Every three years, tall ships ships from around the world come to the California coast as part of the Festival of Sail (SF LA SD). Over the course of a month, the ships visit San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, stopping for a few days at each port to participate in local celebrations. Featuring a number of gorgeous sailing vessels, including a replica of the H.M.S Bounty used in Pirates of the Caribbean, each event draws tens of thousands of visitors.
Cat grew up just a few miles from the Port of Los Angeles, where the tall ships were a regular event for her family. Since we'd recently been to LA for Nisei Week, this year we decided to see the tall ships in scenic San Diego. Our friends Nahoko and Mr. Big were invited along.
Our original plan had been to have lunch in San Diego. However, traffic on the I-5 South was particularly bad that day. After inching along for an hour and a half, we decided to pull over in San Juan Capistrano for a bite to eat.
Fortunately, we were close to Mr. Big's office. He decided to take us someplace special; a little local BBQ joint he'd found out about from one of his foodie coworkers.
Like many of the Orange County's other mighty temples to the sublime goodness of slowly smoked meat, Bad to the Bone began as a catering company specializing in southern BBQ. As word of their delightful, artery-clogging specialties spread, the business expanded once to allow for on-site diners, then again when the initial dining area proved insufficient to meet the demand of thronging locals.
Don't let the upgraded decor full you. Service is authentically barebones. To get your food, you order from a counter looking directly into their bustling kitchen. Once you've paid, you're given a number that will allow a runner to locate you and deliver your food. Drinks are dispensed from a soda fountain to the side.
(Mac n' Cheese, a decadent side that's a meal in and of itself.)
Personally, I've always found laissez-faire service to be a sign that good BBQ is coming. Southern theme restaurants spend too much time on presentation, hoping to distract you from their lackluster food with peanut shells on the floor and drinks served in jam jars. A proper BBQ joint has you eating off of butcher paper on a rickety folding table. Bad to the Bone is a little more upscale, but the basic principle remains the same. A full-scale assault on your arteries is their prime objective.
A starter for four, or an entree for one, the Pulled Pork Nachos are a shot across the bow. This mound of porky, cheesy, and crispy wonder dares you to find any nutritional value in its dripping planes of lurid yellow nacho sauce. Rather than attempt to hide its unhealthiness behind a few pathetic shreds of lettuce, it advertises its hazards proudly with an obscene avalanche of pulled pork. After all, what's your cardiovascular system done for you lately?
(Top to bottom clockwise; tri-tip, brisket, pork.)
Instead of mincing about, follow up with a flavorful fusillade by ordering one of the Combination Plates with your choice of meats, easily large enough to serve two people. I'd recommend Bad to the Bone's Holy Trinity; the Fire Roasted Tri-Tip, Chopped Brisket, and Carolina Pulled Pork.
Soften up your heart by with some light shelling by starting with the tri-tip. Although it's a little dry, each crimson-ringed slice is tender and savory, moistened with a drizzle of Bad to the Bone's house BBQ sauce.
Once they're within range of your long nines, take out your arteries with juicy blasts of brisket. The masterful blend of meat, char, and sauce will leave them floundering.
They're crippled. It's time to finish them off. Pull alongside them and sweep the decks with swivelgun volleys of pulled pork, the best that Bad to the Bone has to offer. After repeated fire from unctuous bundles of gelatin-infused piggy power, they'll run up a white flag. Fix grapples and prepare for boarding.
The most economical offerings by far are Bad to the Bone's BBQ Sandwiches and Po' Boys. The Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwich, with a generous portion of pulled pork encased by a soft Kaiser roll, is a fair vessel, stout and true.
Those unable to handle the greasy goodness can order a BBQ Chicken Breast Sandwich, which is arguably a little healthier. Arguably. A little.
Properly provisioned, we set out again. Fortunately, our brief shore excursion had given the freeway some time to clear. It was smooth sailing the rest of the way.
As we got close, we passed the impressive San Diego Mormon Temple. Mr. Big jokingly calls it, "the spaceship".
The Festival of Sail was an impressive sight, running from the Maritime Museum of San Diego on Harbor and Broadway, up North Harbor, to Harbor and Ash. The piers along the street were dotted with tall ships of every variety, as wall as several decommissioned naval vessels on permanent display. Even my XTi was unable to effectively capture the sheer size of the modern warships.
The tall ships, on the other hand, were startlingly small. It was amazing to me that ships of that size had been used to traverse, explore, and conquer the world so many centuries ago. The crews must have been crammed into them like sardines. Unsurprisingly, backbreaking labor in such cramped quarters drove many sailors mad and sparked a number of famous mutinies.
I was a little disappointed that so many of the ships were docked. The sight of a tall ship with all of its sails unfurled is truly magnificent. However, two of the ships, including the 145 ft. Californian, put on a great mock canon battle display. San Diego's famous Star of India was a familiar friend, as was the Coast Guard's awe-inspiring 295 ft. Eagle.
A street fair was in full swing next to ships. While the food selections were somewhat generic, a hot tamale booth and a Thai grill offered some unique eats. There was also an assortment of crafts and the usual tourist gewgaws.
Even without the festival, Harbor is a great street to walk along. In addition to the naval ships, the museum, and the beautiful bay, the street is also lined with some interesting pieces of art. I was particularly dazzled by this sailfish statue.
The Festival of Sail - A great experience. The next one will be in 2011. If you can, plan to be there the first day for the parade of ships. That way you'll be able to see all of the ship sail into the harbor.
Bad to the Bone - Stow some Alka-Seltzer and set sail. A superb specimen amongst Orange County's surprising selection of BBQ joints.
Mac n' Cheese - 3.99
Pulled Pork Nachos - 7.95
Three-Meat Combo Plate - 17.95
Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwich - 8.95
BBQ Chicken Breast Sandwich - 8.95
Bad to the Bone
31738 Rancho Viejo Rd. #E
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675