305 N. Hesperian St.
Santa Ana, CA 92703
Writing this blog has taken us to all kinds of restaurants. We have been to real fancy places, middle of the road restaurants, and some real dives. We are pretty open to eating in all sorts of establishments. We have had some great dinners in dives, while some of the most expensive places have left us needing to go to Del Taco after to either fill us up, or get a bad taste out of our mouths. When reviewing restaurants, you kind of have to keep an open mind. Burrell's put this theory to the test.
I have heard about, and read about Burrell's for a number of years now. It seems that the OC Weekly mentions this Santa Ana institution in almost every other issue. Burrell's has been around for over thirty years now. There used to be a location in Irvine, but that has since shuttered.
Pulling up to Burrell's you kind of do a double take. Are we sure this is the place? Yes, there's the sign, and the catering vans out front with Burrell's slapped across the sides. Burrell's is located on a residential street, just west of Bristol. The feel and look of this place is what I imagine barbecue shacks back in the Carolina's to feel and look like. Once you step inside the tiny storefront, you are met by the wonderful aroma of barbecue. Behind the glass are meats and Fred Burrell himself. He seemed a little more quiet than I imagined he would be. He guided us towards what was good this particular evening, and we ordered two Pot Luck #1's which came out to $77 dollars for all the food you are about to see. We had six adults in our group, and this was more than enough food for all of us, with a few leftovers for the next day. There's no dining room at Burrell's, eating here means you are eating in the side yard, where they have set up three picnic tables. After about five minutes, the food made its way out. Let's see what we thought of Burrell's BBQ.
Let's start with the meats, since that's really what's important at a barbecue restaurant anyways. We got to try five different meats, so we feel we got a pretty good representation of what to get here. The above container contained the Hot Links and Tri Tip. Whenever one of us tried the tri-tip for the first time, you could hear an auditory gasp of excitement. This could have been one of the best tri-tips I have had. Very tender, sliced thin, and with a great meaty flavor. Even though this was the first thing I ate, this would end up being the best item of the night. The hot links on the other hand are not for everyone. They grew on me as the night went on, but they had a very rough texture to them, the heat was more of a slow burn, which I liked, and they were totally overshadowed by the tri-tip.
I have a kind of love hate relationship with BBQ Chicken, and that held true to form at Burrell's. The first piece of chicken I had was a leg, and it was delicious. Tender, moist, and I liked the sweet barbecue sauce that they used here. The next piece of chicken was not so good. I tried one of the breasts, and it was dry, and only made better when I spooned some extra sauce over it. Based on my experience, stick with the moist dark meat here, and you should be fine.
Sorry for the sub-par pictures, but we were all hungry, so I didn't want to make my friends wait to eat. I was also losing daylight quickly, so I had to be fast about things. The Pork Ribs and Pork Tips and Ends sparked the biggest debate at our table. I personally liked the pork ribs, which had plenty of meat on them, came nicely off the bone, and were pretty tender. My buddy Richard thought they were just okay. I do not usually put much stock into his food preferences, but he's a butcher, and he does know meat, so I have to give his views some merit here. He felt the ribs should have fallen off the bone if they were smoked for an extended length of time. He said they were tender, and that the flavor was okay, but he needs them to fall off the bone, for them to be declared good. The rib tips and ends were not as tender as others I have had, which is really the only reason to get rib tips in the first place. They really failed to make an impression on me and our group.
The sides were polarizing at Burrell's as well. I really enjoyed most of the sides, with the exception of the Sissy's Baked Macaroni and Cheese. I was expecting way more here. The only part I liked was the crunchy top layer, but what was underneath was devoid of flavor, the cheese was not very prominent, and the consistency was all wrong, because it was too watery. Being a Californian, I have not had much exposure to Collard Greens, but these ones were pretty solid. Little bits of meat were included among the slightly overcooked greens, giving this a very nice, subdued flavor. The baked beans were solid at Burrell's. Kind of sweet, with lots of flavor. Even the Coleslaw won rave reviews from most of us at the table, with its nice cabbage crunch and abundance of creamy dressing. The polarizing part about the sides, was from my friend Richard, who was not impressed with any of the sides here, but I would have to disagree with him when it comes to the baked beans and collard greens.
Our potluck meal came with Cornbread as well. None of us were really that impressed by the cornbread at Burrell's. It was on the dry side, and was very crumbly. This might have been better if butter was offered, but as it was, we were not too into this cornbread.
Our meal also came with dessert, and this might have been the first time that I have had Sweet Potato Pie. Kind of like a pumpkin pie, but not as sweet. I was surprised that I liked this as much as I did. I'm usually more of a sweet person, but this had a good flavor, even though the presentation of this pie was kind of odd. Not sure why the crust broke off like it did, but it was still a pretty solid pie.
Last but not least, when my friend Angel saw Gumbo ($3.25) on the menu, he could not wait to order it. His excitement waned very quickly when he was alerted to the fact that this was a seafood gumbo. I guess he was expecting more of a traditional gumbo with sausage or chicken. This gumbo had a strong seafood presence. I was excited to see crab legs in this, but the crab inside disintegrated, and was absorbed into the soup. This gumbo was pretty watery, and I would have liked this better if it had more of a stew consistency to it.
As with all barbecue restaurants, it is easy to mess things up. There are so many elements that go into making a barbecue restaurant great, that it is almost as difficult as pitching a perfect game. Either the meats are great, but the side items are weak, or maybe some of the meats are good, while other suffer from not being top notch. What I'm really trying to say here is that it's hard for a barbecue restaurant to execute all of their menu at the highest level. This was definitely the case at Burrell's. The tri-tip was some of the best we have had, while the chicken had some pretty dry pieces. Most of the sides were good, but the macaroni and cheese was below average. I guess I would call Burrell's inconsistent. If I had only had the tri-tip, this would have been a glowing review, but you have to take everything under consideration here.
Burrell's is not for everyone. The inside of the house is a narrow space, with just enough room so you can see the meats sitting behind the glass case. No soda fountain or ice dispenser here. You scoop your ice out of a cooler, and are given a can of soda, or directed towards a pitcher of ice tea. No dining inside, as you are relegated to the three picnic tables in the side yard. This is an older restaurant, and it may appear dingy, or not clean to some people. I'd call it rustic, but you might have your own interpretation. I'll leave it at this, if you are squeamish about restaurant appearances, you should probably avoid Burrell's and head to a chain barbecue restaurant like Lucille's or Wood Ranch, where you will probably be a little more comfortable.
Out of five footballs, (because when the Redskins used to play the Rams in Anaheim, they used to make a stop at Burrell's when they came to town), five being best to zero being worst, Burrell's BBQ gets 2.5 footballs.
For more information about Burrell's BBQ, go to their website here: http://www.burrellsbbq.com/