Growing up, I was once told that the two topics you don’t bring up during tableside conversation amongst strangers (or even amongst some friends) are religion and politics. Lips tighten, brows crease, forks grasped more tightly, and its just not good for digestion to bring up such decisive subject matters for a festive supper. I’d argue there is a third topic of discussion potentially as inflammatory that has nothing to do with deities or party lines, but is just as touchy a topic for many: BBQ. Or bar-b-que. Or barbecue. Or simply ‘cue for those too preoccupied eating their share of the good meaty stuff to waste an extra couple of syllables inbetween bites. Mention barbecue and words like “original”, “proper”, “real”, “authentic” and “serious” are guaranteed to pepper the discussion. Direct or indirect cooking. Dry rubs or sauced. Southern or Northern or Texan style. Swine or beef. Only the kama sutra has as many listed techniques of meat handling as there are of regional varieties of barbecue preparation/technique.
Rare is the time that the words “barbecue” and “California” are uttered in the same sentence. Its like mentioning “sushi” and “Bakersfield” in the same breath for most. But for the dedicated carnivore, there are indeed some outposts of properly prepared smoked ribs, briskets, links, country sliced ham, and chicken within city limits to satiate your hunger. One of my favourites since childhood is Dr. Hogly Wogly’s Tyler Texas Bar-B-Que in Van Nuys. Yes, Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley (in fact, there is another notable barbecue establishment just 3-4 miles north in Mission Hills, The Bear Pit). Named after former Texas native Johnny “Hogly Wogly” Green, the down home meat mecca has been serving up Texan sized portions since 1969 in a very humble Valley location (the ambiance is currently livened by a large Spearmint Rhino “Gentleman’s Club” billboard overlooking the restaurant). The interior completes the real deal feel, with wall to wall wood paneling, red vinyl booths, leathery skinned waitresses who might not even afford you a glance while ordering, and paintings adorning the wall you’ll probably recognize from your grandparents’ rumpus room art collection. If you’re looking for linens, proper lighting, and attentive service, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for brisket that has been slowly smoked over cherry and oak to perfection and beef spareribs that are slightly charred with smoky flavour, then do your time and get in line with the rest of the rainbow coalition of rib and meat lovers that wait 30-45 minutes outside with eager anticipation (locals knowingly come with playing cards to pass the time).
By definition, Dr. Hogly Wogly’s isn’t Texan barbecue, which is most often defined as dry rub marinated and smoked indirectly for eons, served with perhaps with a smidgen of sauce as condiment but often not necessary such is seriousness of the dry spices. While vacationing in Texas several months ago, I assumed the role of gastronomic Caligula at the roadhouse favourite Rudy’s Bar-B-Q just outside of San Antonio, stuffed myself silly with hot links, chicken, baby back ribs and spare ribs, sitting on long communal tables, and forever was my definition of barbecue changed (and I say this knowing I have yet to try even superior Cooper’s Old Time Pit BBQ in Llano or Smitty’s in Lockhart). Dr. Hogly Wogly’s, despite its Texan pedigree, is more akin to the “wet” style ribs and meats most people outside of Texas equate with the word “barbecue”. I opted for the “2 Way Combination” plate with Beef Brisket and Spareribs, accompanied by a side order of home baked beans, potato salad and a loaf of bread. Looking around, despite the mammoth amounts of food of my order telling me otherwise, this was a medium sized plate. The baked beans were slightly mushy, sweet and delicious, with strands of pork cooked in, rewarding your each bite. The potato salad was the creamy-smooth variety I prefer, and the macaroni salad and cole slaw (* which vegetarian Emily ordered) were both above standard fare. The spareribs and brisket came swimming in a shallow pool of barbecue sauce, with just enough grease exuded from the meat mixed in to make for perfect bread sopping liquid. But like a prize fighter zoning himself for a knockout, I tried to avoid focusing on the extras, and dive bombed into the meat itself with the veracity of a woman at a shoe sale. The brisket was tender…tender like a Teddy Pendergrass slow jam, and the half pound of slow cooked meat disappeared in about 3 minutes, since it didn’t require chewing. The spareribs were a bit more tough and stringy, the meat perhaps a little on the dry side. But dipped into the oily sauce, the ribs didn’t survive my longer than the beloved brisket. Wetnaps and a pile of napkins will punctuate your meal most definitely, and you’ll be flossing flesh like a South Beach thong for the next couple of days.
My only real complaint, and its more than minor, is the horribly inattentive service. We’re talking about sitting 20 minutes for the check, no refills and nary a “how ya’ll doing?” during our whole time there. Its not so much that the waitresses are lollygagging as much as the small restaurant is overpacked with ravenous carnivores all wanting to get their meat on, and you can sometimes feel the tension of men and women who want their food, right then and now all at once. It was such bedlam during our visit, the power went out twice. I’d recommend if you’re one to easily complain in regards to service, the take-out route might be your best bet. Me? I’ll be back, ready to wait in line, be ignored, and pay $19 to eat in the dark all over again because the ‘cue is that good.
*Its an amusing to note that it was my vegetarian girlfriend’s request we hunt down a proper barbecue establishment that evening because of the patriotic nature of the weekend. God bless America, and open minded vegetarian girlfriends!