Adam Fleischman has a knack for gimmicks. The guy who launched the Umami Burger empire and recently announced that he'll be opening a chocolate-flavored fried chicken joint is no stranger to super concept-y concepts. And so, when he announced that Roadhouse LA, his new venture at The Improv, would be “international BBQ” it was easy to assume that there'd be more concept than substance here.
But if anyone's going to teach us that it's quite possible to have both gimmick and substance, it'll be Fleischman. The first good sign was bringing on chef Robbie Richter, who was the original pitmaster at New York's Fatty Cue. The second good sign is that on first look, the food is pretty damn tasty.
This isn't to say that the place lacks artifice. The decor is straight-up faux-country and could be straight out of Texasland at Epcot – if there were such a place. It's made to look like the inside of a barn, if that barn had perfectly placed vintage road signs adorning the walls and a whiskey-stocked bar in the corner. There are cocktails made with bourbon and Sprite syrup that taste a wee bit too reminiscent of high school parking lot drinking (though the non-soda-tinged drinks are quite good).
And the food is all over the globe, with the connecting theme of smoked meat. A “Punjabi poutine” presents fries smothered in goat gravy with hunks of goat and globs of saag paneer. It's more fun than actually addictive. What is addictive is the Brooklyn brisket, which is tender as can be and comes with Texas toast, raw onions and jalapeños, and a cheddar sauce topped with crunchy Cheeto bits. It's somewhat shameful to admit how quickly we gobbled the cheddar-Cheeto sauce. The stuff is insanely silly, but also kind of great.
Smoky pork ribs come with compressed watermelon and a blessed lack of sweet sticky sauce. The side of black-eyed peas is Indian-inflected, flavored with turmeric, galangal and a generous amount of coconut cream. It's an international mash-up that very much works.
Despite what looked like a fairly busy night at The Improv, Roadhouse LA was fairly quiet, with only a few tables dining at around 8 p.m. Perhaps the people lining up next door don't yet realize that eating at Roadhouse will get you a reserved table at the comedy club. I can think of a lot worse penance to pay for preferred seating than the super fun gimmick Roadhouse LA is serving up.