Monthly Archives: July 2010

Neil and Phyllis Strawder: SoCal’s Two Brisketeers

Profiling Bigmista’s barbecue empire for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by GENARO MOLINA / L.A. TIMES

The Torrance farmers market is in full bloom: pluots mottled with patches of red and green, bottles of fresh-pressed pomegranate juice, eggplants as thick as tree trunks. Weekenders huddle under canopies clutching pupusas and plates of pad Thai, the electric hum of a blues man’s guitar and the distant patter of steel drums colliding in the air above. The market’s meat seekers, however, are unfazed by the clamor, eyes affixed to the brisket being carved at Bigmista’s Barbecue.

Pounds of that blackened brisket — beef massaged with a spice rub and then smoked into submission for about 12 hours — are dispensed until there’s nothing but scraps left. Some diners opt for racks of ribs and overloaded sandwiches. Regulars are drawn to one of the day’s sybaritic specials, pulled-pork nachos.

Bigmista’s is a farmers market force, propelled to the upper stratum of Los Angeles barbecue by husband-and-wife team Neil and Phyllis Strawder. They’ve earned the adulation of every local magazine, talk show and website with an appetite. In May, Bigmista’s was a finalist at the inaugural Vendy Awards, which celebrated the city’s best street and otherwise itinerant food vendors. Recently, Neil has been bouncing between TV appearances and cooking demos for Fresh & Easy markets in California, Nevada and Arizona. And now, the Strawders are making their basic cable debut on “Over Your Head,” an HGTV home improvement show.

They’ve built this burgeoning barbecue empire in just under two years, a mobile meat paradise that currently encamps at the Torrance (Saturday and Tuesday), El Segundo (Thursday) and Atwater Village (Sunday) farmers markets. It’s a business built as much on Neil’s wide smile and masterful slow smoking as Phyllis’ irresistible laugh and financial know-how.

Read the rest here.

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Leftovers: Olive Tree

Abu Ahmad’s regional Levantine cooking for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by KATIE FALKENBERG / L.A. TIMES

The fatit hummus at Olive Tree is a dish of geological depth, a dip of distinct strata. Slicked across its top is a layer of yogurt puddled with olive oil and dusted with cumin and paprika. Pine nuts dot the surface like pale pebbles. Embedded in the warm hummus below are fragments of crunchy pita.

It’s an elaborate rendition of the Middle Eastern meze, but not an untraditional one. At Olive Tree, the fatit hummus is both staple and symbol, representative of a certain kind of detailed and familial Levantine cooking lost among the monotony of low-cost shwarma shacks.

Olive Tree isn’t a complicated place. Nor is it a secret to those who regularly bowl down Brookhurst Street, the arterial passage through Anaheim’s Little Arabia. All the dishes you’ve come to love are here — classics soon to be fully absorbed into the American appetite — but owner Abu Ahmad’s 5-year-old restaurant is not one you go to for the familiar.

Olive Tree also explores the underserved and overlooked regional recipes of Palestine, Jordan, Syria and elsewhere. They’re the dishes of weddings and homecomings, celebratory meals delivered here via a set schedule of daily specials.

Read the rest here.

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Mark Stambler’s Backyard Bread


PHOTO by KEVIN FERGUSON / KPCC

Mark Stambler didn’t like the bread he found in local stores and restaurants, so he built his own brick oven in the backyard of Los Feliz home. I talk to Mark over a loaf of fresh pain levain for KPCC’s Off-Ramp. Listen here.

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