With its towering condo complexes and numerous chain restaurants, Marina del Rey seems to have a deficit of soul. But it does have two very good Southern restaurants and a low-cost barbecue option for those on the prowl for po' boys, fiending for fried chicken, or in need of an inexpensive quartet of ribs. Where do you go to find high-quality down-home vittles when cruising through this stretch of the city? Take a look at three Southern eating options, two of legend, one of convenience, located smack dab in Marina del Rey in this week's Strip Search.
Aunt Kizzy's Back Porch is hard to spot by the casual observer these days, having moved not too long ago to the second floor of a strip mall blanketed in quick-service dining options. It's hard to anticipate the charms and incredible food waiting up here when just whizzing by, but Aunt Kizzy's has one of the city's very best fried chicken recipes, not to mention dang good cornbread that comes first to the table with a syrupy sweet house-made lemonade in a mason jar. The chicken takes more than a few minutes to arrive after ordering, landing at your table with impossibly crisp skin that cracks through a slight spice into a dangerously hot, inconceivably juicy chicken.
The menu is full of excellent Southern dishes, with their brown gravy-smothered, slow-cooked pork chops also a huge hit. Oxtails, served only on weekends, are yet another passion, and come with the $18.95 price to prove it. The walls meanwhile, are a testament to the place's power, with literally just about everybody having come and left a signed head-shot. There's the Fonz grinning next to Robert Townsend, Bill Cosby, and Eddie Murphy, all while Harry Belafonte looks from above and Arnold Schwarzenegger flexes with a gap-toothed smile.
The prices here can hover well above the cheap eats mark, so the best time to come for Kizzy's chicken is on Monday, Wednesdays, and Thursdays when a lunch special offers two pieces of thigh and two sides (the collard greens, black eyed peas, and rich mac and cheese are all fantastic) for only three dollars. The dinner special offers five pieces of thigh meat with two sides for just $16.95. Since one huge piece is almost enough to fill you, this means you'll have plenty of bird left over for the next few days or enough to split with at least two friends over supper. Unfortunately for your waistline, this is another place where leaving without a bite of cobbler is a big mistake.
Aunt Kizzy's Back Porch, 523 Washington Blvd. Marina del Rey. 310-578-1005.
This is the second and only surviving location of Uncle Darrow's, the Cajun restaurant originally that opened on Mid-City Venice Blvd. in 1994. Darrow's does deeply-flavored Cajun classics and does them well, with jambalaya, lightly fried catfish, and gumbo that hit all the right notes and indulgent weekend "voodoo suppers" that throw catfish, oysters, chicken, and gumbo together. Pork and beef are not on this menu, neither are fake fillers and manufactured flavor ingredients.
The main draw is Darrow's selection of sizable, stuffed po' boys with shrimp a popular option and the Zeek a local favorite for its combination of breaded catfish and shrimp under a dollop of potato salad on a soft white roll. Staying with the times, Darrow's even has Cajun and fish tacos, plus a generous selection of vegetarian sides from the expected greens to soy patties. While chicory coffee is a must in the morning, perhaps with a bite of chicken link po' boy with egg or spiced pecan waffles, just don't forget a slice of sweet potato pie or order of beignets before you leave, as the store did start out as a candy company selling Cajun sweets. The owners maintain deep connections to New Orleans and even transported their catering division to Texas to provide Cajun cooking to those in need following Hurricane Katrina. This New Orleans pride will be on full display next Saturday, March 12th, when Uncle Darrow's holds its annual crawfish boil here in celebration of Mardi Gras, complete with live zydeco.
Uncle Darrow's, 2560 S. Lincoln Blvd. Marina del Rey. 323-938-0518.
Now for the hard sell. The barbecue comes out suspiciously fast here and really can't get close to comparing to your favorite slow-cooked meat at L.A.'s more smokin' barbecue joints. So why ever set foot in here when Baby Blues is just up the street? It comes down to price. If you have a rib jones, but not the typical rib money, Benny's will give you two massive beef ribs and two pork ribs with sides and fries for just $12.95, easily splittable between a couple of rib fiends. The ribs are a little sloppy, no less when doused with the thin, cheap sauce, but some days you just need to feel the sensation of ripping meat from bone and this place fits all budgets. Pork rib tips are just $10.95 for another easily shareable dinner, while chicken, brisket, and sliced beef sandwiches make a hearty quick lunch for around $5.95. Again, this really won't give your favorite barbecue any type of run for their money, but it will save you a little of your's when you need it. Taken to go and eaten with a freezing cold root beer from the fridge, sometimes it's just the easiest option when you're down and almost out in Marina Del Rey.
Benny's BBQ, 4077 Lincoln Blvd. Marina Del Rey. 310-821-6939.
See previous strip search features on Grub Street L.A.