480 Victoria Ave.
In a little unassuming strip mall in Oxnard, along Victoria Avenue, there is a little treasure called CJ’s Barbecue. Upon entering this joint, one walks through a short hallway that opens to a simple dining room with a handful of tables and chairs, neon signs and beer flags hanging on the walls and an older big-screen television sitting in the corner showing some sports-themed event. In another corner stands a glass-door refrigerator with bottled beer and wine, plus any number of nonalcoholic drinks, and a self-serve soda fountain. We had some preconceived notions about this place, more or less, that it is for those who need a quick bite and it’s just on the way to this or that. What we came to realize is that this is a place that people go out of their way for to find good barbecue and service and that more people should do the same.
Midday on a Wednesday, my companion and I had a hankering for some grilled meat and opted for CJ’s, a first-time visit for both of us. We presumed it was a good choice upon arrival, with the two industrial smoker grills in the parking lot where founder and owner Chris Patterson creates his masterpieces. (C stands for Chris, J stands for his son, Jordan.)
As soon as we entered the dining room, we were greeted by a friendly host named Ava, Chris’ girlfriend. Though we had to order at the counter, she invited us to sit down and peruse the menu as she made recommendations, one of which was the tri-tip sandwich. We took her up on her suggestion and ordered spicy hot wings as well as the rib tips. Shortly after placing our order, several other patrons showed up, quickly filling the dining room and taking up the tables on the patio.
After about 10 to15 minutes, our orders came out, our wing appetizer the last to make it to the table. But it really made no difference as we were in for a treat. First the tri-tip sandwich: Trust both Ava and me, order it. Thick, juicy chunks of tri-tip, slathered in barbecue sauce, served on a soft French baguette; we kicked it up a notch with Chris’ homemade spicy habanero cream sauce. The only ingredient Ava forked over about the hot sauce, besides the use of the famed superhot pepper, was that Chris also adds sriracha sauce. (FYI: Chili peppers for sriracha are grown in Ventura County). We also ordered the collard greens, made from locally farmed, fresh ingredients, with chunks of bacon sautéed in butter and lemon. We probably could both have had a bowl of those greens and been satisfied.
Here’s the thing, though, about that tri-tip sandwich. I had been hesitant to order it, having had so many in the past that were just fine but nothing I would order again. Having been used to such sandwiches with sliced tri-tip, often dry, usually boring, I was taking a chance. I was so pleasantly surprised, it actually restored my faith in the sandwich.
Next, we indulged in the wings and ribs. The wings weren’t anything fancy, spicy enough to keep us salivating while having enough meat on them to truly enjoy them (Before, I have had some less-than-stellar wings of some seriously deprived chickens with no meat on the bones.) The rib tips were more meaty than fatty, though ribs in general tend to have more fat to contend with than many other cuts of meat. The ribs were plump, tender, easy eating. Chris’ homemade barbecue sauce is sweet, as most are, so I would consider asking him to spice it up next time. We just used more of that hot sauce to enhance the experience. On the side, we ordered black-eyed peas — simply prepared comfort food. If I had to do it over again — more collards, please!
Rib tips, black-eyed peas and collard greens
While we could not finish everything and Ava was more than happy to get us to-go containers, including some for the hot sauce — she told us that several times full bottles have gone missing — my companion was grinning, saying he was experiencing “barbecue euphoria.” If that’s not reason enough to go try this place, then I am not sure there is any way to convince barbecue lovers to give this place a shot. We could taste Chris’ rich Mississippi genes in his food; it’s understandable how he has kept the doors open for over 15 years, the last seven in this unassuming strip mall. We will be back soon.