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Beginning a BBQ Journey

Beginning a BBQ Journey (at Rib Ranch in Woodland Hills)

There are few cuisines that have as many admirers and heated debate as barbeque. The opinion on “what makes a good Que” is endless, with a laundry list of reasons why or why not one is better then the other. Whether it be region, animal choice, method of sauce application, etc., there will always be die hard BBQ fans. I have not been one of those people, though I don’t blame myself.

I blame what I and the rest of the general population have been exposed to. My family fired up the bbq plenty of times sure, but as I’m learning this isn’t barbequing this is grilling. BBQ is low and slow. What most Americans refer to as barbequing involves a lot less care and patience. My sole exposure to the terribleness that is Tony Roma’s did not help matters either.

Luckily as a foodie I am willing to try new things and have decided to be more “barbeque friendly.” I won’t automatically shoot passed messy ribs assuming I’ll hate them. I want to become an expert in all things barbeque and actually be one of the many who have a stone to throw in the “what makes a good Que” debate based on actual knowledge and not just chain restaurants or family bbq’s.

Rib Ranch in Woodland Hills was my first stop and it’s conveniently located in Woodland Hills. Just head south on Topanga passed the row of suburban homes and stop at the little house that looks like a log cabin. If that’s not enough of a clue for you the large black smoker on their small front patch of lawn makes passing by idiot-proof.

On this breezy and cool Sunday Jenn and I took a seat at one of the few patio tables. They do have dining inside as part of a somewhat larger wood-to-wood dining area but eating BBQ outdoors felt right on this lazy day.

The menu is broken into BBQ sandwiches (I’m morbidly curious about the pastrami), salads, and “deluxe” sections that involve the reason why I came; just BBQ and none of this bread or lettuce business. I have read good things about their BBQ tri-tip sandwich, even their hotdog, but I was on a mission. For me it was either the Eastern Baby Back Pork Ribs, the Black Angus Beef Ribs, the BBQ Chicken, or the BBQ Tri-Tip.

Jenn and I split the “Rib Ranch Two-Step” ($16.95) that allows you to choose two of those plus two sides. Since I'm middle of the road when it comes to pork or beef we decided to compare and contrast the baby back and the beef ribs. For sides we randomly picked baked beans and the steak fries. I wasn't there for the sides.

Knowing that real BBQ takes time I was wondering how long a wait it would be from ordering to table. For us it took about fifteen or so minutes. Was the quickness of delivery a bad sign? Looking at the two thick beef ribs, dark red pork ribs, scoop of BBQ beans and handful of fries I sure hoped not.

Before jumping in I squirted some of their signature sauce on one of the fries to get a taste. It was sweet and slightly peppered. I enjoyed the sauce but Jenn didn’t care for the sweetness. The steak fry was cooked crisp on the outside and soft within. This is the way I ordinarily like my fries but eaten without the sauce they were just unsalted potatoes. For me the fries were only meant for sauce transportation. Still they were better then the overly sugared baked beans that left me reaching for water.

Now on to the actual solid stuff I started with the pork ribs on top of the meat pile. For most of the experience they were tender and pulled off the bone easily though I did encounter some unevenness. There was a faint taste of smokiness and a more dominant sweet flavor that was only a step above in intensity. These were fine, better then Tony Roma’s, but nothing to fall out of chair into a pool of BBQ smiles for.

Next I moved onto the beef. If Rib Ranch bills itself as more “Texas Style” where beef grazes in just about everyone’s hearts these should be good right? Sorry to burst your Texas bubble but these were not so fabulous.

Difficult to pull off the bone, tough, and way too chewy, it was obvious that our ribs were not cooked long enough. Had these been slowly cooked over a long period of time they would have been tender fall off the bone. I left my bland beef rib unfinished and polished off the better pork ribs.

I don’t think “Rib Ranch” will win any contests for BBQ ribs (maybe BBQ sauce), but as a first stop as part of my BBQ education it was great at setting the bar. I have an opinion now! The service was attentive and the pricing was about right, but if the best part of a BBQ joint is the sauce then something is amiss. The experience wasn’t a total wash though. I know I will be back to try the sandwiches, the tri-tip, and the chicken only because I’m willing to keep trying. If ribs aren’t the “Rib Ranch” strong suit then maybe their other options will fair better. In the very least I walked away knowing that if someone asked me where to go, between here or Tony Roma’s, I’d say here quicker then you can say grilling.

