Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que
13122 Jamboree Road
Irvine, CA 92602
We have been on a real barbecue kick lately. My friend at work was going on vacation to Texas and wanted me to do some research on the best barbecue joints he should hit up. After looking at tons of pictures and descriptions of these wonderful Texas barbecue restaurants, it got me in the mood to have some barbecue here at home. I called up my parents and they met us for an impromptu dinner at Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que in Irvine.
I had never been to a Famous Dave's before. They have 173 units operating in 32 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates. In OC they have two spots, this Irvine one, and one which is a few blocks away from South Coast Plaza. The Irvine location took over the shuttered Opah spot and is nestled right next to the very busy BJ's Restaurant at the corner of Irvine and Jamboree. They have been in business here now for nearly two years.
As we were waiting for my parents to arrive, as they were uncharacteristically late on this Friday evening, Katie and I waited near the front of the restaurant watching the antics in this busy corner of the Irvine Marketplace Shopping Center. There was this lady pulling in and out of a parking space about thirty times, a space that was obviously too small for her huge SUV. There was also another couple of guys yelling at each other over another parking space. As all this was going on, I noticed the absence of the aroma of barbecued meats wafting through the air in the front of Famous Dave's, and this got me a little apprehensive for this meal.
Entering the Famous Dave's, I was surprised to find out that this was a full-service restaurant, not an order at the counter spot. For some reason, this made me happy. The restaurant is deceptively bigger than it appears from the outside. There's a nice bar area in the front of the house, with a number of high top tables facing three large TV's, which were tuned to three different games on this evening. There's also a large, partially enclosed patio off to the side of the restaurant. Plenty of hanging light fixtures and exposed high ceilings provide a well lit and openness to the space, which is appreciated. Still no smoke or barbecued meat smell inside the restaurant.
There are plenty of choices on the Famous Dave's menu. They offer a plethora of combos, a family feast, burgers, sandwiches, appetizers, and if you are into that sort of thing, they even have salads. We all quickly made our selections and waited for our food to come, while keeping one eye on the Ducks game on the corner TV. Here's how it all worked out for us on this evening.
My mom was pretty adamant about trying these Onion Strings ($7.99), and I was not about to disappoint her. These flash fried onion strings came out with a very good remoulade sauce, and it reminded me of the now departed Awesome Blossom from Chili's or the Bloomin Onion at Outback. The top layer of this was the best, as it lacked the grease that fell to the bottom of the paper lined basket. The size of this was perfect for the four of us.
My dad has a proclivity for ordering oddball things in barbecue restaurants. That held true on this evening at Famous Dave's when he got these Texas Beef Brisket Tacos ($13.99). The brisket was joined in the grilled flour tortilla by some red onion, jalapenos, cilantro, and pico de gallo. My dad liked this, but after the two bites that I had, I thought these were a little on the boring side and needed either a hot sauce or maybe some of the barbecue sauce that was on the table to tie this all together. Even my dad's choices of sides were a little off on this evening. He had the Fresh Fruit, which was just two slices of watermelon on this night, and the Corn on the Cob. Both were fresh, but not what I'd choose at a barbecue restaurant.
Much like my dad being a wildcard when ordering in a barbecue restaurant, my mom is old reliable. She always gets some version of a pulled pork sandwich, and she was true to form getting the BBQ Sliders ($7.99). Usually, these come with one pork, one hot link, and one pulled chicken version, but mom wanted them to be all pork, and Famous Dave's obliged. I was really surprised with the amount of pork that these sliders came out with. They were overflowing with meat, and I knew right away my mom would only be able to eat half of these. The pork that I had was okay. It could have had a little more flavor to it, and maybe a little more tender. It was made better with a liberal dose of one of the six barbecue sauces available on each table. I liked the Devil's Spit and the Rich and Sassy as the best out of the bunch.
Katie opted for sliders as well but got these BBQ Sliders ($11.99) off the sandwich portion of the menu. It gets you an extra sandwich and a side apparently. She got these Memphis style, which means they top the sliders with coleslaw. for an extra dollar. She got this because, like me, she wanted to try a good variety of their meats. She got one slider each of a pulled pork, beef brisket, pulled chicken, and a hot link. She liked this plate but was not enamored with the hot link, which was the only one she did not finish. For her choice of one side item, she selected the Famous Fries, which she called very good, as they had an almost cottage fry kind of feel to them.
Yeah, you can say I went pretty big here. This massive pile of food is the Burnt Ends and Ribs with a Hot Link added ($24.98). With this combo, you get a fair amount of dice-sized burnt ends and a third of a slab of St. Louis spareribs. None of the meats here really wowed. The ribs were a little on the tough side, and there was not too much meat on these bones. The burnt ends were equally disappointing, as they were really tough, and lacked any kind of smoke flavoring. I'm not usually a big smoke guy, but I want at least a little included. The hot link was probably the best of the bunch, but even that kind of fell flat in the heat department, and it had a grisly texture to the inside of it. The sides were pretty solid. I really enjoyed Dave's Cheesy Mac and Cheese which had a good amount of heat included. The Garlic Red Skin Mashed Potatoes were kind of forgettable, with very little garlic present, but a good consistency to the potatoes. I was pretty full by the time I got around to the Corn Bread Muffin, but it surprised me by how good it was. Moist, but not crumbly, just the way I like my cornbread.
I almost always try to save room for dessert, but I was really not feeling it after my big meal, but we ended up ordering both the Famous Hot Fudge Sundae ($5.49) and the Down Home Banana Pudding ($6.99). Willpower be damned. I really enjoyed the banana pudding the best. It was rich and creamy, with a good banana flavor, and the crunch from the vanilla wafers was a great textural component of this dessert. The hot fudge sundae was huge and was better after we asked for extra hot fudge for it. The ice cream was okay, as the overabundance of whipped cream really took over here.
So the lack of a barbecue aroma here really kind of told me all I needed to know about this restaurant. If I had to describe Famous Dave's in one word, it would probably be mediocre. The sides simply outshined the meats here, and that's not a good sign for any barbecue restaurant. The meats we had were not even tender. The pretty solid, and varied sauces on the tables were very welcome, and if not for them it would have been a much worse dining experience. Sides were not standout, but the mac and cheese, cornbread muffin, and fries are all worth getting. Service on this evening was very solid, and the management team was very hands on and very active working the dining room. Even this visit has not deterred me from trying more barbecue restaurants. For now, I'll go back to salivating over pictures of Texas barbecue restaurants.
Out of five velcro suits, (because the most famous Dave I could think of was David Letterman, who in 1984 wore a velcro suit on his show), five being best to zero being worst, Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que gets 2 velcro suits.
For more information about Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que, head to their website here: http://www.famousdaves.com/home