Smoke Signals

'Cue goes upscale at Barrel & Ashes

Barbecue once meant Tony Roma's in Los Angeles: Sauced-up baby back ribs, stuffed baked potatoes and corn on the cob were an Angeleno's definition of smoked BBQ. Needless to say, the "low and slow" mantra was hardly sung in this anything-goes town.

But right now, L.A. is having a barbecue moment with new-school 'cue joints smoking, namely, brisket from the new Barrel & Ashes, joining Bludso's and Horse Thief in the brisket game.

The newly opened Studio City restaurant steps up its 'cue game with two Thomas Keller alums (and the man with the Midas touch, Bill Chait, of République and Bestia). With 20 years at The French Laundry, Per Se and Bouchon between the two of them, chef-owners Timothy Hollingsworth and Rory Herrmann have traded in sous vide for a smoker (a Southern Pride rotisserie, to be exact). Consider their mantra "Barbecue does Napa."

Chef Timothy Hollingsworth

We'd recommend building your own platter, a meat medley of brisket, sausages, chicken, pulled pork and pork ribs. On that one tray, you'll find elements of Texas, Carolina, St. Louis and Keller. There are meats from natural, family owned producers; local, free-range chicken; and subtly refined flavors of smoke and spice. To finish: The composed board is done up with smoked sea salt and pickled vegetables tucked into cuts of meat.

If you're ordering à la carte, go Texan. Hollingsworth, a Texas native, aimed to create a menu "about sharing my childhood and my traditions." His brisket ($12 for a quarter pound, $19 for a half pound, $31 for one pound), smoked in red and white oak for 10 hours, is feathered with buttery meat, a thin smoke ring and peppered crust. Links ($9 each), courtesy of local Electric City Butchers, are made Lockhart style with the bite of jalapeño and cheddar.

Pork lovers can opt for meatier, St. Louis-style spare ribs ($19 for a half rack, $37 for a full rack) or short rib ($21) that's dry-rubbed, smoked and lacquered with sweet and spicy sauce.

And, of course, barbecue is nothing without a sum of its parts. Supplement with sides such as pork n' beans ($7) topped with sliced pork belly; maple-buttered skillet hoe cake ($6); or miner's potatoes ($5), crispy smashed potatoes done up with fried herbs and sea salt.

But all that being said, the real stars on this menu might be the snacks. Don't miss the Frito pie ($9), a Lone Star State tradition of corn chips topped with meat and bean chili, cheddar cheese, sour cream, scallions and jalapeño slices. Served straight in the bag, the lowbrow-goes-highbrow bite is harmonious in texture, flavor and, if you can believe it, restraint. Our best mouthful of the night was the Best Damn Chick'n Sandwich Ya Ever Had ($9), which lives up to its name: Moist, crisp-cased fried chicken gets an upgrade with spicy and creamy pimento cheese, vinegar slaw and throat-tingling jalapeño slices layered between a sweet, spongy house-made bun. It's a manageable appetizer or the perfect late-night snack: Sit at the bar and pair with a cocktail.

Chefs Michael Kahikina and Rory Herrmann

Speaking of the bar, another star player, Julian Cox of Brilliantshine, Petty Cash and Sotto, has crafted cocktails that actually pair well with meat. Get into the season with the Dapper Apple ($12), spiked with tequila, house-made Granny Smith apple soda and sage. Or try the Oaxacan in Memphis ($13), a light and fruity palate cleanser of Saison Dupont and grapefruit with tequila and Campari.

No matter what you eat or drink, forget about skimping on tip: The bill includes an 18 percent gratuity charge. Yes, it's official: Barbecue has gone fine dining.