Photos at:
Famished L.A.

Rib Ranch Barbeque
4923 Topanga Canyon Blvd, Woodland Hills, CA 91364

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  1. Wow, a BBQ journey across LA. I am both impressed and interested in reading the results of your research. Never having been to Rib Ranch I can now cross them off my list without making the pilgrimage to Woodland Hills. And as an aside, naming anything to do with food a whatever have you “...Two-Step” is most unfortunate. ;-D>

    3 Replies
    1. re: Servorg

      Thanks for the encouragement Servog. I figure Rib Ranch sets a pretty good distance parameter and now I'll work my way eastward. I'll do the usual hits like Dr. Hoggly Woggly's in Van Nuys, but what I'm really hoping for are the finds that no one else knows about yet.

      It's a tough sauced, smoky, or dry rubbed path but I'm up for it.

      1. re: ReelMike84

        if you value your taste buds... please..... stay away from hoggly wogglys......

        it's a travesty of a tragedy done to poor unsuspecting meat.........

        1. re: missliisa

          Having moved to Sherman Oaks in 1978 we loved Hogy Wogly's, and would order a ton of food to go and bring it home. It fed us for many days.

          Unfortunately, it is now a shadow of it's former self. I heard it was sold a few years back and that, as we all know, can be the kiss of death for quality.

          We still go occassionaly and we find it hit/miss. The Briskett which we loved has gone considerably downhill, now fatty and lacks the flavor of days of old. I still like their Beef Ribs, Spare Ribs and Chicken. But still, it's just not what it used to be, which was fantastic.

          Note, it's not nearly as crowded as it used to be, another sign of diminising quality.

          Very sad.

    2. I am a BBQ lover as well, and have done my fair share of journeying through LA trying to find the best, and my top 3 are Phillips, KC BBQ and Bludso's.

      1 Reply
      1. re: mdpilam

        Then be have mpilam for I will be doing both KC BBQ and Bludso's this month. Philips I will be going to, just not sure when.

      2. A great journey to make as there are so many variations and subtleties to explore. Unless you absolutely insist on getting sauced BBQ, I recommend ordering the meat, ribs, etc, with the sauce on the side so you can see the quality of the smoke on the meat before it gets hidden by the sauce. Some places roast the meat and sauce it up which really misses the fantastic process of smoking the meat. Best of luck to you.

        FYI, you may want to add Old Fashion Flavor BBQ on Western south of Century Blvd to your list. They make some of the best spare ribs I've had in the LA area.

        18 Replies
        1. re: mrshankly

          You have chosen a daunting quest, and one which will reward you with lots of accolades and criticisms. You put 20 people in a room and give them the same BBQ and you’ll get 20 opinions, and everyone thinks they’re right!!!

          I’m going to list some places for you to try, with a brief comment by each, but of course, this is nowhere near a complete list, just a quickie off the top of my palate.

          JV’s Calabasas – Small family run place, okay, not a destination place though.

          Willie’s Smokehouse Agoura Hills – Nice setting, overpriced and the Q is just fair

          Wood Ranch Agoura Hills – Somewhat corporate but we like it, at least it’s consistent and they have a good menu selection, nice atmosphere and good drinks. Q is not the best but it always satisfies.

          BBQ King Woodland Hills – Just down the street from Rib Ranch, newly opened, look for reviews on CH.

          Grandpa Fred’s Woodland Hills – I like this place, very casual, some reviews on CH.

          Valley BBQ Van Nuys – Not my idea of BBQ, but if you’re in the area it will temporarily cure your need for Q.

          Moms Van Nuys – Everyone on CH likes this place, I tried it many years ago and wasn’t impressed. I guess I like fancier atmosphere. Maybe to go???

          Bear Pit Van Nuys – Used to eat here years ago, too smoky for me, gave it up long ago.
          Do some searching on CH for reviews of these places and the others I don’t have time to cover..

          Good Q’ing!!!

          1. re: LesThePress

            Wait! The Bear Pit?!?! is this the same Bear Pit chain that's been around for decades that sells small, fried potatoes as a side??? I remember going to The Bear Pit in Glendale almost 20 years ago until they closed down. It would be nice and nostalgic to go back to the Bear Pit after all of these years.

