Openings

First Look: Barrel & Ashes, a New BBQ in the Valley

By Lesley Balla  |  November 19, 2014
Credit: Lesley Balla

The Gist: Barrel & Ashes, a new Valley barbecue joint, has some serious star power behind it, including chefs Timothy Hollingsworth (former French Laundry chef de cuisine) and Rory Herrmann (Bouchon), barman Julian Cox and the ever-ubiquitous restaurateur Bill Chait, all of whom ran off to research barbecue across the country. 

The Space: The former Spark Grill in Studio City is now a Southern-style spot with custom wood-topped communal tables, a small bar and chef’s counter, and a patio with picnic tables along busy Ventura Boulevard. The cool light fixtures — metal drums cut in half — are classic traits of a Chait restaurant. Chalkboards above the open kitchen announce specials, while menus and silverware sit in jars on the table. The only thing missing is the roll of paper towels. Take note: this isn't a large restaurant, and it fills fast. There are plans to eventually have a Texas-style food trailer and more outdoor dining in the parking lot outside.

The Food: This is how top chefs do barbecue. The meats are smoked to perfection; the sauces and rubs are well-balanced. It's high-low-end cuisine, if that's a thing. Almost everything is served in cast iron or a long board (the meats), and sides and salads (ambrosia!) are at once classic and elevated, some based on Hollingsworth's mom's recipes, others developed with the team. Chef de cuisine Michael Kahikina (also a Bouchon alum) is behind the line making sure it all comes together. Take a look at some of the highlights in the slide show below.

The Drink: Cox oversees all of the bar programs for Chait's restaurant group, and here he's concocted very barbecue-friendly highballs, shandies and sours, as well as curated a fine draft and bottled beer list. There are only two wines, both sold by the half carafe, but there is sweet tea for you true Southern/BBQ aficionados. 

The Details: The restaurant opens at 5 PM nightly and closes at 11 PM on Sunday through Wednesday nights and 1 AM on Thursday through Saturday. Lunch launches on December 1. 11801 Ventura Blvd.; 818-623-8883.

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  • Any good Southern-inspired restaurant — or any restaurant these days — must have a fried chicken sandwich. This one just happens to have pimento cheese spread on it, which is never a bad thing.

  • Cocktails like the Bee's Nuts (left), made with bourbon, walnut, acacia honey and Cismontane Imperial Stout, and the Frisco Sour with rye whiskey, Benedictine, lemon and cane sugar, are the perfect foils for smoked meats.

  • Credit: Barrel and Ashes

    Order brisket and pulled pork by the quarter, half or whole pound. Spareribs and the very tasty babyback short ribs are by the rack and half rack, and chickens come half bird. The quarter-pound portions are small enough to build your own sampler, all served on thick wooden boards with house-pickled vegetables. Extra sauces served on the side are either vinegar-based, Carolina-inspired mustard or a traditional barbecue.

  • Does serving Frito Pie in a cast-iron skillet make it any less down-home? Absolutely not. The really good beef and bean chili and chiles definitely elevate it, though.

  • There is not enough, if any, hoe cake in this town. Like a cornbread-pancake hybrid, the cooked bottom, crusted and caramelized with butter and syrup, is where it's at. Consider this Barrel & Ashes secret weapon.

  • Salads are too often overlooked at meat-centric places. Here there's a few offerings, like this watermelon, jicama and cucumber salad. Tossed with just a bit of vinaigrette and a sprinkle of salt, it's cool and refreshing.

  • Shells and cheese are everything they should be, as are the braised greens, hushpuppies and pork 'n' beans.

  • Apple cobbler to feed several, topped with homemade vanilla ice cream.

  • Turtle ice cream cake (chocolate cake topped with salted caramel ice cream and drizzled in warm caramel sauce and candied pecans) is the crowd favorite.