No need to wait for summer to enjoy smoky, backyard barbecue. Handy Market, the well-stocked corner store where Magnolia Boulevard meets Buena Vista Street in Burbank, spills out into the parking lot on Saturdays, 'cueing up pounds and pounds of beef, pork, chicken, turkey and sausage for the hungry hordes. The lines are long but the service is efficient and the taste is worth any wait. Just ask Jay Leno.
"Mr. Leno comes by all the time," says the young woman wrapping up orders in big sheets of heavy duty foil. "He pulls up in one of his fancy cars and always leaves a big tip," she says. "The chicken is his favorite."
I'd have to agree with the comedian. The barbecue chicken is remarkable. Juicy, tender and reeking of mesquite. I like the half-bird slathered in Handy's tangy barbecue sauce but I notice many customers prefer their meats unembellished. As patrons step up to the outdoor counter, they seem to be clear on how they like their selections. "Medium rare large tri-tip, no sauce" or "Small slab pork baby back ribs, sauce on the side," for instance. The counter clerk, wielding long tongs, pokes at piles of char-grilled tri-tips, sensing the proper springiness to the meat before wrapping it up. Cooks supervise flaming mesquite grills, constantly replenishing the "done" piles.
Patrons then take their bagged meats into the store, stopping perhaps at the warming station holding pints of freshly made baked beans and macaroni and cheese. There may be another line at the cash register but there are many unique products to check out on the way there. Maybe you'd like some ice cream for dessert? They carry at least four gourmet brands including Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams for a whopping $11 per pint but with flavors like Chocomole and Mango Lassi. The market's small bags of homemade cookies are incredible too. Judging by the Twitter posts, they're very proud of their selection of craft beers and the fine wine section is nicely edited.
The cost of the barbecue is kind of a bargain. Prices range from $2.99-$8.49 per pound. I fed my family of three a meal of chicken, tri-tip and fall-off-the-bone pork spare ribs for $28 with plenty of leftovers for sandwiches. I don't think you could match that at a sit-down restaurant. But then again there's no place to sit down at Handy's Famous BBQ.
On a second visit, we got barbecued turkey legs and sausages. These did not impress us as much as the above-mentioned meats. They might have been a little overcooked. Feel free to be picky here and choose your slabs o' protein carefully. You'll be happier when you get home. The grilled corn-on-the-cob ($1) is simple but good. The baked beans are sweet and delicious, the mac and cheese thick and creamy ($3.99 each).
Handy Market also serves weeknight specials inside the store including meatloaf and New York steak. Starting at 7 a.m. (until they run out), they sell three-star breakfast burritos too, made to order behind the meat counter with bacon, sausage or chorizo.
The long lines at Handy Market's Famous BBQ prove they truly are famous. For those hearing about it for the first time, you now have one more tool in your stockpile of weekend party planning resources. One final tip, get there by 11 a.m. for quicker service.