            1. re: mrshankly

              As far as I know the Bear Pit in Mission Hills is a stand alone and not relatated to any other place. I grew up (if you could call it that) in Glendale and I don't remember any place by this name. Where was it?

              1. re: mrshankly

                "It would be nice and nostalgic to go back to the Bear Pit after all of these years."

                Take a jug of water, if you do, mrshankly. In fact, take two. I'm about halfway through my own BBQ survey and had dinner at the Bear Pit on Monday. All the meat on the large combination plate was extremely dried out and mostly unpalatable. It may have great nostalgic value, but the 2009 Bear Pit won't make my final cut for a revisit.

                1. re: sbritchky

                  Oh no! That's terrible to hear... definitely not the Bear Pit I remember.

                  LesThePress, the Bear Pit in Glendale was right across the street from City Hall on Glendale Ave. It's a Chinese restaurant now and it shares a parking lot with a Trader Joe's.

                  I guess I can cross that trip down nostalgia lane off of my list. Thanks for the update though!

                  1. re: mrshankly

                    I'm afraid to say I was mistaken. I did a little research (which I should have done first) and found the history of the Bear Pit:


                    So it looks like they were indeed related. I went from kindergarden through Glendale College in Glendale, actually used to live near City Hall for a few years and just can't remember this place.

                    I have searched everywhere an can find no other reference to the Glendale location being in existence now.

                    Do you remember what year(s) you went?

                    1. re: LesThePress

                      I used to go in the late 70's and early 80's. Wow... I just noticed they sell tater tots by the quart. I'm tempted.

                      1. re: mrshankly

                        I went today for lunch and got the spare rib dinner. It came with three of the tater tots, I ate half of one, it came with baked beans, I took a bite and rinsed my mouth out. And the ribs, bleh. So disappointing!

                        1. re: trojans

                          (sigh) So sad to see the magic is gone from that place. Thanks for the report.

              2. re: LesThePress

                I used to LOVE Wood Ranch...such great tri -tip.

                I tried it last month at the Grove and was really disappointed... the flavor was gone from teh meat (which was tender enough) and there was ALOT of corn syrup in the sauce... I don't think it used to be that way,.....

                the peanut slaw with vinagrette is still killer though.

                1. re: missliisa

                  First off, any place in the Grove will disappoint. The one in Agoura Northridge and the original in Moorpark are the best (haven't tried the one in Camarillo) are the best.

                  Try it again, order the beef ribs well done, very very good.

                2. re: LesThePress

                  have you been to Grandpa Fred's recently, I thought it closed, maybe I'm wrong.

                  Anyhow, I heard before that the Beef Ribs are really great over here.


                  1. re: kevin

                    Grandpa Fred's is still open (11a - 8p). I haven't been there since moving from West Hills but it was really good when I used to go there.

                3. re: mrshankly

                  Funny you should mention mrshankly about the sauce on the side. I was just thinking the other day that when I do go to all these places I really should get the sauce on the side so I can really taste the meat. Then I could add sauce myself. But I wonder would this affect the overall outcome? If they're saucing on the que isn't that supposed to be part of the finished product?

                  Thanks for the tip on Old Fashion Flavor BBQ as well. It's on the list now!

                  1. re: ReelMike84

                    Some places sauce it up as part of the preparation. They'll let you know if they can't separate it and you take it for what it is. The smoking process is such a critical part of the taste that getting a taste and look at the smoke results (smoke ring, bark, etc) is recommended so you can appreciate the work these places put into their BBQ. Old Fashion, for example, serves the sauce on the side to begin with because their smoking process is so tasty.

                    I second what LesThePress said about differing tastes for BBQ. What may be great to your tastes may be unacceptable to others. Don't get discouraged or think you're on the wrong track... BBQ is varied and appeals to all in different ways. Let us know how it goes!!!

                    1. re: mrshankly

                      Don't forget Jay Bee's, the Phillip's chain (it's now a triplet, original locale in Leimert Park, just off of 43rd and Crenshaw), Mother's BBQ on Imperial, Bludso's in Compton, Mom's BBQ in Van Nuys, the Swinging Door BBQ in North Hollywood, Rib Nest at the corner of Western and El Segundo in Gardena, and JnJ cue on Fairfax and Adams. That should keep you plenty busy for now.


