Whole lotta meat: A maple bacon donut, and the best pastrami in Blythe, California

by Kelsey
I’ve never actually been to Nickel Diner, downtown L.A.‘s modern take on the classic diner (with dishes like
homemade cinnamon swirl brioche [all bread is baked in-house], ham scrambles with leeks and fontina cheese, and vegetable cassoulet at dinner).

But one day last week, a maple bacon donut from the diner appeared on my cubicle neighbor’s desk and I realized why this may have been a very good thing.

Maple bacon donut from Nickel Diner
I mean, look at this thing! It’s with just the right amount of maple drizzle (but not too sticky sweet) and topped with really crispy, high-quality bacon (and costs $2.50). The combo of sweet and bacon sounded like too much, but my coworker shared half with me, and I shared half of my half with my husband, so it was the perfect amount. Even though the donut is allegedly baked (a fair trade because it’s topped with fried, fatty meat), it was still rich as you’d think a maple donut topped with bacon would be (and as delicious!) I realized that if I go to Nickel Diner, I will probably eat myself into oblivion.
Now venture with me to Blythe, California, a little town on the 10 freeway just inside the California border before Arizona. It’s notable to me mostly because a friend grew up there and I wrote a short profile about what one does in a small town like Blythe that got me a job at  my college newspaper, and then an internship at the Los Angeles Times, which is where I am now employed. Thank you, Blythe!

From her, I learned that what most people know about the town (if anything) is: a) it’s about midway between Los Angeles and Phoenix — a popular tourist area, b) it houses two of California’s state prisons, and c) it has really good Mexican food.
We didn’t get Mexican food, but we got the next best thing. When we were passing through last weekend, we were hungry for something served in an actual restaurant — after three days on the road and the last stretch filled with blazing hot Arizona summer, McDonald’s and Del Taco sounded even more nauseating than usual. We were hoping for a Cracker Barrel (since my California-born self had still never been past its gift shop) but instead found a place called Rebel BBQ with our handy Yelp iPhone app.

According to their website, the restaurant opened in 2010 and makes their own bread daily. Most of their BBQ dishes come with a side that you want just as much as the entre√® (think: smokin’ mac & cheese, jalapeno potato salad, vinegar slaw, or baked beans with bacon.) What to choose?

Signature Pastrami Sandwich, Rebel BBQ in Blythe, CA
At the recommendation of the very friendly and perky server, Hubs and I both got a pastrami sandwich and we never looked back. He got the pressed Ruben and a side of baked beans ($7.95), and I got the signature (pictured above) with jalapeno potato salad and a side of house mustard that the sandwich absolutely did not need ($7.25).

It was some of the best pastrami I’ve ever tasted. Lean, paper thin pastrami bursting with flavor and moisture, not too sweet and not too sticky, sandwiched between fresh bread as fluffy as a cloud. The whole sandwich melts in your mouth and the meat stands confidently on its own (no need to hide behind globs of salty sweet BBQ sauce.)

And the portions weren’t enormous, as many BBQ places are with their heaping plates of meat and giant submarines they call Rubens. With the jalapeno potato salad (also intensely delicious — and spicy, living up to its name), it was just enough to fill our hungry bellies and for me to take home the last third. I ate it the next day, with slightly squishier bread but the same amount of vigor and flavor.

Next time, we’re stopping in Blythe just for the pastrami. You should, too.

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