The folks at Cordon's Smokehouse & Grill are smoking purists. Their barbecue philosophy is not about sticky sauces or high-heat grill marks. It's about high-quality meats and fish smoked slowly over hard wood, seasoned by the best blend of rub spices. The meat this technique renders meanders into jerky territory, where the edges are crispy and the flavor of the meat itself reigns supreme. It is tender all the way to the bone, though not what you'd call super juicy.
The offset smoker sits just outside the front door of the little cafe (which is attached to the beloved Cordon's Ranch Market) puffing out clouds of fragrant smoke. Checkered tablecloths and cactus centerpieces give the place a quaint Western roundup feel. You may leave smelling pleasantly of campfire.
My family dug into a feast of meats tamed into submission by the smoker. The pork rack of ribs stood out above all else. The flavorful St. Louis ribs pulled apart nicely and delivered a heap of tender, smoky meat ($9.99 for a slab of six). Even the bones were delicious, especially as a transport for the sweet-hot barbecue sauce you get on the side. I'm sure the baby back ribs with their loin meat would be even better ($11.99). I had a little trouble with the beef ribs ($10.99) but only because they tasted so much like, well, beef. My husband loved their gamy flavor. The smoky chicken was great ($6.99 for a quarter-bird) and even better in a mandarin-arugula-almond salad I made with leftovers the next day.
If you're not into strong smoky flavor, try one of the sandwiches. The barbecue taste on the tri-tip and brisket sandwiches ($7.99) is tempered by the fresh lettuce, tomato, onion and big French roll.
Everything comes with sides: two with the main dishes, one with the sandwiches. Our favorites were the baked beans, with big chunks of bacon and a couple different beans, the macaroni and cheese made with penne pasta and real cheese sauce, and the sweet potato fries. The smoked vegetables are tasty but might be too much with smoked meat, and the cole slaw needs tweaking, in my opinion.
The smoker is not the only thing cranking out food here. Cordon's is a grill house too, and it produces some serious burgers. Take, for instance, the Teriyaki Burger ($5.99). Two patties of Black Angus beef (ground fresh every hour) share a sesame bun with bacon, lettuce, tomato, teriyaki sauce and, wait for it — a fried egg. Surprisingly, the most prominent thing about this BLT-cum-British/Asian burger is the smoky flavor of the grill.
You won't find a selection of barbecue sauces on the table here, nor can you currently get beer or wine. But Cordon's Smokehouse & Grill is a cute, homespun place with carefully crafted barbecue and fresh sides with prices that are considerably less than other nearby joints.
What: Cordon's Smokehouse & Grill
Where: 2931 Honolulu Ave., La Crescenta
When: Open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Prices: Smoked and grilled meals with two sides, $6.99 to $19.99; Burgers and salads $5.99 to $6.99; Smoked meat sandwiches $6.99 to $7.99
Contact: (818) 957-0309
LISA DUPUY has been reviewing area restaurants since 2008. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.