                      1. re: kevin

                        Wait. Didn't the Swinging Door close a few months back? http://www.foodieview.com/restaurant/.... Ate there several times though, it didn't suck.

                        1. re: Steve2 in LA

                          Yes, TheSwinging Door is indeed closed and so far there is no replacement business.

                4. Thanks for taking us on this journey, ReelMike84. Too bad the first stop was such a disappointment. The Rib Ranch used to be GREAT. It was started about 30 years ago by twin brothers who loved their Q and man, did it show. When I was a little kid, I lived down the block and my family ate there at least twice a week. It had lines down the block for their amazing ribs and chicken (and my favorite hotdog w/ slaw n' sauce). I recently went back hoping for an amazing nostalgic experience, but was sadly underwhelmed. It broke my heart, actually. I mean this place was really good. The new owners just don't have the same magic.

                  1. J R's Barbeque 3055 South La Cienega Blvd Culver City, CA 90232 is the real deal. Everything there is smoked for 12 hours. Also, Uncle Andre's, in a strip mall on Morpark west of Colfax in Studio City is mighty good. Not really smoked meet but tasty.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: EncinoSteve

                      Ribs are definitely not smoked for 12 hours and brisket would be undercooked at 12 hours.

                      1. re: trojans

                        Why don't you go there and try it. Talk to Bobby the owner. He will tell you that They smoke their meat for 12 hours.

                    2. Thanks everyone for the laundry list of places to go. I really hadn't expected such an outpouring of recommendations and support. I'd would be a disservice to everyone following "The BBQ Journey" if I didn't try everyone's suggestion at least once right?

                      Obviously this will take time. I don't have a Superman-like metabolism and sadly that money tree I planted in the backyard still reuses to grow. But if everyone bears with me over the course of the year I'll bring you back to your favorites through pictures and words, as well as introducing you to the Que's you missed along the way.

                      Stay tuned and bring a bib!

                      12 Replies
                      1. re: ReelMike84

                        Forget the Money Tree, Mike and just hope that the Lipitor tree is bearing fruit! ;-D>

                        1. re: Servorg

                          Servog would you kindly tell me where the Money Tree and Lipitor Tree sell BBQ? Actually went to a tasting and Moms( name I know) or Mothers ( per Kevin above ) actually won a rib taste off ( pork rib small bones) conducted by about 15 local hounds over this past summer. The results were posted somewhere on this board..

                          Mom's Bar-B-Q
                          1050 W Imperial Hwy, Los Angeles, CA 90044

                          1. re: Foodandwine

                            Here is the link to the August 2008 "BBQ Rib Smackdown" that Mom's Bar-B-Q won:


                            1. re: Norm Man

                              Thanl you Norm Man that was the smackdown.. I had fun and really enjoyed tasting all the ribs side by side.. I brought the Phillips from the Adams Location as the Leimert park location is was closed that Sunday. I think that the Leimert Location is FAR superior to the Adams location in all ways especially in the flavor, chew, overall taste of their ribs..

                        2. re: ReelMike84

                          Even with the lamented passing of the Swinging Door, North Hollywood still has good 'cue. Don't miss Kansas City BBQ near Magnolia and Vineland for hot links or Uncle Andre's at Moorpark and Colfax for pulled pork and sides.

                          1. re: maxzook

                            anyone know why swinging door closed? i really liked it, but then again i was in the minority on that. the brisket and tri-tip for both great, and so was the sauce and sides. great stuff. but i do know that a bunch of hounds hated it. maybe that's why it closed. if i'm not mistaken they have an original location in texas???


                            1. re: kevin

                              Swinging Door was for sale last year. Owner was moving back to Texas to take over a cattle ranch (family business?). He was asking a lot for the place, but rent was cheap. I was tempted, but decided that for my business, it would be too far away from the majority of my clientele. I guess nobody purchased it, and he eventually had to go despite the fact that the business hadn't sold.

                              1. re: ganeden

                                you're the one with the kosher cue joint right?

                            2. re: maxzook

                              Their Links, really? That was the least favorite part of my meal. I thought they were completely unremarkable. Like some Louisiana Brand Hot Links you buy at a store. Their Brisket, however, was amazing and so was their baked beans. Their baby backs were also very good. Overall, I really liked this place (though I thought portions were a tad on the small side, but it was also a bit cheaper than most.

