This Must Be the Place
Searching for—and finding—secret barbecue in Anaheim
You're in an industrial part of Anaheim, driving by warehouses, small factories and auto-body shops. Ahead, there's nothing in sight but more nondescript buildings like those you've just passed. At this point, you start second-guessing your directions. How can a restaurant, let alone one that's still open at dinner time, be here?
Then you spot the words “Blake's Place” emblazoned on delivery trucks parked in front of a squat, rectangular building. Indistinguishable from the rest of the block, these are the catering offices. But it's next door, the café, where you're headed. Also unremarkable and inconspicuous, it looks like an office-park sandwich shop. If it weren't full of customers sinking their teeth into beef ribs the size of boomerangs and licking their sauce-soiled fingers, you wouldn't suspect it was anything at all.
Immediately, you realize that this is a barbecue joint unlike many seen in OC. Absent are the usual trappings—the waitresses in faux-Western garb, the artificial attempts at theming. Blake's is just a walk-up counter, a barren room and an awning-covered patio with long, plastic picnic tables and chairs. Nothing here is frivolous or unnecessary. A small section of wall is plastered with gushing letters from satisfied clients. On another hangs an autographed headshot of Jay Leno among photos of Blake Hobel, the owners' young son and the restaurant's namesake.
But it's the prices that distinguish Blake's Place from its competition. Take their chicken plate, a meal consisting of half a bird, coleslaw, barbecue beans and garlic bread—a steal at $9.99. At a popular local barbecue chain, the same dish is $16.95—an amount you get to pay only after you suffer an hour's wait, clutching one of those electronic drink coasters, waiting for it to flash and vibrate. Apart from the reasonable rates, you marvel at how Blake's makes it look so easy. The food is served on Styrofoam plates; drinks are self-poured from a soda machine. This is the way barbecue should always be enjoyed—like you're on a picnic.
To those new to the place, gorging on the Big Rib Plate is the right way to begin. This massive sampler of beef ribs, pork spare ribs, baby backs—with fries, coleslaw, beans and garlic bread—is $17.99 and enough to feed two humans. Blake's beef ribs are hacked into primeval hunks as big as your face, while the spare ribs are ruler-straight and the baby backs delicate. The meat tears off as effortlessly as a Post-It note. Each extracted swath of flesh is nuanced with bits of char, a glistening patina of sauce, and hints of smoke and fat. After stripping the bones naked, your fingernails will be gunked with tasty, caramelized remnants.
Sweet smoke permeates all the meats, but especially the sausage, which is sliced into beveled ellipses and fanned out on the plate to be easily plucked off and eaten like chips. The dark-rimmed, pink-centered brisket is fork-tender, but that's a given. The sliced chicken breasts, however, are moist, despite all expectations to the contrary. For the southwestern chicken salad, the same juicy filets are dismantled into cubes as the protein player in an enormous mound of torn lettuce festooned with black beans, tomato, cilantro, corn, avocado and crisp tortilla strips. It's a salad you can win friends with (yes, that's a Simpsons reference).
But if the breast impresses, it's the chicken wings that dazzle. Smoked, then slathered with three choices of sauce, they're sold at $6.79 per pound and disappear faster than they take to cook. The onion rings don't last long either, although they could conceivably stay crisp for a good hour thanks to a careful deep-fry that leaves the freshly cut hoops greaseless, golden and rigid. Sandwiches are made with the same affection. Buns get buttered and toasted, and the smoked, sliced meats are laid down square to the edge so every morsel is accompanied by a bite of bread.
It's the kind of attention you'd invest if you were feeding your own family. In fact, when you eat at Blake's, there's a good chance you'll be sitting next to the Hobels themselves. They eat here regularly, as should you and your brood.
Blake's Place, 2905 E. Miraloma, Ste. 3, Anaheim, (714) 630-8574; www.blakesplacebbq.com. Open Mon.-Thurs., 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri., 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Dinner for two, $12-$36, food only.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.