“I was always really surprised that people would come to a complete stranger’s house from the internet for food,” says Burt Bakman.
The real estate agent / barbecue aficionado behind Trudy’s Underground Barbecue is known for slinging Texas-style brisket from his San Fernando Valley backyard. But he said the above while seated in the dining room of his soon-to-open barbecue restaurant Slab in West Hollywood, contemplating the unconventional route he took to get here. He’s staring closely at the fat lining a thick slice of glistening brisket hanging from his fork, as he mercilessly inspects a sheet pan of half chicken, spareribs, pulled pork and brisket that will be Slab’s signature combo when the restaurant opens later this month.
Bakman draws fans from as far as the Bay Area for his Texas-style barbecue, the carnivorous spoils of his signature copper-green smoker, and an 18-plus-hour exercise in patience and temperature control. The meat is covered in a rich yet rudimentary dark bark of salt, pepper and mustard, which encases deep pink to pale taupe flesh that weeps warm, clear fat with each slice of the blade or poke of the finger.
A work trip to Austin for a real estate conference solidified Bakman’s obsession with perfecting Texas-style barbecue. He ended up skipping the conference entirely in favor of bouncing around the city to try as much barbecue as he possibly could. Bakman learned by trial and error, making brisket and giving it away to friends, honing his craft and reaching out to another self-taught pit master, Texas’ Leonard Botello of Truth Barbecue — No. 10 on Texas Monthly’s Top 50 Barbecue Joints list — for guidance and insight. “He’s my smoker brother No. 1!” Bakman says now.
Five years later, Bakman is getting ready to open his first restaurant, a counter-service spot inspired by the success he found in his backyard. The focal point of the space is a central sandblasted coal granite slicing station, the metal below painted copper green in homage to Bakman’s backyard smoker. A handful of tables and vintage leather upholstery run along the repurposed, coal-stained walls of Douglas fir, which are dressed in black and white photographs of a California cattle auction from the 1950s.
Out back, Slab’s new, custom-built smoker holds 24 briskets, 48 racks of spare ribs and 64 half chickens under a smoldering and precise combination of red and white California oak. Diners can tear through meat or soak up housemade barbecue sauce with fluffy white bread and Bakman’s take on traditional sides like coleslaw and potato salad.
At first, Slab will be open until it runs out of meat, and will only serve barbecue and sides. But Bakman plans to eventually open all day and offer a menu beyond traditional Texas-style barbecue, drawing inspiration from his roots in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Germany and Israel.
He says he will stick to his mantra of “Central Texas with some L.A. sunshine” and let place and experience influence the rest of the menu: a malawach-based red pepper and tomato shakshuka; a brisket- heavy eggs benedict; pastrami beef rib with pickled mustard seed; and a dish of hummus studded with brisket and an electric Yemenite zoug s’chug. He says that once he’s up and running, he’ll add desserts, including a delicately smoked cotton candy that is a favorite of his three children.
“We’re not in Texas,” Bakman says, unapologetically. “We’re in Los Angeles next to a hot pink Vanderpump dog spa and a tequila bar. We’re defining our own BBQ. What will L.A. BBQ be like?”
Slab, 8136 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, (310) 859-1011, http://hwoodgroup.com/slab