                              1. re: maxzook

                                Maxzook I think you have the menu's crossed for KC BBQ and Uncle Andre's.

                                I think KC has terrible links and Andre's doe not serve pork.

                                1. re: 420 Reasons to eat

                                  You are, of course, right about Uncle Andre's. My bad.

                                  And I guess I'm in the minority about KC BBQ's links. Oh, well ... more for me, I suppose.

                            3. Linking ...

                              Uncle Andre's BBQ
                              11715 Moorpark St, Studio City, CA 91604

                              Kansas City BBQ
                              10863 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91601

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: maxzook

                                i never tried uncle andre's, i believe usua i heard unfavorable notices about it, unless i'm mixing it up with another cue joint but moorpark rings a bell. oh, well, do they actually smoke their meat or is it a par-boiled and grilled bbq.???

                                1. re: kevin

                                  I believe that Uncle Andre'a does not serve pork. They do not smoke or par boil. They have Bonelss beef ribs that are grilled to order. They have a dry rub and are served wet. I enjoy there hot links.
                                  They have great banana pudding (when available). They also serve chicken.
                                  And they do some deep frying of chicken and fish. Call ahead you will wait a while since everything is grilled to order.

                                  KC BBQ smokes their meat.

                              2. Be sure to try Zeke's in Montrose. They also have a 2nd location in Hollywood. Their spare ribs & pulled pork are awesome, especially with a side of sweet potato fries.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: hlehmann

                                  do they have the famed meatloaf at zeke's too?

                                  1. re: kevin

                                    yes:) and their mac and chesse is fantastic! they serve a weekend brunch which is delicious as well.

                                2. The journey for me ends with BigMista's BBQ at the Atwater Farmer's Market on Sunday mornings 10am-2pm. I dread the day they're no longer there or anywhere. Best BBQ pork ribs in LA.

                                  13 Replies
                                  1. re: monku

                                    "[T]he day they're no longer there or anywhere"? Wash your mouth with soap, monku! As I said on another thread, Big Mista' has the best ribs I've found so far in Southern California. Next time I'm going to ask if they have plans for settling down into a permanent restaurant location.

                                    1. re: sbritchky

                                      I'm with you not against you. I hope they're survivors.

                                      Best ribs and I've been on that journey the OP is starting out on for 30 years in LA.

                                      They get a permanent location and that will be the the start of their downfall. Loads of high fixed costs, red tape, insurance- you name it. Right now they're flying under the radar and we benefit. No bureaucratic red tape, sales tax, overhead--just damn good bbq.

                                      What they got now is good for us and I'm sure good for them.

                                      1. re: monku

                                        I know you are -- I should have thrown a smiley into my post. ;-)

                                        Yes, that's the trouble. Add one cup of bureaucracy to a gallon of goodness, and you get bleedin' ulcers. At some point, however, Big Mista' might get tired of carting that tent around. I do like having the various locations, however, and hope to get to a different one next week, as pleasant as the El Segundo FM was.

                                    2. re: monku

                                      I'm doing Kansas City BBQ, then Santa Maria's, and then Bludso's over the coming 3 weeks. I'll fit in Altwater somewhere.

                                      Some people can eat BBQ every day, I cannot. I have to mix-it-up. I wonder if by doing this journey if my BBQ love will overtake my hamburger adoration.

                                      1. re: ReelMike84

                                        Some places do burgers too. So you can scratch that itch if you have the capacity (financial and load space) to do so.

                                        1. re: Servorg

                                          That's a swell observation Servog. I always wonder about the burger at BBQ places. It's usually on the menu but is overshadowed by the ribs. Meanwhile that burger might be the unsung hero of many a que.

                                          It's like going the Fab's and getting a burger instead of a hot dog. I've done it before and did find the burger a pleaser, but I would have rather had a hot dog...

                                        2. re: ReelMike84

                                          I did a similar journey, but with tacos - shortly after I moved down here (from the Bay), b/c I was sorely missing good burritos (Mission style), and thought I'd focus on tacos. I LOVE tacos now. I mean I liked them before, but now, it is usually the first thing that comes to mind when I think "what should I eat?" Plus, LA is taco heaven.

