The bookstores have let you know about it with displays of hardcover tomes that feature grinning males spanking lobsters with tongs. The department stores have clued you in, too, selling Dad's Day with special markdowns on steak knives and spatulas. And the supermarkets have gotten into the act -- with stacks of charcoal, enough lighter fluid to set spark to CityPlace, and matches as long as chopsticks. But in case you're newly arrived from the flooded Siberian plains or simply don't have a penchant for playing with fire, allow me to reiterate: It's barbecue season.
What does that mean for you, the consumer? Usually a protracted wrestling session with a rusted propane tank that hasn't been filled since last July; a bewildering array of sauces and spice rubs, all of which have the same ingredients but claim to be secret recipes; and at least one argument with a spouse who claims to be proficient with filet mignon but can't tell the difference between medium rare and burned to a crisp.
Personally I don't give a hoot about grilling hootenannies. Complicated concoctions, gleaned from the annals of award-winning chefs such as Steven Raichlen, make my eyes glaze over faster than I can brush teriyaki sauce onto a chicken breast; frankly (inevitable pun intended) if it ain't as easy as an Oscar Mayer on a bun, I want no part of it. I have no interest in purchasing or wearing backyard barbecue designer duds that only wilt in the humidity anyway. And even if I possessed the chromosomal makeup that would require me to enjoy a crackling blaze, I would still probably have no elemental need for creating heat in the subtropical oven we term South Florida.
Lucille's Bad to the Bone BBQ
710 Linton Blvd., Delray Beach
561-330-6705. Lunch and dinner daily from 11 a.m. till 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday till 11 p.m.
Despite my disinterest in the phenomenon, I have recently been forced to suffer a protracted wrestling session with an information operator, a bewildering array of 150 sauces displayed in a "Wall of Fire," and an argument with a server who couldn't tell the difference between honey barbecue and mesquite ranch salad dressings. The reason: I don't cook out; I dine out. And this year I chose to inaugurate the season at Lucille's Bad to the Bone BBQ (LBB BBQ) in Delray Beach. The eclectic, Texas-themed eatery is owned by a pair of local restaurateurs, Karin and Craig Larsen, whose products (LBB BBQ in Boca Raton and Lucille's American Cafe in Weston) I've liked for years. Their company, Crazy from the Heat Restaurants, opened an LBB BBQ sibling on Linton Boulevard about six weeks ago, which accounts for the operator's inability, at first, to give me the correct phone number. But I persevered, and it was worth the minor aggravation: The second installment of LBB BBQ turned out to be as fun and satisfying as the first.
Indeed the place seems identical to the original. The décor is déjà vu, with cow-pattern tablecloths, license plates affixed to the walls, and a whole lot of other Western kitsch, including the infamous Wall of Fire, where you sample at your palate's peril. The menu hawks items like pulled pork, homemade corn muffins, and gloppy, oh-so-good Blondie sundaes the size of a placemat. Even the blackened fish, invariably dry at the Boca locale, was similarly overcooked here, the sawdust-textured mahi-mahi special being the only real failure we encountered.
We also met with a couple of new-restaurant glitches, like the corn on the cob that was served looking as if a bite had been taken out of it, and the aforementioned salad-dressing confusion. At one point we had eight plastic ramekins of the same creamy, spice-flecked dressing on the table. "OK," the waiter said, returning for the third time, "the one in my left hand is honey barbecue, and the one in my right hand is the mesquite ranch."
"But they look and taste exactly the same," we noted again.
"Yes, but this is what the kitchen told me," he again and again replied, scratching his head and making yet another trip.
Still the pluses outnumbered the minuses. One big improvement to the Delray sister is the addition of a full liquor bar replete with top-shelf brands. Another is the relative (and probably not long-lasting) peace and quiet. Whereas the Boca Raton location is usually overrun, the Delray Beach one has yet to be discovered by the resident horde.
Then there's the food, which is generally hearty and served in overly generous portions. Take, for example, the trash-can nacho appetizer. The condiment-laden tortilla chips are called such because they are served in the slightly dented lid of a trash can Oscar the Grouch would be proud to call his own. The lid spins like a lazy Susan, dispensing chips topped with chili, jack and cheddar cheeses, tomatoes, black olives, jalapeño peppers, chopped scallions, and about a pint of sour cream. What made these nachos memorable, however, were the succulent hunks of pulled beef introduced to the dish via the chili.
If enough people at your table are willing to get down with a bunch of starters, opt for the garbage can-lid sampler. For only a few bucks more than the nachos alone, you receive that appetizer plus the "tobacco onion haystack" (slightly greasy, deep-fried onion straws); "sweet potato stix" (tender, just-crisp French fries); and "Lucille's lazy wings" (boneless, breaded chicken wings for the messphobic). The addictive chicken wings are available with a variety of sauces, including traditional Buffalo or barbecue. We chose the Parmesan-garlic version, which nevertheless hinted at the Buffalo sauce.
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True LBB BBQ aficionados usually head straight to entrées because portion sizes tend toward the prodigious. The chicken "pie in a pot," girded with pastry bag- dispensed mashed potatoes rather than a shortening-based crust, was enough for four adults to share -- and then some (read: doggy bag). The pie was served in a heated, cast-iron skillet deposited on a trivet in the center of the table and featured a variety of vegetables such as corn, green beans, and carrots. But the real star of the pie was the white meat, pulled directly off the bone and so juicy that it's clear the kitchen never even pondered making this dish from leftovers.
Ditto the slow-cooked beef brisket, a large quantity of beef that's been braised, then chopped and tossed with LBB's own vibrant barbecue sauce, a spoonful of sweet relish, and an infusion of diced red onions. If you don't have a sweet tooth, this item can become a little cloying, in which case it's better to opt for the moist, clove-scented baby-back ribs or the densely spice-rubbed St. Louis ribs. "The best of both worlds" main course allows you to choose a half-rack of each, an option that could leave the diner with a which-is-which dilemma. To his credit, I should note, our waiter knew how to identify the ribs, a feat that reassured us after the salad-dressing incident.
All main courses come with a home-baked corn muffin and the choice of two "sidekicks," ranging from collard greens to applesauce to baked sweet potatoes. Smoky baked beans, rife with pulled pork, were (sauce-stained) hands-down the best side dish, with creamy mashed potatoes running a close second. Side salads, crisp with an assortment of lettuces and other vegetables, made a good study in contrasts to the heavier dishes; and because LBB mixes, with the exception of the blue cheese, all its own dressings, the salads are a worthy substitute for coleslaw.
It stands to reason, of course, that the existence of the newest Lucille's won't guarantee that stubborn backyard barbecuers will retreat to a restaurant. So you can order some delivery from Lucille's, resorting to sure-fire economic arguments to get backyard chefs off the deck and onto the phone. After all, with both beef and fossil-fuel prices rising this summer, grilling out is bound to be a more expensive option than taking out.