The best BBQ is built on four pillars of flavor: Smoke, spice, fat, and salt. But these tastes are traditionally all about oomph, meaning there’s not a lot of room for nuance. Or so I thought, until I tried the home-barbecued sets from Neighborhood BBQ, a new pop-up born straight from a pandemic-related closure.
Neighborhood serves a weekly feast to-go from different pick-up points in East LA - each set involves a main protein, like a whole-smoked chicken, baby back ribs, or a beef rib big enough to have come from a brontosaurus, plus all the fixings. The mains change each week, but that dinosaur - er, beef - rib is among the best things I’ve eaten this year. It’s impressive enough based on size alone, and nicely charred, but it’s the subtle flourishes that make it a true standout. It’s so precisely cooked that tiny pools of rendered fat melt out with each cut, and complemented by a cherry and smoked tomato BBQ sauce that adds a bite of vinegar and a note of sweetness, making the velvety beef pop with nuanced flavor.
There’s just as much subtlety in those sides, which are highlighted by mac & cheese shells that involve Velveeta and truffles, a genius and genuinely deadly combination. The brown butter cornbread adds some more sweetness to the meal, while the herb-heavy little gems salad with creamy green goddess dressing offsets a bit of all the heaviness in the feast - and let’s be honest, you’re going to need at least one vegetable in a meal like this. There’s even a rotating selection of bottled tropical cocktails that are on par with some of the best tiki-style bars in the city.
The man behind the meats is Erik Piedrahita, the former executive sous chef at Bon Temps, a tremendous French restaurant (and one of our Best New Restaurants in 2019) that closed earlier this year due to COVID-19. Shortly after Bon Temps closed, he built out a full backyard barbecue set-up to smoke and grill these meats over oak wood, and started selling it via Instagram, with weekly pick-up from different spots in East LA.
Which isn’t a bad thing, since you’re going to want to rip the tin foil covers off these dishes and dive in way before you make it home. So it’s a great opportunity to turn this into a picnic - bring a couple of your closest quarantine buddies and a blanket you don’t mind getting some grease stains on. This BBQ might be a little more nuanced than most, but it’s still BBQ... eating it outside is practically a prerequisite.
This beautifully charred beef rib is everything you want in a piece of barbecued meat - every bite has incredible amounts of smoke and fat. I’m not afraid to admit I licked the smoked tomato BBQ sauce out of its container when I was done with the meat, either.
Don’t even consider not ordering a bottled cocktail to go with your meal. Their Painkiller, in particular is absolutely remarkable - it’s tropical, smooth, and refreshing, exactly how we want our rum drinks to be. This even comes with maraschino cherries, fresh ground nutmeg, and a tiny umbrella. Bonus: A single serving of this could knock out Jack Sparrow.
It’s truly the work of an evil genius to combine black truffles and Velveeta. No shock: The high-low one-two punch works perfectly in this great version of mac & cheese.
You get enough pickles with this feast to make a meal of them alone - and I’d honestly do it. There is sweet pickled melon, dill cucumbers, aromatic red onions, and some remarkable spicy peppers.