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SMORGASBORD FOOD TOPICS : Barbecue Road : A 2-mile stretch of North Ventura Avenue holds four purveyors of smoked and grilled meats.

March 19, 1992|SANDRA SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Do you ever get a hankering for some home-on-the-range cooking? To satisfy the urge for some old-fashioned Western finger food, head up Ventura Avenue toward Ojai. Along a two-mile stretch between Oak View and Mira Monte are four different establishments from which to sample an assortment of smoked and grilled meats.

The first place you'll smell the aroma of tri-tip sizzling over an open fire will be The Great American Bar-B-Que Company, located in the parking lot of Van Oak Market.

Owner and cook Mike Harelson designed and built his own portable open-pit barbecue. It has a built-in water smoker with a capacity for up to 400 pounds of meat at a time. Water-system smoking, said Harelson, leaves meat especially tender. A pan of water is placed between the heat and the meat. Juice from the meat drips into the water and the heat causes the steam to rise, creating a self-basting system. A combination of apple and hickory wood chips, along with a blend of spices and seasonings, are used to slow-cook the meats (especially poultry) to perfection.

There is no seating. This is strictly a takeout operation. You can choose from a variety of complete meals (Baby Back Pork Ribs, $7.50), sandwiches and a la carte meats.

Barely a stone's toss up the road is The Oak Pit. The place resembles a red barn, but once inside there is no doubt you are at a true country barbecue joint; red-and-white checkered tablecloths on picnic tables, antique ranch equipment, peanut shells on the floor.

Owned and operated by Max and Sandy Freetly for the last seven years, the Texas-style restaurant was the first in the area to offer smoked meats. Max, a carpenter by trade, designed and built his own ovens in which he can prepare up to 250 pounds of meat at a time. He cooks the meat for 10 to 14 hours with indirect heating from red oak wood.

"I don't use any marinades, seasonings or sauces. Just the flavor from the wood."

However, if you prefer sauce on your ribs, The Oak Pit has three styles of homemade condiments that flow freely. All the salads and beans are made from scratch as well.

Farther up the road is Buster's Original Bar-B-Que. Located in the corner of a new mini-mall, this one is easy to miss.

It is the third franchise from the truly Original Buster's in Saticoy. Unfortunately, Buster Davis no longer has a hand in the franchises, though he does still own the Saticoy location. Anyone who has eaten at the Ojai and the Saticoy Buster's will probably notice that the sauces do not taste the same.

Primarily built for takeout, there are several indoor tables and some picnic tables outside.

And last, but definitely not the least, is Marshall's Gourmet Meat & Deli. Marshall Schmidt, who started out marketing his own barbecue sauces, has, over the last four years, started a grill-on-wheels operation. His two transportable open-pit grills can be spotted here and there in Ventura and Los Angeles counties. Last year, Schmidt was spotted serving up vittles at the Southern California Edison company picnic and at a private party for the Los Angeles Raiderettes. During last July's train derailment in La Conchita, he fed 300 people twice a day for three days.

When Marshall is not feeding the masses of Southern California, you can find him grilling tri-tip and chicken in the parking lot of Slinger's B.I.G. Market in Mira Monte.

The meat is smoked with apple wood until it is about three-fourths cooked. Then it is grilled over oak wood and bathed in Schmidt's own rich, spicy sauce. Besides pork, poultry and beef, Marshall produces several styles of homemade sausage.

There is no dining area available, only takeout.

* THE PREMISE: Smorgasbord is an intermittent feature about a variety of food topics.

* WHERE AND WHEN

The Great America Bar-B-Que Company, 690 N. Ventura Ave., Oak View, 649-3870. Parking lot. Catering. Hours: Wednesday-Friday, 3 p.m. until dark; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. until dark. Food only, for two $6-$15.

The Oak Pit, 820 N. Ventura Ave., Oak View, 649-9903. Parking lot. Beer and wine. Catering. Hours: Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Food only, for two $10-$30.

Buster's Original Bar-B-Que, 11420 N. Ventura Ave., No. 114, Ojai, 649-5564. Parking lot. Hours: Monday-Thursday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Food only, for two $10-$16.

Marshall's Gourmet Meat & Deli, 11496 N. Ventura Ave., Ojai, 640-0105 or 800-794-6960. Parking lot. Catering. Hours: Monday-Friday 4 to 7 p.m.

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