Pandemic restrictions have taken a toll on local restaurants and Derrick’s on Atlantic is no exception. Derrick’s opened on Feb. 24 of this year, at 3502 Atlantic Avenue in Long Beach, just before COVID-19 closures hit in mid-March.
But after nine months, this Texas-BBQ-themed restaurant is still alive, kicking, and slowly smoking– all its meats, that is.
Most customers these days order Derrick’s to be picked up or delivered, but as of Wednesday, Nov. 25, all will have to do so until LA County lifts its temporary ban on outdoor dining.
Health officials announced Sunday, Nov. 21 that the ban would begin Wednesday night and hold for at least three weeks, making Dec. 17 the earliest reopening date for restaurants like Derrick’s with an outdoor-dining option.
Once things get back to “pandemic normal,” socially-distant diners can enjoy Derrick’s ventilated covered patio with tables spaced six feet apart. Patrons can comfortably enjoy lunch or dinner with beer or wine, or nosh on wings and fries while watching football on either of its two large-screen TVs.
Aaron Blackburn, one of the three co-owners of Derrick’s, told the Signal Tribune that the patio turned out to be a fortuitous upgrade they made after taking over the lease following the closure of Hortencia’s Mexican & Seafood in 2019.
“Lucky for us, we had this patio made,” he said about indoor dining being shuttered in March.
John Mosquera, a co-owner, said that another fortuitous step the restaurant made in March was locking in its meat supply before prices quadrupled due to short supply. That allowed the fledgling restaurant to not raise its prices.
The local community of Bixby Knolls– where Mosquera and Blackburn both live along with third co-owner, Velika Turner has also been very supportive, they said.
Nevertheless, it hasn’t been easy for Derrick’s to operate during this time.
“It’s not the projections we laid out when we started the business since COVID,” Mosquera said. The restaurant had to adjust its structure and menu to facilitate more delivery and pick-up orders than in-person dining.
Customers can pull up to the front of the restaurant where servers have hand-held devices that connect to the kitchen and take credit cards so patrons don’t have to come inside to pay. They can also call or place orders online.
And now, not only does Derrick’s still offer its signature central-Texas style smoked brisket, ribs, pulled pork and steaks with a dry rub, it recently added eight different burgers to its menu.
“It travels better,” Mosquera said about burgers compared to steaks. “It’s a half-pound patty, it’s hand-formed. […] It’s hard for people to come out, so when they do, they get half a pound of meat.”
Burgers range from The Big Daddy– topped with pulled pork, provolone, coleslaw and pickles–to the spicy El Diablo, featuring pepper-jack cheese, chipotle ranch sauce and jalapeño peppers.
“I highly recommend the El Diablo,” Mosquera said. “I like hot.”
Blackburn noted that Mosquera is a “spice guy” and that all the burgers are good.
Both said another new menu addition– chicken wings– are also worth trying.
“We smoke the wings and then we fry them,” Mosquera said.
While he first made the wings with a Texas-style dry rub– basically salt, pepper, garlic and paprika-similar to the other meats, Mosquera now tosses them with buffalo sauce or a locally-produced ghost-chili jelly that’s both hot and sweet.
“We have a local lady here that makes us some hot-pepper spices,” Mosquera said, adding that he will be trying the wings with a scotch-bonnet pepper powder he described as “super hot,” needing a couple of beers to wash down.
“We really like to source from Long Beach,” he said. “Especially the peppers and local beer places.”
The wings are the only item to which sauce is added, Mosquera said. Derrick’s pulled pork is smoked with a dry rub and finished cooking in a sauce so it can caramelize, but the brisket only comes with a house-made sauce on the side rather than on top.
“Over the years, I’ve just liked the simplicity of good meat with good spices on it,” Mosquera said. “Not trying to kill the meat-flavor with sauce.”
Non-meat eaters can choose from salmon smoked in-house, grilled cheese sandwiches and a plant-based beyond-beef burger. Appetizers and sides also feature non-meat items, including deviled eggs, fries, golden-fried green-beans, coleslaw, potato salad, pinto beans and mac-and-cheese.
But carnivores especially will find Derrick’s a haven of smoky goodness, including its house-brined and smoked pastrami, either sliced or chopped in a roll with mustard and pickles.
Other sandwiches include pulled pork on a bun, choice of sausages, brisket with peppers and onions, and a Reuben sandwich with the house pastrami and sauerkraut on grilled sourdough bread.
Pork ribs, brisket and pulled pork– all smoked– are the most popular meats, Mosquera said.
His smoking techniques and dry-rub recipes are his own, he noted, developed from more than 25 years of practice that he describes as “gradual, hit-and-miss, burning stuff, ruining things over the years.”
The rubs are based on recipes from a friend of Mosquera’s who passed away 15 years ago that he’s adjusted his own way and perfected during “meat-stravaganzas” in his backyard with two smokers, two grills and a rotisserie.
Mosquera manages Derrick’s meat orders and smoking schedule and decides on its specials based on supply, such as last week when the restaurant received an order of exceptionally large and meaty “dino-ribs” and sold them to customers at a reasonable price.
The restaurant also hosts events such as a wine tasting two weeks ago in its parking lot that it will likely do again, especially to help its wine suppliers whose business has also suffered during the pandemic.
Mosquera said the restaurant hopes to launch a breakfast menu early in December, though that plan may be delayed with the County shutting outdoor dining.
And it may also do a Christmas dinner special in December with smoked prime rib, Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes and vegetables.
“Traditional but smoked,” Mosquera explained.
Though pandemic restrictions have gotten worse, Blackburn and Mosquera are hoping for more government relief early in 2021 with a new federal administration and are simply crossing fingers that Derrick’s will make it through.
“We put a lot of money into it, working with the City on permits,” Mosquera said. “It doesn’t make sense to walk away.”
Both owners regret that COVID-19 coincided with opening a business they had planned for over a year. They named the restaurant after oil derricks that used to line Atlantic Avenue in the 1930s, including on the restaurant’s lot.
“If this didn’t occur, we would have been– if not number one– then in the top three restaurants on Atlantic,” Blackburn mused. “We would have killed it.”
As its owners look forward to restrictions ending, Derrick’s will continue serving its signature smoked meats and burgers, including the Friday after Thanksgiving gluttony.
“I get sick of turkey the next day sometimes,” Mosquera said. “We’ll stay open.”
Derrick’s on Atlantic is located at 3502 Atlantic Ave in Long Beach. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., except closed on Thanksgiving. Follow them on Instagram @derricksonatlantic for their latest updates. You can call them at (562) 337-8131 or visit derricksonatlantic.com to place an order.
Derrick’s on Atlantic is a current advertiser with The Signal Tribune.