The chefs--an attractive couple who both own successful restaurants in Los Angeles--didn't want to serve hamburgers and hot dogs at their cookout. ("Too simplistic," said one chef. "Too high-maintenance," said his significant other.) The menu they came up with instead? Fried soft-shell crab sandwiches on baguettes; North African-spiced halibut kebabs; grilled sausages with "California harissa"; Italian couscous salad with pine nuts; and lima bean purée with olives and shaved pecorino.
Excuse me, but am I the only one who finds this completely nauseating? Am I a crazy person for hating the idea of California harissa?! Can we please preserve the Fourth of July as the one dumb, no-effort, loud holiday that resists preciousness and imported cheeses? This is our simplest holiday, after all--the one where we get to drink a lot in hot weather and happily blow shit up. It's not the day to slave and struggle over marinades and garnishes and fresh seafood and labor-intensive heirloom salads.
It's not that I'm against upscale recipes. But when it comes to this particular holiday, I want to spend as little time as possible in the kitchen. I don't want to stress over what I'm serving, or run all over town for ingredients. I want to work as little as possible, and drink as much beer as I can. I want to be seated for most of the day.
And so, listed below are a few of my favorite local takeout places for the Fourth of July--it's much more fun to feed a big group of people when all you have to do is open a box and serve onto paper plates.
Jones Barbeque 3216 S Hudson St (at MLK Way), 725-2728.
Bulk orders are always welcome here, and prices are reasonable, but it's not even about convenience: Jones' meats are flawlessly tender and moist, with gentle smokiness (without bitter chemical aftertaste) and spicy complexity. The brisket is, as my BBQ partner describes, "like a stick of butter"--and hot links, chicken, and ribs are equally impressive. Cornbread is sweet and cakelike, with golden sticky tops and just the right amount of crumble; and combo dinners provide the perfect meat-to-sides ratio. (I had the three-way combo last week--half-pound rack of ribs, a half-pound of sausage links, half a chicken, and two sides, all for 20 bucks.)
Remo Borracchini's Bakery & Market 2307 Rainier Ave S, 325-1550.
This Italian/Mediterranean market famous for wedding cakes has been here forever, but I've only recently started frequenting it. Along with a huge selection of old-fashioned breads and pastries, you'll also find a deli counter with sandwiches and excellent outdoor foods, like really good potato salad ($2.99 a pound), traditional and prepared with restraint; and an Italian version of coleslaw ($3.99 a pound) that mixes shredded cabbage and olives and chopped herbs (plus slivers of sweet roasted red pepper) with a mild vinaigrette, lovely and light for sweaty picnics. Also check out Borracchini's homemade sorbets and gelatos in various flavors.
PLUS: Dish Urban Market in Ballard (2052 NW Market St, 297-1852) offers individual boxed lunches (sandwiches, pasta salad) and takeout salads and pastas by the pound, along with entrée combos like roasted Cuban pork loin, succulent and seasoned just right, with crisp sautéed string beans with Meyer lemon oil. CC's Gourmet Burgers (2600 E Union St, 324-2119) is home to wonderfully sloppy, stacked burgers--juicy from the griddle, with cold slices of tomatoes and lettuce--and crispy salted fries. The "Every Thang Burger" adds cheese, bacon, grilled onion, and a hot link ($6.25), and is exactly what I crave after swimming, for some reason. Call in advance if you want to place a big order.
I just discovered the chipotle deviled eggs at Dish D'Lish (Pike Place Market, to the right of the fish throwers, 223-1848), and I've been steadily working through the big stash I bought: creamy, with soft, stubborn traces of roasted chilies, topped with tomato, onion, and cilantro ($6.60 a dozen). I'm sure I'll get to the rest of Dish D'Lish's specialties at some point--mozzarella-and-tomato skewers, stuffed peppers, a nine-layer chocolate cake--but all I want lately are those eggs. As for the chicken, it depends: Whole Foods (1026 NE 64th St, 985-1500)--which, along with Uwajimaya, is pretty much Takeout Mecca--always sells free-range rotisserie chickens ($7.99 each, flavorful, and never dry) that have been rubbed vigorously with various herbs; but Ezell's (501 23rd Ave, 324-4141) is still what I depend on for takeout satisfaction, since there are few things that make me more relaxed and content than a box of fried chicken thighs, some puffy sweet rolls, and lumpy mashed potatoes.