Dear Mr. Gold:


I've probably been to a dozen barbecues at friends' houses in the last month, and the routine of burgers and overdone chicken is getting a little old. Any suggestions for my own barbecue? And please don't point me towards any of your beloved organ meats. They won't play with this crowd.


Eagle Rock


Dear Matt:

Los Angeles may be a bit less rigorous than other parts of the country, but Memorial Day still traditionally signals the communal loosening of the tie, if any of us actually wore them, the day it becomes possible to wear seersucker, order a gimlet, or make a decent BLT.

And although many of us have been rocking our Webers since Valentine's Day, it also marks the opening day of grilling season, the afternoon where countless steers, pigs and free-range soybeans are sacrificed on smoldering pyres of charcoal and wood chips, where the whispered words “kebab party” are enough to draw half of the city to your backyard.

By now, most of us have experimented with the usual grill candy – hamburgers made with the ultrarich “Nancy Silverton” blend that Huntington Meats sells in the Farmers Market, the awe-inspiring Italian sausages made at Alexander's Prime Meats in the Howie's Market in San Gabriel, the spicy merguez sausages from Hadar on Fairfax, or the fish skewers from Santa Monica Seafood.

But it is also the correct time of year to discover the virtues of the Armenian butcher shop, gleaming glass cases displaying acres of marinated meats ready for the grill: ruddy chicken breasts and boneless thighs, pork chops rubbed with spice, tiny quail ready for the spit, cuts of beef, snips of lamb and bins full of prepared lule kebab, spiced ground meat ready to be formed into loose cylinders. And it's cheap – much of it hovers around $3.69 a pound. Although your dad's struggles with Kingsford briquettes may have implied otherwise, grilling has never a particularly time-intensive cooking method – but a bagful of meat from the Armenian butcher shop makes crusty, succulent kebabs practically fast food. And if even the minimal effort required to fire up the hibachi seems like too much, most of the shops will cook the kebabs up for you for an extra buck or two.

The Karabagh markets at 5363 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood and at 13747 Victory Blvd. in Van Nuys are great places to start, stuffed with all manner of Armenian groceries as well as equipped with huge cases full of marinated meat. But lately we've been partial to Garni Meat Market, a tiny, family owned butcher in north Pasadena whose quail is just a little juicier, the chicken thighs just a bit more impermeated with garlic and spice. And if you give them an hour's notice, they'll roast you an Armenian chicken that will make you want to fling vacuum-sealed packs of garlic sauce at Zankou. 1715 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 798-2676.<em>

Jonathan Gold

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