More than Great Barbecue at Epic BBQ: A Review
© 2012 by Aurelio Locsin.
Although the city of Stanton rises in the middle of suburban Orange County, California, it lies at least half-an-hour away from any freeway. Its isolation has turned it into a sad and decaying island surrounded by prosperous continents. I have little reason to pass through it. However, in the past two weeks, I have entered its borders twice. My ultimate destination was Epic BBQ.
The restaurant occupies a couple of storefronts behind the parking lot of a non-descript shopping center. Inside, 14-foot ceilings enlarge the space, which only has nine wooden tables. Three of them consist of picnic tables, painted in black, and seating at least six each. Although we’ve always come when it’s empty, I’m told it’s hard to get a seat during the lunch and dinner hour, even though much of the traffic is take-away.
The floor is a checkerboard of black and white, and an open kitchen lets you watch the cook prepare your meal over mesquite charcoal. A handwritten sign on a yellow piece of paper offers a 25 percent discount if you recommend the eatery to friends or review them on Yelp.
The menu only has about a dozen or so dishes showing sandwich and meal variations of BBQ beef, pork, chicken, hot links and tri-trip. The five side dishes include macaroni salad, potato salad, grilled squash, garlic bread or baked beans. Newbies should try the lunch meal, which offers any two meats and one side, or the dinner meal, which allows any three meats and two sides. They’re both available any time of day and under ten dollars. Look for the colorful flyer on the counter, which includes 15 percent off those meals.
You can sample the mild, medium and spicy sauces before deciding on one, with the first being hot enough for me. Expect a house-made, reddish-brown delight that flows easily and seems to have a tomato base with some sour tamarind. The smoky flavor burns the throat slightly, which is a reason to take advantage of the soda with unlimited refills.
I mostly use the sauce, which comes in a small plastic cup, for dipping sides. Because the meat does not need it, which to me is always the mark of good barbecue. Whether you order the beef (my favorite) or pork (my partner’s joy), expect a juicy interior and a crispy, charred exterior. The beef ribs are at least six inches long and encourage the use of hands and frequent gnawing because the meat does not fall off the bone. Prepare to get bits of meat and sauce on your face and cheeks. You can always clean up with the moist towelettes or in the restroom.
Skip the hot links sausage, which is undistinguished though adequate, and may come from a store-bought package. The beans also come from a can. The garlic bread is grilled on-sight to a light, crispy and buttery taste, and the squash comes from zucchini, which is sliced lengthwise, and grilled with some oil, leaving it firm, chewy and delicious.
The restaurant is inexpensive and offers generous portions of mesquite-flavored barbecue. We’ll continue to visit it frequently. Though we haven’t tried the chicken or the tri-tip, we’ve heard good things about them. Another sign of the excellent quality are the regular patrons who simply ask for “the usual” to get their orders.
The colorful and expansive signs of humungous Pet City next door seem to presage a nirvana of animal companions, worthy of post-meal exploration. Steer clear of the deception, especially if you have kids. Though large and impressive, establishment is neglected and dingy, with forlorn dogs whose cages you want to open so you can yell “Flee!” One deformed creature suffered from underbite with protruding fangs, which he used to threaten with between barks and growls.
Sadly, Epic BBQ reduced its opening days a couple of weeks after this review was published. It then closed soon after. I was never able to return to enjoy the barbecue. I tried to call them several times on the phone but no one was there. Incidentally, the pet store next door is still going strong.