I was skeptical when someone raved about Big Daddy’s Kitchen. And it didn’t help to see a sign on the door warning that the place no longer honors Billy’s Barbecue and California Broasted Chicken coupons.
So imagine my surprise when Big Daddy’s turned out to be all it was cracked up to be and more. Big Daddy Allen Rothman may be working in a modest mini-mall space with a minimum of help, but he uses top-drawer meats and other high-quality ingredients, such as basmati rice and really fresh spices, and he barbecues slowly, bringing out the maximum flavor in his foods.
The air-quality board won’t let him use real wood for barbecuing, but he gets the most out of his gas grill by first baking his meats with mesquite chips, which adds a subtly smoky perfume to them. His chili, one of the Valley’s best, is a slow-cooked, murky stew of kidney beans, fresh ground tri tip and a scandalous amount of cumin.
The menu is simple and straightforward. Rothman inherited the broasters from this restaurant’s prior incarnation, California Broasted Chicken, and he still sells a lot of that style chicken. “At least half of my customers come in here for it,” he confesses.
Obviously, these people don’t know what they’re missing; they could have Big Daddy’s barbecued chicken instead. It’s permeated with the scent of mesquite right down to the bone and painted with a wonderfully complex red sauce that sticks to every bite. The crisp, workmanlike broasted chicken is rather plain by comparison.
His sandwiches are exemplary. Grilled Louisiana sausage employs what might just be the Valley’s spiciest hot link, a crumbly, deep red sausage that looks as fiery as it tastes. It’s served on a French roll with grilled peppers and onions, accompanied by sides of fries and slaw. Tri tip is also served in a French roll, sliced thin and drenched with Rothman’s delicious barbecue sauce.
There’s no problem with the baby-back ribs, fall-off-the-bone tender and beautifully blackened around the edges. You get about eight to a half-rack for the bargain price of $6.95. There are also combination plates of any two or all three of the meats, plus a couple of Big Daddy’s exceptional side dishes: broasted potatoes, barbecued beans, cole slaw or my favorite, the Spanish rice.
“I can’t take credit for the rice,” says Rothman modestly. “I inherited the recipe from the previous owners.” The credit probably really is his, though. It’s made from a scratch recipe that calls for chicken stock, enchilada sauce, celery and sweet corn, but Rothman has upgraded it by using fragrant basmati rice.
The other sides are just as carefully prepared. The broasted potatoes are enormous, crinkle-cut wedges that burst with steam when opened. Rothman’s cole slaw is finely shredded, faintly sweet and heavy on celery salt. The barbecued beans come from a can, but Big Daddy mixes them with barbecue sauce and heavily doctors the pot with a delicious spice mixture.
There are also good, inexpensive homemade desserts. The peach cobbler (really more like a bread pudding with peaches) comes in a plastic cup topped with vanilla ice cream for only $1.69. Rothman’s wife (by the way, don’t call her Big Mama) is responsible for the chocolate, marble and lemon-iced bundt cakes. They’re rich and moist, every bit as homemade-tasting as her husband’s appealing down-home cooking.
Big Daddy’s Kitchen, 21604 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills; Open 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; closed Sunday. Dinner for two, $14-$26. Suggested dishes: BBQ tri-tip sandwich, $4.95; grilled Louisiana sausage sandwich, $4.95; chili and beans, $4.25; baby-back ribs 1/2-rack plate, $8.90; combination plate, $10.95. No alcohol. Parking lot. American Express, MasterCard and Visa accepted. (818) 704-7042.