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Burrell's Pit Brings Bar-B-Que to Balboa

April 29, 1993|MAX JACOBSON | Max Jacobson is a free-lance writer who reviews restaurants weekly for The Times Orange County Edition.

Fred Burrell is the undisputed king of barbecue in these parts, having parlayed a downsized barbecue shack on a back street in Santa Ana into a multifaceted operation with a branch in Irvine. Burrell's Quick Stop Wood Pit Bar-B-Que is his newest venture and it's bound to be another successful one.

This is a bare storefront without a single chair or table, a takeout in its purest form with little more than a counter and one antique stove used to display a few Cajun products and a few of Burrell's special sauces, bottled and ready to go.

It's on the barbecue-poor (until now, that is) Balboa Peninsula and all of the succulent, slow-smoked hickory perfumed meats that made Burrell's rep are available here. (If you have a fax, Burrell will fax you his menu and you can order by phone: The food will be packaged and ready to go by the time you arrive.)

Dinners essentially come in three sizes--small, medium and jumbo--and portions are generous. Two side dishes come with the jumbo and medium orders, one with the small, and they're mostly good ones. We feasted on such items as batter-fried okra, gooey macaroni and cheese, slightly bitter collard greens scented with "pot likker" (the juice they simmer in), mushy black-eyed peas and (overly) salty baked beans, in addition to pieces of the good corn bread they throw in.

But it is the meats that brought you here, soft meats barbecued with hickory, a sweet, smoky wood that gets into every pore of the meat. Burrell, believe it or not, hails from a town called Hickory, N.C., and his cooking is true to the traditions of the Mid South. This sloppy style of barbecue is an exact replica of what you'd find in his home state--sliced, shredded, chopped and smothered in a redolent red sauce rich with pepper, vinegar and exotic spicing.

My favorite dish is the barbecued pork shoulder sandwich, an overflowing heap in a French roll topped with creamy cole slaw (it doesn't stand up that well to reheating, though, because the roll tends to sog). Beef brisket is soft, lean and tender--excellent. There are sensationally crumbly rib tips and ends, fine, meaty baby backs colored a burnished red brown and great Louisiana-style fried catfish.

Pass on the too-salty Louisiana gumbo and the hot link sausage (I used to love Burrell's sausage but he seems to be using a different one these days, and I don't care for the strange spicing, which tastes oddly commercial).

Finish with a good slice of the dense sweet potato pie, a far better choice than the gloppy banana pudding or watery peach cobbler. Then put your feet up and relax. There isn't much else to be done after eating a meal like this one.

(Order a day ahead and for $36 you can get a 12- to 14-pound ham or turkey ideal for a family picnic on the beach.)


3305 Newport Blvd., Unit A, Newport Beach.

(714) 723-7240.

Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; till 9 p.m. Sundays.

American Express, MasterCard and Visa.

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