                                          BTW, just my humble opinion, but I think there is absolutely no point in going to Santa Maria BBQ (if you're talking about the one in Culver City), as I think it is pretty poor.

                                          1. re: mdpilam

                                            Been waving the flag over Kansas City BBQ Company since it opened. Glad to see that others on this board concur. Besides outstanding pork and beef ribs, their beans are seriously memorable and those sweet potato fries do not suck. It's pretty much the only place I'd go to pay someone else to cook barbecue. Definitely check it out.

                                            1. re: Steve2 in LA

                                              Not a big fan of baked beans. Generally they're too sweet for my taste. I'll still consider them though.

                                            2. re: mdpilam

                                              Indeed I am referring to the Santa Maria BBQ in Culver City. I suppose it's reason for list inclusion is just because it does BBQ and my goal is to try everything, both super and sucky, and it's not as viral across the US as let's say a Tony Roma's.

                                              How can I be a good BBQ judge if I haven't tried the strata of poor to top notch? At the very least I'll be able to say "hey at least so-and-so is better then such-and-such in no name city! That place is awful. You should listen to me because I've done EVERYTHING!" See much more compelling.

                                              1. re: ReelMike84

                                                I like the way you think. Hey, maybe Santa Maria has a good burger.........

                                                1. re: candee

                                                  Hehe, maybe the sleeper burger is at Santa Maria. Let's see:

                                                  OAK PIT BURGERS
                                                  Juicy 1/3 lb burger cooked to order with Thousand Island dressing, pickles, tomato, onions and lettuce, served with french fries. Add Cheese.

                                                  Meh. Sounds boring. If there's a sleeper it's probably the quesadilla that you can get with tri-tip or pulled pork. That's assuming those meats are good by themselves. Otherwise it's just badness smothered in cheese.

                                                  1. re: ReelMike84

                                                    Maybe just SEE what the burger looks like when ya get there? I totally hear ya on the badness covered in cheese..............although a grilled quesadilla w/ BBQ tri-tip sounds REALLY good right now..........ya gotta go there soon!

                                        3. sounds like a fun journey. Rib Ranch is kind our "local" as its own our grocery shopping route. I like the pork ribs, I don't care for beef ribs much.

                                          I read the thread, and the one great place I haven't seen mentioned is J & J's at 5754 West Adams. It's just down the road from JR's on La Cienega, but a different thing entirely. Jonathan Gold reviewed it - much better than I could, so go read it. It's fantastic and the people who run it are great.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: gsw

                                            j is a pretty cool kat too. and those hickory logs out back are pretty awesome, you'd think you were truly at a roadside cue stand.

                                          2. Just went to BigMista's BBQ at the El Segundo Farmer's Market, and was pretty impressed! I got the Mrs. Mista (2way combo) with Ribs and Brisket, with Beans and potato salad. While we were waiting for our order, BigMista(?) was breaking out a new brisket and slicing it and proclaiming "I amaze myself at how I can keep making brisket this good", LOL! But when he handed my Dad and I a slice to sample, I had to agree - it was fantastic! Perfect smoke ring, juicy and crispy on the edge. I was excited for the order! The Pork Ribs were delicious, tender and with a great pork flavor. I have to say though, that I thought the rub had a little too much pepper and maybe a little too much cayenne (I can't say for sure about the cayenne); it just felt slightly over-seasoned. Still very good though. The brisket that came in our order was not quite as fantastic as the piece we sampled - this was a little more dry, like it was maybe not "quite" as fresh - but still really good nonetheless. The brisket was so tender, that it literally fell apart if you weren't ohhh so careful with it. The beans I was a little disappointed with. They too seemed a little too peppery and garlicky (garlic salt?). The sauce (not necessarily needed with the meat - I used it more for a bread dipper!) also seemed a little too peppery. The potato salad was very good! I don't know how people put out bad potato salad (but alot do), but it isn't often you see really good potato salad, but this was it (IMO).

                                            Overall, very good BBQ. Almost certainly the best in LA, though I'd have to try it again. The peppery-ness may have been an anomaly, but I would like them to tone it down a bit if not (and I do like pepper). Would love to see them in a more permanent place, or atleast somewhere more convenient to WLA (esp. on weekends).