L.A. is on a serious meat bender. And if once the city felt devoid of really great barbecue, save for a few places in various corners of town, the last few years have a really nice smoke ring around it, with ribs, brisket and pulled pork finding more room on our collective dining table. This week another newcomer, Maple Block Meat Co., debuts in Culver City, a collaboration with chef Adam Cole, who cooked with Michael Voltaggio at The Bazaar and ink., along with Spago kitchen alum Daniel Weinstock and restaurateur Mike Garrett. Right now you’ll barbecue sandwiches for lunch only from a quick-serve market counter (11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.), with dinner coming along in September.
For Cole, opening a barbecue restaurant isn’t about following the trends. “Barbeuce is one of the oldest techniques in the Americas,” he says. “It’s always been in style, and the time has always been right for eating good food, for good cooking with a good team. For us, it was really about our timing and the pieces of the puzzle coming together for our team and the location.”
And he takes his ‘cue seriously. Not only did he grow up eating the best brisket, pulled pork, and ribs in Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia, he spent three years butchering at Lindy & Grundy, and learned smoking and barbecuing techniques from Ken Hess, a championship competitive pitmaster. They’re butchering whole animals in-house and smoking everything on the premises, and making everything from the sauces and sides from scratch. With things like chopped pork shoulder with peach-mustard and fennel slaw, whole bone-in prime rib, charred rapini, housemade sodas, and craft beer and wines, Maple Block is angling to be much more than your average neighborhood barbecue joint.
How will they do that? It’s really all about the meat. We asked Cole to elaborate.
Are you doing a certain style of barbecue at Maple Block Meat Co.?
“We don’t really rely on any specific region for guidance. We are just trying to do honest, authentic barbecue, meaning we respect the traditions of smoking meat with wood without and not overcomplicating the meat.”
Barbecue is all about simplicity, so what techniques from places like the Bazaar and ink. lend themselves well to this style of cooking?
“The type of equipment that can be used in a modern kitchen has a lot of practical applications. For example our bacon, the entire process is done in-house but we can reduce the curing time by 70to 75 percent just by vacuum sealing it with our dry rub.”
Chefs throw around a lot of buzzwords when it comes to meat and ingredients. What do you mean by ‘”houghtfully sourced?”
“That means we are not just calling a bunch of purveyors and getting the cheapest prices. We are considering many variables that we feel help our quality: humanely raised animals, the breed of the animals, fat vs. protein, how far away the animal was raised. And at the end of the day, these are relationships with people, and that often starts with a ‘gut feeling’ from both sides that we’re all on the same page.”
Does butchering in-house make better barbecue?
“It doesn’t necessarily make for better barbecue, but it does is keep us engaged with the product we’re using, which helps maximize the use of the animal and allows us to know how we want to use various parts. We can offer more items and do things that many barbecue restaurants don’t have access to, like bone-in pork belly. We also really enjoy it, and it’s another step toward making food we really want to eat.”
It’s all about the wood, right? So then why are you using peach wood?
“Every great barbecue culture uses wood that is indigenous to their area. In Texas it’s post oak and mesquite. In the South it’s hickory or applewood. Here in Southern California we’re fortunate to have peach wood. It’s very consistent. It burns hot and has a nice sweet flavor. So after long smokes the finished product isn’t inundated with smoke, it’s just balanced.”
Do you think L.A. has a barbecue style?
“I don’t think there’s really an L.A. style barbecue, at least not yet. We’re a bunch of people coming from different places so there are many interpretations. I’m influenced by what I grew up with and tasted, and the techniques that I’ve been exposed to. And I’m sure that’s the same for lots of other people. Maple Block Meat Co. is a tribute to the craftsmanship of butchering, smoking and grilling meat, and paying respect to the deep-rooted traditions of American barbecue.”
Maple Block Meat Co., 3973 Sepulveda Blvd., 310-313-6328