Brisket, Worthy of the Smithsonian

After a few visits to what amounts to a simple looking, roving farmer’s market BBQ outfit, I reached barbecue Valhalla by way of the most tender, smoky, lusciously spiced brisket I may have ever had on the West coast. Simple words do not do it justice. The small stand (and catering operation) is known as Big Mista’s and has been showing up at local farmer’s markets in Los Angeles from urban Watts to beachside El Segundo. It’s tagline heralds their BBQ as “Real. Good. Meat.” And no words could be more apropos except perhaps for Real Excellent Beef. The proprietor, Neil, has been preparing BBQ on the champion BBQ circuit for a few years now along with a few teammates and has now expanded to serving up his delicious wares at stands across Los Angeles. My first few visits were delicious but not earth-shatteringly, mind numbing delicious in the way that the best barbecue can be. On my last visit, the menu changed to an a la carte, by the pound format, which was a welcome sign to me. A reminder of the much venerated but seldom copied Texas BBQ procedure in and around Lockhart,TX where slabs of smoked pit brisket is thickly sliced against the grain, weighed, plopped on butcher paper, and topped with a few token pickles and onions. No sauce. No forks. No knives. No nonsense. Just pure unadulterated BBQ. Big Mista’s brisket, pit smoked for hours on end, yields at the merest touch of your fingers. The smoke, tenderness, and layer of fatty pink on each slice encrusted with the choicest of spices is not just delicious but also more than authentic. Once again no sauce needed though Neil’s proprietary sauce is sweet but not saccharine and goes down real easy. Perhaps you can employ it as a digestivo after the meal. This is BBQ you must eat on the premises because it will not survive the trip back to your pickup or home. And if you take it back to your office, you may just be the envy of your coworkers who will surely prod you for a few slivers to which you must stand your ground. The sides are better than most around town. The paprika-laced potato salad is fine, worthy of lazy church picnics on sunny Sunday afternoons. The macaroni and cheese sends a rightful sucker punch to the Danish blue cheese, chevre infested, highfalutin versions that seem to end up the corporate managed hotspots that seem to pop in Hollywood or Brentwood on daily basis (although that may be somewhat of an exaggeration due to these recessionary times). Big Mista’s mac ’n cheese is the epitome of the dish like Kraft’s version, only better. Suffice to say, the mac ’n cheese is only served on an intermittent basis, specifically when Neil’s wife happens to feel virtuous in putting in the necessary time. I’d be remiss if I didn’t happen to mention the gargantuan, cream cheese frosted red velvet cupcakes, which are sweet in that most Southern of ways, but alas are largely an afterthought. Now if only they served some traditional sweet tea and had a sideline in small-batch Kentucky bourbon, I’d be in heaven.

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