Holy cow, a new barbecue in Redondo
Carolina pulled pork, Santa Maria tri-tip, and Texas hot links cover the range of barbecue.
I have spent a lot of time around people who enjoy food a lot and love arguing about it even more, and fans of barbecue are some of the most obsessive. They’ll quibble over the proper texture of the meat, components of the rub, appropriate level of smokiness, balance of sweetness, vinegar, and peppers in the sauce, and whether and when that sauce should be applied. Depending on your point of view this can be fascinating or tedious, as is often the case when informed and opinionated people discuss anything. Many of the differences they focus on are based on regional styles, and convincing someone who loves Texas barbecue (indirect heat, heavy smoke, spicy rub and sauce) of the superiority of Kansas City barbecue (charred at the edges, light smoke, sweeter sauce) is doomed.
Beach city residents haven’t had much to argue about until recently. Manhattan and Hermosa don’t have any ‘que joints, so the choice was between chain operation Dickey’s and the family owned and very good Willingham’s. Those two got some competition as Holy Cow arrived in Riviera Village in a space that had previously been Crazy Fish, Pho Show, and several other ventures. I had been to the Holy Cow in Culver City a few years ago and found the food to be very good but portions on the small side, and decided to reacquaint myself with them as they’re now in my neighborhood.
The location by the curve where PCH turns inland has a large outdoor patio and smaller interior space that has been dressed up a bit with Texas bric-a-brac, old license plates, and other Americana. Ordering involves standing in front of the counter and craning your neck to read the menu mounted above it, which is visually cluttered and has relatively small print. Since they offer a substantial selection, you may be there for a while, and I’d advise you to consult the online version ahead of time if possible. A manager said that they plan on having regular menus available, and they can’t do that soon enough for me.
The core of that menu is straightforward: chicken and cuts of barbecued beef and pork, either by the pound, in combination plates, or as a component of sandwiches and salads. There are a few unusual items, like the mesquite-smoked turkey breast that is only available on weekends, and one surprise: fried chicken. The plates come with herbed garlic rolls that are pretty good, plus a choice of sides. Those cover the basics with slaw, beans, potato salad, and collard greens, but also baked sweet potatoes, a very Southern touch. Mac and cheese, cornbread, and fried pickles are available at an upcharge or as separate orders, and a vegetarian could build a pretty fine meal just by judiciously picking and choosing among the sides.
I’ll give a rundown on sides first, since ’que hounds are likely to just order their favorite meats anyway. The collard greens were surprisingly good, soft with a nice light hint of pepperiness and some smokiness from some bits of bacon. The sweet potato was simply but properly done, the potato salad unusually good. This is not the creamy or mustard-laden style, but flavored with dill and topped with some barbecue rub. The beans were the only dud among the standard sides, made with no detectable onion and just enough bacon so a vegetarian couldn’t have them, but not enough to add much flavor. They’re better if you add a little barbecue sauce (about which more later), but don’t have much character. The mashed potatoes were good enough that the person who ordered them at first claimed she wouldn’t share them, but relented when I asked nicely.
Among the more upscale sides, the fried pickles were excellent the way that only something salty, vinegary, and fried can be. Dip them in the buttermilk dressing and you add creamy to the mix, hitting the American palate jackpot. They’re served in a cup that helps them hold heat but makes the breading soggy, so I recommend pouring them onto the plate when they arrive and eating them before they cool. They’d be great on a sandwich, and I suggest that management consider experimenting. The french fries came to the table crisp and hot with ketchup, and were just as they’re supposed to be. The mac and cheese was in a very creamy sauce with a light dusting of barbecue rub, which suited most people at our table but isn’t my favorite style, and the cornbread was decent. I like my cornbread with the slight grittiness you get when it’s mostly cornmeal and very little sweetness, while some people like cornbread that is cakelike and very sweet. This split the difference and satisfied everybody.
On two visits we tried most of the meats on the menu and one sandwich called the Hog, which contained Carolina pulled pork and sauce, cole slaw, crispy onion, and bread and butter pickles. Everything but the crispy onion is standard for a barbecue sandwich in the Carolinas, and it was piled as high as anything you’d get at a roadside stand. I’d prefer it on a baguette rather than the burger bun, but if you asked for a baguette at a Carolina roadside stand, you’d get a squinty look as a substitute for them just asking, “You’re from California, aren’t you?”
I had some of that Carolina pulled pork on a three-meat combination too, and it is one of the stars of the show here. It’s like top quality carnitas with a smoky flavor and different seasonings, a mix of crispy outside bits and moist, tender interior. The Carolina sauce is mustard based and tangy with a mild and different heat from standard sauces, and you should ask for some even if you’re getting some other meat. They don’t automatically give you a sauce sampler but will do it if you ask, and it’s probably the best of their four sauces.
The other barbecued meats we ordered were chicken, brisket, Santa Maria tri-tip, pork ribs, and a Texas hot link that was somewhat odd because it wasn’t at all hot. Hot links should have at least a little peppery kick, and often have a lot, but this was really a bratwurst with a faint overtone of spice. I like barbecued bratwurst just fine, and this was good, but it’s not what I expected. The chicken was very moist but not exceptional, but the brisket, tri-tip, and ribs hit the spot. Santa Maria tri-tip is seasoned differently from Southern barbecue and made by a different method, open-grilled rather than given that long slow roast. Tri-tip is lean which makes it unforgiving – overcook it even a bit and it turns leathery. This was served on the rare side of medium and perfectly tender, and is easily the best I’ve had since my last trip to the central coast.
We also had the fried chicken, which was surprisingly well made, the batter very crisp and the interior juicy. The bird was on the small side but with the generous portion of sides there was no chance of going home hungry.
A small selection of wine and beer are offered, including a red blend that accompanies the spicier dishes better than the Cabernet. A Garnacha or Malbec might be a better choice, but this is a barbecue spot rather than a wine destination. If you really care about this, corkage is ten bucks and you can bring some from home.
The desserts are puzzling- we ordered things that were listed on the menu as a chocolate cream and banana cream pie, and received diminutive cups of pie filling that had no crust. I greatly preferred the chocolate, which had sweeter cream at the top, dark chocolate on the bottom so there was flavor variation even though the texture was uniform. The filling was good, but we would have preferred the traditional version. A good crust makes a pie, and no crust makes it not a pie at all.
And I just realized that I started this article with notes about how people quibble about barbecue, and ended it with myself quibbling about what makes a pie. This was unintentional but illustrates a larger concept: we all have categories of things, and often strong ideas about what they should be, but should be open to variations. I’d happily return to Holy Cow and have the hot link that wasn’t a hot link and the pie that wasn’t a pie, particularly if their brisket and fried chicken were elsewhere in the feast. This is a chain operation but a very good one, and worthy of a visit.
Holy Cow BBQ is at 1617 S. PCH in Redondo. Open daily 11:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m., parking in the rear or on the street. Some vegetarian items but ask before ordering, wheelchair access good, corkage $10. Phone 424-361-6891, menu at holycowbbq.com.