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RESTAURANT REVIEW : Inconsistency Puts a Chill on the Grill : The meaty beef ribs and pork baby-backs are main attractions at Maverick's. But commercial barbecue sauces disappoint.

August 04, 1994|NORM CHANDLER FOX | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Late summer is the time we all crave some good, old-fashioned barbecue. After a few months of incinerating our own meats on the outdoor grill, we long for those smoke-filled treats that seem, somehow, impossible to duplicate at home.

Unfortunately, Southern California doesn't have the longstanding barbecue tradition of the Deep South. Down there, folks will get in fistfights over which place has the better sauce, and they all seem to agree that you never enter a barbecue establishment unless you can smell it a few blocks away.

Maverick's can be smelled for at least a few hundred yards, especially on evenings when slabs of tri-tip beef are cooking on a giant grill just outside the restaurant's entrance.

Located in a medium-size shopping center in Simi Valley, the place looks like a set for a grade-B Western movie. Several dining areas are festooned with cowboy memorabilia ranging from artificial rattlesnakes to life-size cowhand figures perched on the benches.

This venue could be one of our better barbecue spots if it wasn't so dad-burned inconsistent. For starters, the servers, who appear to be well meaning, tend to get simple barbecue orders mixed up. Then there is the food.

Starting with the appetizers, listed as "snacks," the popcorn shrimp ($6.50) taste like heavy seafood-flavored doughnuts, while the deep-fried zucchini sticks ($4) have a scorched quality all their own. The worst offenders are the beer-battered onion rings ($4.50), which taste only of grease. Surprisingly, the deep-fried jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese ($4) are quite tasty.

All of the barbecue plates, sandwiches or combos are brazenly served with a choice of commercially made sauces. One would assume that any barbecue restaurant worth its hickory smoke would fashion a sauce that's unique to that establishment. Here, you can choose "Bull's Eye," which is cloyingly sweet; jerk marinade, imported from Jamaica, which has a nice bite; teriyaki glaze; which tastes like soy-flavored candy; or a plain dusting of salt, pepper and garlic--a best bet.

The moment of truth comes with the beef ribs ($8.95 for three, $12.50 for five), which are huge, lean, tender and have a fine oak-wood flavor. The pork baby-back ribs ($10.95 for a half-rack, $16.50 for a full) also have a delicious smoky taste, but tend to be greasy. The barbecued half chicken ($9.95) also tastes of smoke, but on one occasion was undercooked. The sliced tri-tip beef ($10.50) is chewy, but flavorful. The more adventurous can order combos (ranging from $11.50 to $13.95) composed of chicken, ribs and tri-tip in various permutations.

Among the sandwiches available, try the ones made of juicy barbecued ham ($7.50) or tender, sliced smoked pork loin ($7.95), which has a subtle flavor. The Maverick Burger ($6.95) is a giant half-pound of ground sirloin grilled and topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and cheese. Barbecued beef or chicken sandwiches ($7.50) are awash in that commercial sauce, and the sandwich made of smoked turkey breast ($7.50) is as dry as Palm Springs in August.

Another true test of a good barbecue restaurant is the quality of the side dishes, of which you're offered two with any platter or sandwich.

The baked potato and corn on the cob are just fine, since it's difficult to mess up those staples. French fries are on the oily side, while the potato salad is bland, and the garlic bread tastes more of garlic salt than fresh minced cloves of garlic. On the plus side is an excellent cole slaw and absolutely phenomenal ranch beans in a rich gravy studded with chunks of pork.

Desserts are all made on the premises. Fruit cobblers ($4) come in peach, raspberry, boysenberry, apple or cherry, and while the fillings are OK, there's way too much heavy crust embalming the fruit. Forget the ordinary cheesecake ($4.25) and try the chocolate cake ($3.50), which is tall in the saddle and delightfully rich.

Details

* WHAT: Maverick's.

* WHERE: 5225 Cochran St., Simi Valley.

* WHEN: Open Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

* HOW MUCH: Meal for two, food only, $20-$35.

* FYI: Major credit cards accepted; full bar; takeout available. 527-8730.

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