The evolution of Britt’s BBQ
There are TV shows that involve inside looks at restaurant and hotel operations, and having been present for filming on more than one of these I can say with confidence that much of the drama is manufactured. The tension-inducing moments at a restaurant happen without warning: what are the odds, after all, that a camera crew will happen to be handy when a large party is booked and the chef calls in sick?
If someone had been present at Britt’s BBQ in El Segundo at just the right time, they could have caught moments that would be worthy of a feature film. The owners have soldiered through personal tragedy, a calamity that shut the place down, and the difficult task of repositioning a restaurant known for one specialty into a broader spectrum restaurant.
Britt’s BBQ opened in 2009 on Main Street in El Segundo as a standard barbecue restaurant, and when I reviewed them that year I found the smoked meats to be first class but the sides a bit lacking. The place was good enough that I visited occasionally for their brisket sandwiches and ribs, but I often bought the meat and made my own sides. It was reliable but not exciting.
The restaurant was named after the owner’s daughter, who died in a car crash shortly before it opened. A more recent car crash threatened to derail the business; last year, Brirtt’s remodeled and posted an intriguing and more wide ranging menu when a drunk driver came across the sidewalk at high speed and attempted to create a drive-through window. That was in July of 2016, and it took them until September to reopen.
When they did, it was with new energy. Some items went went beyond traditional barbecue, like the smoked pork taquitos and quesadilla, and they added a chipotle barbecue salad. The biggest addition was smoked fried chicken, which started as a Friday-only special and sold out without fail. The restaurant now serves almost as much fried chicken as barbecue, and on a recent visit I saw a lot of bowls of seafood gumbo on tables too.
Not everything works for me; the pork taquitos are made with flour tortillas and reminded me why these are usually made with corn, because they shatter and leave you with a plateful of crumbs and a handful of meat. The idea is good, and if they switched to corn I’d order them again. They also have a recurring special called “Three little pigs” that is made with smoked pork shoulder, barbecue beans, coleslaw, and bacon, served in a mason jar. Everything about this idea is good but the mason jar, because you can’t easily get at the items under the chunks of bacon. Put it in a bowl and the problem is solved.
Speaking of bowls, I tried the sausage, crab, and shrimp gumbo and found it authentically spicy and well balanced. It’s a special item but was offered on my last four visits, so it’s looking like an item that has found a market.
They still serve their barbecue ribs, chicken, and brisket, and they are good though still offered with a sauce I find a bit too mild and sweet. If they offered a spicier barbecue sauce I’d order this more often. They’re certainly capable of making a rousing spicy sauce, as I found when the owner offered me a sample of their “rib strips,” boneless rib trimmings in a marinade that included black and red pepper with garlic. I don’t know whether there is any inspiration from Thai or Korean ideas in this, but it combined the smokiness of American barbecue with those savory flavors.
I must also mention the item that has been the new favorite for their customers, the smoked fried chicken. This may be the best fried chicken in the South Bay, a crisp, lightly peppery and herbed batter over smoky, moist chicken. The technique of smoking means it’s pre-cooked so it is moist but not greasy, and the infusion of smoke adds a subtle but not overwhelming flavor. It’s also available fresh from the fryer within minutes because it doesn’t have to cook from raw, so it’s great for a quick lunch.
Mac and cheese, cucumber salad, sweet potato fries, fried potatoes, and tater tots are all offered, and I usually order the salad and tots with a side of their barbecue sauce for dipping. All entrees also come with very good cornbread with chunks of corn baked in, though if you don’t tell them to serve it dry it will arrive drenched in butter. This is good enough cornbread that it doesn’t need anything else to shine.
A dessert of filled custard doughnuts is always included, and the usual fountain drinks are offered. Britt’s doesn’t have a wine and beer license but you are welcome to go to the liquor store next door and bring some in.
Britt’s has an old-fashioned and very Southern atmosphere, with country music on the sound system and good old fashioned hospitality from the owners, who seem to be there every moment the place is open. The place is evolving while staying true to its Southern heritage, and it will be interesting to see what Britt’s will do next.
Britt’s BBQ is at 408 Main St. in El Segundo. Open daily 11 AM – 9 PM, street parking only. Menu at bbqelsegundoca.com, phone 310-640-0408.
by Richard Foss