August 23, 2012
I had read about the Park’s Finest and their $10 lunch special. I’m not sure I knew what to expect. I like BBQ but I don’t really seek it out. The same for Filipino food. Would a sampler plate live up to some pretty lofty reviews?
The Wednesday Workers’ Special is a big deal. Only offered at lunch, $10 gets you this plate with three scoops of rice, (clockwise from 12 o’clock) pulled pork, coconut beef, hot links and longanisa, BBQ chicken, cornbread, and sautéed veg. It’s basically just about everything on the menu except the rib-related cuts. But if it weren’t for the deal, I’m not sure I would have ordered any of these items other than the pulled pork. OK, and the cornbread. But I’m glad I got the sampler.
What’s great is that there is not a filler item on this whole plate (except the rice, of course). The least interesting thing is probably the hot links. But hey, they’re hot links, so of course they’re still good, even if they are store-bought. The longanisa adds a bit of interest, but it gets a little lost in the hot links. The veggies are not totally unique, but they are well-cooked and well-seasoned — and they assuage your guilt just a little about eating a whole plate of meat. The cornbread really is great, maybe the best thing on the plate. The secret is that it’s made with coconut milk, giving the bread a creamy, Asian flavor. Awesome.
Some people are wild about the BBQ chicken. I don’t know. Maybe it’s me. I would never pick BBQ chicken over BBQ pork or beef. This chicken is fine. But it’s not as succulent as good fried chicken, and the BBQ flavor is not markedly special. The coconut beef, however, is really good. Not really my idea of BBQ, but it would be a nice addition to your favorite Thai place’s menu. It’s a bit of a detour, but just prepare your mind by thinking of it as a Thai side dish and you’ll be fine.
The pulled pork turned out to be my favorite thing. At first, we tasted it and it was kind of bland. It’s not that it’s bad by itself, it just is kind of mellow next to the flavor bombs around it. Bu then we squeezed the secret sauces, one the aforementioned warm BBQ sauce and the other a thin vinegar hot sauce, and the dish magically transformed into amazingness. The vinegar sauce is just right — a little spicy, a little sweet, Asian, yet still perfect for dressing up BBQ pig parts. I want more vehicles for eating this sauce.
And the rice was the last little touch that made this a great lunch. People might be tempted to skip the rice at a BBQ joint, even a Filipino BBQ joint. This is LA after all, where ALL OUR CARBS were rounded up and shot about 10 years ago. But including rice as a side anchored the meal as an Asian take on BBQ and made the coconut beef a welcome partner. Hooray for rice!
The Park’s Finest is a family-run affair (“50% Mom, 50% Pop, 100% L.A.” is their slogan) birthed from a catering business and seed money from the Asian Pacific Islander Small Business Program. The servers are not just hired guns, but family and friends who know the food. The grillmaster came by after we sat down and put down a still-warm squeeze bottle of BBQ sauce and told us it had just been cooked up. The dining room is a bit perfunctory, but hey, it’s BBQ. What do you want – fine linens and crystal?
As it is, it’s great for the neighborhood. “The Park” is short for Echo Park and not to be confused with the Korean BBQ place on Vermont. It’s just down the hill and across the freeway from the small enclave of preserved/restored Victorian homes in Angelino Heights. This makes a wonderful post-gorging stroll if you take long lunches. Otherwise, the exact location of The Park’s doesn’t quite feel like gentrified Echo Park. It’s just on the other side of the 110 on Temple, a short drive from the courthouses downtown.
As we left, I resolved to reorganize my eating week around regular 1,000 calorie lunches on Wednesdays. I suggest you do the same.