Away Down South in Santa Ana

Patrick Mott is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

OK, we know you can get coq au vin in Orange County just about anyplace, and veal marsala is a snap. Several places serve really decent pizza and great burritos are everywhere. And it's pretty easy to come by good kung pao chicken, couscous, schnitzel, sushi, chile verde, linguine al pesto and menudo.

But if you want ham hocks, collard greens and black-eyed peas, chitterlings, sweet potato pie and great--really great--barbecue, you're going to have to go to a mostly Latino residential neighborhood in Santa Ana and do your best to keep from fainting from pure pleasurable sensory overload when the smell hits you.

The original Burrell's Rib Cage, tucked unobtrusively into a neighborhood near the intersection of 1st and Bristol streets, is what every take-out rib joint ought to be--well-used, slightly garish, a little rumpled, friendly, homey and absolutely redolent of the kind of sauce that makes barbecue lovers weak in the knees.

Burrell's is all that, plus it has outdoor picnic tables and a horseshoe pit.

It also has Fred Burrell and Cecelia Burrell-Rinehardt, his mom. These two sunny personalities have been serving up barbecued beef and pork ribs, homemade hot link sausage, country ham, chicken, barbecued beef sandwiches and a variety of soul food at the tiny restaurant for nearly eight years. And they sold enough of the stuff to open a second, larger place across town at 1701 E. McFadden Ave. about a year ago.

Fred said they made a go of it with a combination of his culinary education and her recipes.

"My mother, she'd been in food service and restaurants for close to 25 or 30 years of her life, so I was brought up around cooking. In 1980, we decided to open the restaurant and she pulled a few dollars out of her house to get it going."

Fred had been working as a cook at the Saddleback Inn and the Airporter Inn, and Cecelia was living at the time in the family's home in Hickory, N.C. When Fred opened his own restaurant, she began acting as a kind of long-distance barbecue adviser.

"Every day he was calling me," she said with a laugh. "He wanted to know how do you fix the macaroni, how do you fix the sweet potato pie, how do you fix the beans." Eventually, she moved to Orange County to help with the business and decrease the phone bill.

The limited wall space in Burrell's is covered with pictures of pro football players and other celebrities who have sometimes driven many miles to tuck into an order of, say, pork ribs and hot sausage, which Fred said are the most popular items on the menu.

"There's no telling where our customers come from," he said. "It's weird."

Much of Burrell's business traffic arrives at lunchtime, said Cecelia, particularly during a spell of pleasant weather when customers can sit outside.

"I call it my Skylight Room," she said. "People get a kick out of that."

Fred said the business has succeeded partly because Southern-style barbecue and soul food is such a rarity in Orange County. And, he added, word-of-mouth advertising has managed to negate the place's low profile.


Where: Original restaurant located at 305 N. Hesperian St., Santa Ana (corner of 3rd Street). Phone (714) 541-3062. Additional location at 1701 E. McFadden Ave., Unit J, Santa Ana (corner of Lyon Street). Phone (714) 541-3073.

Menu items: Barbecued pork and beef ribs, chicken, country ham, hot link sausages, chitterlings, beef sandwiches. Variety of side orders and desserts. Soft drinks, beer and wine available.

Special orders: Suckling pigs, smoked turkeys, assorted game meats and fish. Sauces to go. Catering available.

Prices: Slab of ribs for $12.95, dinner packages $6.50 to $8.95. Side orders $3.75 and under.

Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday and Sunday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

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