's luscious: smoky, sweet-sour and al dente.

Another homey item is the smoked bologna sandwich, not only the least expensive sandwich on the menu but also one of the best. Yes, bologna, but not the packaged sandwich-sliced sort. They smoke a solid chub of bologna, and when you order your sandwich they cut off some slices, grill them and cram them into a long roll. The result is smoky and wonderfully plush.

A couple of dishes do have the caterer's touch and a barbecue purist may well take offense. Cajun stuffed chicken is a pair of chicken breasts stuffed with Jack cheese and chunks of jalapeño, wrapped with bacon, grilled and smoked; it's the sort of California crowd-pleaser you'd expect at a place such as Crocodile Cafe. The "best beef sandwich you will ever eat" is smoked brisket on a roll with Gorgonzola sauce (which in truth adds more richness than Gorgonzola flavor). They offer you barbecue sauce on the side, but I'd leave it off. The Gorgonzola turns smoked beef into something new and elegant.

You get a choice of two sides with most things. The mellow collards lack the usual bitterness; the macaroni and cheese has a subtle bit of hotness as if from Tabasco and the baked beans have been doctored with a bit of the house barbecue sauce. "Sukatash" is a strange but pleasant soup of corn kernels, minced onions and peppers in a thin, highly garlicky sauce.

In short, ignore the silly posters and the clutter of cardboard boxes. This is one of the most distinctive barbecues in town and performs at a consistently high level.


Spring Street Smoke House
Location: 640 N. Spring St., Los Angeles, (213) 626-0535; sssmokehouse.com

Price: Sandwiches, $6 to $8; barbecue platters, $6 to $11; specialties, $1 to $8.75.

Best dishes: Best beef sandwich, smoked bologna sandwich, hot link platter, Cajun stuffed chicken, BBQ pasta.

Details: Open 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday. No alcohol. Street and lot parking; curb service. Major credit cards.