Thank You For Smoking!

Posted June 18, 2009 in Eats

After a while, watching all those shows on cable about great BBQ spots, (BBQ Paradise, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, et. al.), you will eventually get a craving to sink your teeth into some smoky, drippy, tangy goodness—whether it be brisket or rib, hot link or chicken, bone or cartilage. There are definitely good places to ’Q it up in the IE, but one of the top contenders for sheer smoked-for-hours deliciousness is located in downtown Riverside, along the Main Street pedestrian mall and Fifth Street, a mere stone’s throw away from the Convention Center. I’m talking about Gram’s Mission B-B-Q Palace.


Long before this hub of authentic Creole and Cajun dishes (their black eyed peas are a regular menu item) began handing out its saucy succulence kitty-corner from the Mission Inn, Gram’s had spent about a decade situated along Mission Inn Avenue—until the city fathers made the eatery a redevelopment deal to re-locate to make room for the white-tablecloth restaurant.


Fortunately, the move did little to interfere with Gram’s ability to please the whole gang with its array of chitterlings, jambalaya and BBQ—it’s the BBQ you came here for, right? Damn straight.


They keep it simple here at Gram’s. If you can get down-home with having your meal served up in a white Styrofoam take-out container and it doesn’t bother you to have your soft-drink order take the form of a 12-oz. can of soda fetched from behind the counter, then you’re in hog heaven here. 


On this particular weekend afternoon, our foray took the form of the BBQ rib tip dinner with a sides, like mashed potatoes, yams and baked beans. Once I decided to forego the bib and dip right into the meaty delight, I found the ribs to occupy a sweet spot midway between grilled nirvana and smokehouse Shangra-Li. In a word—these were fantastic ribs. The deep maroon sauce was tangy, but not too tangy and the meat was infused (but not saturated—you certainly don’t want to bite into something that tastes like a wad of hickory chips) with a smoky, spicy taste that spoke volumes about carefully orchestrated and timed grilling.


Speaking of grilling, Gram’s portable barbecue pit is located outside the eatery (operated rain or shine, 24/7, no doubt) and visible to passersby who get first-hand evidence that all barbecue served within these walls comes straight from this black, oil drum-looking contraption.


Back to the dinner, the rib portions were large and tender enough for the next Fall Off the Bone convention. And while you’re at it, let’s throw in words like “juicy” and “tender.” Gram’s ambience is pretty lo-fi, but the food-gasms you’ll experience here more than make up for the low-key surroundings.


There were a couple of strikes against the dining experience. The side of mashed potatoes was pretty bland, though it was pointed out to me that it might be a deliberate strategy to contrast the fervent, technicolor flavor of the barbecue. Maybe. Also, I thought the cornbread would be one of the crown jewels of a soul food eatery. More like grandma’s old brooch. I was expecting something sweet, but this cornbread wasn’t—and it was a bit on the dry side. A let down, for sure, but not enough to trump the whole kit and caboodle.


And speaking of sides, to fair, the candied yams we ordered were absolutely spectacular, sweet goodness atop honeyed heaven. Mushy, but not too mushy. Definitely a major selling point. Though we didn’t get the chance to sample the mac and cheese, it’s supposed to be tops here as well.


Yes, Gram’s has earned its place as a Riverside institution and, better yet, a fine and simple place to eat. BBQ places are few and far between, but Gram’s has got a good thing going. It doesn’t try to be upscale, there’s no low-calorie menu and, let’s be honest, the wait time for your order will be a bit more than you’ll like. But it’s worth it cuz Gram’s is all ’bout the ‘Q: Saucy. Tangy. Sloppy.


Gram’s Mission B-B-Q Palace, 3527 Main St., Riverside, (951) 782-8219; Mon.-Thurs., 9AM-9PM, Fri.-Sat., 9AM-10PM, Sun., 9AM-8PM. AE, D, M, V.


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