Horse Thief BBQ, which officially opened to the downtown crowd at Grand Central Market on July 9. It's been the biggest seller, says co-owner Russell Malixi — so much so that they've already had to adjust how much they prepare in advance to meet demands. “We put in our briskets and pulled pork in the smoker the evening before. It cooks for about 15 hours in a smoker, which contributes to us selling out,” he says.
The style of barbecue is central Texas in origin. “Some of the characteristics that set it apart from other regional styles are the use of a dry rub — essentially salt and pepper with spices, up to 10 of them, mixed in. Another is the focus on beef brisket, which is a staple. That's how your barbecue would be judged, because it's harder to cook,” says co-owner Wade McElroy.
Both native Texans, the two friends met at the University of Texas at Austin. At school, they'd frequent the legendary barbecue town of Lockhart. “We knew we wanted to follow the tradition. Keep it simple. You have a few meats and a few sides. The sides had to be excellent dishes in their own right. As Russell likes to say, we do old-school Texas meats with new-school sides,” McElroy explains.
McElroy describes the menu as balanced. There are organic heirloom beans; a German-style potato salad that's vinegar-based with bacon; and coleslaw with jicama. Mayonnaise is used sparingly in their coleslaw, and “just enough blue cheese is added for an interesting flavor in the background” of the potato salad. They added a white cheddar mac 'n' cheese this week, which is already becoming one of their more popular dishes.
The recipes took about a year to come together, with the bulk of their time spent on figuring out their approach to brisket, pulled pork, spare ribs and chicken. “We feel the sides are amazing but the meats are the main attraction,” McElroy says.
The pair purchased their first hickory smoker seven or eight months ago and placed it in the backyard of a friend's house in Tarzana, where they tried to lock in the quality they'd grown accustomed to in Texas.
McElroy started brainstorming ideas for a barbecue joint in March 2012 but found that he needed help. He asked Malixi, who was in town during the summer, to join in. “Once he got here, we really started to get a lot of work done.” They finalized a business plan and, in between pop-ups around L.A., scouted a location for Horse Thief.
After an exhaustive search, they chose the Grand Central Market, attracted to both the community and the management. “The peer group here among the tenants is great. The landlords here are very supportive in what we're doing. Some of the landlords we've met, well, sometimes you never get to talk to them because they're a big corporation and they're not interested,” McElroy says.
“The main thing is that we liked the location. The outdoor space at the bottom of Angel's Flight is just beautiful.”
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