Stepping inside, we were surrounded by barbecue enthusiasts of every age, race, color and creed. There were the hipsters, the aging hippies, the frat boys, the beach bums, the families, all of them gathered in joyous celebration of grilled meat. Perhaps the UN should start holding more 'ques.
We decided to scope out all the options before commiting to any plates. After all $10 got you quite a hunk of meat in addition to a side, so we knew going in that we would probably only be able to sample about three different kinds. **Note to organizers: it would be amazing if next year each booth had small plates (a rib or two) for just a few bucks so that attendees could sample more varieties.** We immediately eliminated all LA based vendors, vowing instead to actually go and try out those restaurants at some later date. So then it was all about deciding which regions looked the most scrumptious.
C has eaten her way across the country multiple times, and she said those Missourians knew their 'que. So we opted to get the Kansas City Spare Ribs and Baked Beans from L.C.'s BBQ. They use a wet rub, which leads to the meat being incredibly moist with a flavor that invades your mouth with the force of a hurricane. The ribs had a nice warmth without being overly spicy, as well as a crunchy crust. If only they'd had just a pinch less salt they would have been perfect. But the baked beans, rife with pork fat, were phenomenal! Sweet and spicy, they literally melted in my mouth.
Having procured our wet ribs, we also wanted to try a dry rub, so we purchased Memphis Championship BBQ's Ribs and Coleslaw. (A disclaimer, I don't like coleslaw, so I won't be reviewing it). I'll be honest, the main reason I insisted on these ribs was that this recipe was named the Champion at the 1902 World's Fair. Are you kidding me? I had to try any recipe older then anyone I know. The ribs were tasty and the spices well balanced, but the flavor was not nearly as powerful as I would have liked.
For our third dish, we went with the Pulled Pork Sandwich from Butch's Smack Your Lips BBQ in New Jersey. This was my favorite of all three! The pork was as tender as a dream, and the extra sauce that I slathered on was delicious, complex, sharp, sweet, tangy and so much more. The sauce and pork juices were all soaked up by the bottom bun, transforming an overwhelmingly ordinary piece of bread into a pillowy burst of flavor. (Note to BBQers - your meat is fantastic, but it might be time to investigate some better bread!). My one quibble was that the meat was not as hot as I would have liked, but I partly attribute that to the massive amount of sauce I used to smother the meat. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, this was C's least favorite dish. A Boston girl at heart, she's enjoyed the best "BBQ sandwich" out of a shack somewhere in the middle of Mississippi, and, for her, there's just no going back (certainly not to Jersey!). But for my money, these Jersey Boys can do the 'que.
Thoroughly stuffed, we nonetheless made room for $3 Polkatots Cupcakes! These cupcakes are smaller then most, but still pack plenty of flavor. Their Vanilla cupcake is good, with a sweet, smooth frosting and moist vanilla cake contrasting with the crunchy "blue sparkles" on top. But it's their Dulce de Leche cupcake that is a revelation!! They have somehow figured out a way to pack enormous Dulce flavor into the creamy softness of frosting. Add to that the extra punch of actual Dulce de Leche squiggled on top and you have one of the most phenomenal cupcakes I've ever tasted (and trust me, I have tasted my fair share...someday I may write an entire essay on cupcakes in LA). If you ever find yourself anywhere NEAR Pasadena, go get these cupcakes!
Author's note: Lost in my Dulce de Leche rapture, I suddenly looked up to discover that C had dissapeared. Apparently, despite her full stomach, the lure of a Texas Sausage proved irresistable and she went back for fourths. And, man, she was glad she did (as was I, as it left more of the cupcakes for me!)
Overall, we had a wonderful day at the festival. Good people, delicious aromas, and a stomach full of pork and cupcakes. What more could a girl want?
More information on the Barbeque Festival can be found here: www.labbqfest.com
More information on Polkatots Cupcakes can be found here: www.polkatotscupcakes.com