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Fillet of Soul : Ribs and fried pickles are among the few high notes on B.B. King Blues Club menu.

October 28, 1994|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Max Jacobson reviews restaurants every Friday in Valley Life!

UNIVERSAL CITY — B.B. King Blues Club hopes to emulate on CityWalk the legendary blues guitarist's original club on Beale Street in New Orleans. Blues on the mall, folks. You figure it out.

To be sure, this three-tiered club does have something of the look and feel of old N'awlins. The purple-and-gold-spattered proscenium stage (where a fine house band holds court after 9 p.m.) seems right, and the wrought-iron balconies on each of the levels call to mind the Quarter (the French Quarter, of course).

Photos of many legendary blues musicians hang in places of honor along the walls. The ghost of Elvis might lurk in one corner, near a framed guitar that once belonged to Mississippi John Hurt. Johnny Taylor and Rufus Thomas gyrate silently inside their glass frames, photo pastiches in black and white. The man himself, B.B. King, puts in a personal appearance now and then; he plans about five a year, a manager told me.

Maybe you'll be lucky. More likely you'll boogie along with an Otis Redding video that runs intermittently overhead in the dining areas, or take in well-traveled bands with names like the Blue Knights and Lost Souls.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday November 4, 1994 Valley Edition Valley Life Page 36 Zones Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Location: In a review of the restaurant at the B.B. King Blues Club in CityWalk published on Oct. 24 in Valley Life!, the location of the original B.B. King club was incorrect. The club is located in Memphis.

I wish the food were as tight as the music. Come at lunch and there is a Southern-style buffet, and at dinner the food runs to barbecue. But much of it gives a mass-produced effect worlds removed from the forceful, hands-on authenticity of the blues.

Here's what I mean. Order corn on the cob, and you'll get half an ear, totally waterlogged. Pulled pork wastes a tangy, interestingly flavored barbecue sauce on a hopelessly dry mass of shredded meat.

There are some bright spots, such as the fried dill pickles. This has to be one of the quirkiest appetizers to come down the lane since Dr. John was in medical school, and it's a lot better than you might guess. Essentially, it's thinly sliced pickles, dipped in batter and deep-fried, accompanied by a wash of cool ranch dressing for dipping. The batter is quite crisp, and the textural crunch is a shocker.

The only problem with fried dill pickles is quantity. They are not like potato chips--you can't eat many more than just one.

The kitchen does a credible job with the spicy Louisiana hot wings, but I suggest that you avoid an appetizer called B.B.'s Gone Fishing. As we got it, this was flavorless boiled shrimp and oddball chunks of smoked catfish crowned by an unpleasantly sweet and pungent red sauce. In the center was a strange thing called catfish pate, which had a mild, smoky finish and was about the consistency of gummy cream cheese.

*

I'm trying to like the restaurant's take on Louisiana gumbo. It's made with file (powdered sassafras root), as it should be, and has the proper murk. But I couldn't find any of the shrimp that were supposed to be in the bowl, and the rice they put in at the last moment strikes me as excessively al dente for this sort of food.

The red beans and rice, now, are nicely simmered, with a good, homey flavor. The problem with this dish is the split grilled sausage used as garnish. It doesn't remind me of any chaurice I've ever had--this sausage tastes to me exactly like an ordinary hot dog.

The barbecued meats are better than either of those dishes. Beale Street baby back ribs is about the best meat dish the kitchen puts out--tender, juicy ribs that come away easily from the bone. The barbecued chicken is generic, but the crunchy breaded catfish is great, dribbling juice and spurting steam when the cornmeal batter is cracked.

It comes with a finely chopped, tangy coleslaw. The smoked prime rib (good meat, nice and smoky) is available either in the enormous B.B.'s cut (around 20 ounces) or in the smaller, but ample, Memphis Belle cut.

Baked potatoes, often mealy in touristy places like this one, taste as if they have been cooked with care--a small surprise--and the greens (collard and turnip) that come with the barbecued dishes are credible. But the other accompaniments to barbecue are likely to be tired french fries and dry corn bread with cloying honey butter.

If you have the appetite for dessert, the best choice is Southern bread pudding, a dense, eggy square served warm. Another good one is Mississippi mud pie, chocolate ice cream with chocolate sauce, though it lacks the usual crushed Oreo cookie crust that represents the "mud" in the formula.

But the Tennessee bourbon pecan pie had me singing the blues. This sticky commercial product had a taste of stale crushed pecans and a flaccid crust that practically disintegrated when poked with a fork. The thrill, my friends, was gone.

Where and When

Location: B.B. King Blues Club, 1000 Universal Center Drive at CityWalk, Universal City.

Suggested Dishes: fried dill pickles, $4.95; Beale Street baby back ribs, half rack, $8.95, whole rack, $14.95; catfish, $9.95; Southern bread pudding, $2.95.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Price: Dinner for two, $23 to $38. Full bar. All major cards. Parking at Universal costs $6; validated valet parking at restaurant for two hours reimburses $2 of this.

Call: (818) 622-5464.

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