Culinary Culver City: The Maple Block

Particularly around this time of year, a good barbeque restaurant is priceless. Few things quite say “summer” like the smell of meat in a smoker, the juices and fats turning over and hanging in the California air like a welcome cloud of meaty joy. The Maple Block offers that, and so much more.

It’s a good sign when you park on the parking lot and are immediately faced with the large smoker – one of those big, black steam-punk-looking machines that hints at the deliciousness that is about to be loaded onto your plate and, in turn, into your eager mouth. Within that thing that looks like an old train engine, magic is being performed on meat.

While waiting to be seated, we are presented with a menu – the sort of menu where there are no wrong answers. You can throw a dart at the thing and you’ll be delighted with your choice. We don’t need it though – there are four of us from the Culver City News at lunch, and so we take the “meat platter for 4-6 people.” Perfect – this way we get to sample a whole lot of different things.

The platter comes with half a pound of brisket, one pound of pork spare ribs, a sausage link, half a pound of chopped pork, half a chicken, a choice of three sides, bread, and house-made pickles. For the sides, we opt for baked beans, mac and cheese, and coleslaw.

It’s all good, but the brisket is the pick of the bunch. The meat all-but falls apart in your mouth, though it retains just the right consistency while on your fork. There is the perfect amount of fat in there to make it juicy and tasty without being greasy.

The sausage link isn’t the sort of tube-meat you get in the stores. This is quality pork, seasoned perfectly. Frankly, the only problem with it was dividing one link between four, although with this platter, a shortage  of food isn’t an issue.

Ditto the ribs. We get two, and cutting ribs in half is problematic. We cope though, and the meat is worth the extra effort. Smoky and tender, the bones look like they’ve been boiled clean when we’re done with them.

The chopped pork, like the rib meat, is tender and slightly sweet. Paired with the biscuits and cornbread, it’s like the best deli meat ever.

The chicken, honestly, tastes like chicken. The skin is crispy and dark, like all great barbeque chicken, and that’s the tastiest bit. It’s not bad, it just pales a little next to the other meats on the table.

Of the sides, the coleslaw is crispy and vibrant, the beans a gloriously sloppy, and the mac & cheese has that awesome crunch to the top. The pickled vegetables are crunchy, and offer a welcome taste-cleanser between bites of meat.

Overall, there’s not a bad bite to be had at Maple Block. Some are just a little more delectable than others. This summer, or any other time of the year, treat yourself.