Southern Comfort


True fans of Tennessee-style barbecue might have noticed something missing at St. Francis BBQ in Camarillo.

The pork butt was there. The tri-tip and the ham were available. And there was no shortage of beans, corn on the cob, black-eyed peas and slaw.

But where was the catfish? Or the fried chicken? Or the candied yams? Or the smothered pork chops?

"Those are dishes that Southern people, who are familiar with the taste and tradition of Southern food, like," said Mel Johnson, owner of the 6-year-old establishment. "People have been asking for it over time."

Instead of offering the additional items on the barbecue's daily menu--which can be somewhat cost-prohibitive--Johnson has begun offering the fare on a special all-you-can-eat buffet menu ($7.95) from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Friday nights.

If the dinner special proves popular, Johnson said it could probably expand to Saturday nights as well.

"Because of the expense of these items, we can't serve them every day, or all day--when you put baby back ribs or catfish on the menu you're lucky to break even," Johnson said. "This will bring new people in and it is also as a [treat] for people who have been coming in since we've been here."

For those who aren't regulars, what defines Tennessee-style barbecue might require some explanation.

"It's primarily the sauce--a tangy vinegar-based sauce with catsup and vinegar being the primary ingredients, with hot sauce and a bunch of other stuff," Johnson said. "And the fact that it's slow-cooked, for 14 to 16 hours, gives it that hickory-smoked taste. It gives it that unique Memphis-style barbecue classification."

Johnson, a former software developer for the aerospace industry, caught the barbecuing bug and picked up some culinary secrets growing up in Humboldt, Tenn. His grandfather, Luther Donaldson, began barbecuing for local businesses and churches in town back in the early 1950s.

Johnson's uncle (and restaurant namesake) St. Francis Armour took over the family culinary operation in the 1970s.

"I grew up around that stuff, I was exposed to it, but never did much of it myself, except barbecuing on the weekends," Johnson said.

"I toyed with the idea of a restaurant over the years, but never went all the way with it," he said. "But I felt, as I got close to retirement age, it could be a hobby--I'd have someone run it and I'd manage it from the outside. . . . It doesn't work that way." Johnson can generally be found in or close to the kitchen.

St. Francis BBQ is open seven days a week. The restaurant is located at 4952 Verdugo Way.


In keeping with the French country theme of his 71 Palm Restaurant in Ventura, chef and owner Didier Poirier will offer a cassoulet special today in addition to his regular menu.

Cassoulet, a dish native to the Languedoc region of France, holds a similar lofty status in its home area as bouillabaisse does in the Provence region of France, Poirier said.

The 71 Palm cassoulet will consist of white kidney beans, a duck confit, garlic sausage, sausage de Toulouse and applewood-cured bacon. The meat is spread between layers of beans and baked in a casserole dish.

Cost of the cassoulet is $21.95. The restaurant is at 71 N. Palm St.

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