Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Sweetwater, Texas has more power-generating windmills than any other place I've seen, and it's also home to the world's largest rattlesnake roundup. Their real claim to fame, however, is Big Boy's Bar-B-Que, which was included in Texas Monthly's most recent list of the Top 50 Barbecue Joints. I was still full from my barbecue-filled lunch just three hours earlier, but I couldn't resist more top notch 'que. I took a quick stop to see if Big Boy's would live up to the hype.
I didn't take too much time to admire the ambiance inside Big Boy's, but it seemed decent enough. The decor was very Southwestern, and tied in nicely with the Native American history of the area. It was much nicer than the sheet metal exterior would lead you to believe. As would be expected, they had a framed copy of the Texas Monthly list mounted right next to the counter.
Despite Big Boy's inclusion on the Texas Monthly list, I was the only customer at 3:30pm so I decided to just get my food to-go. A full combo plate seemed like far too much food, and all I really wanted was a snack. They were nice enough to let me snag a 1/4 pound of sliced brisket and a couple of ribs. The carnivore in me rarely needs a side dish, so this would be a perfect sampling.
The brisket looked like a leaner cut, but I probably didn't need the extra fat anyway. It had some decent bark, though not much of a smoke ring. The meat itself was very tender, even for being rather lean. Each bite was packed with tons of flavor and a slight smokiness, despite being cooked directly over mesquite coals rather than being smoked. This direct-cooking method is more in line with the West Texas style of barbecue, so I certainly didn't mind the change of pace. Considering how delicious their lean brisket was, I'm sure the fatty variety is even better.
Brisket thoroughly sampled, I moved on to the meaty St. Louis ribs, which happen to be my favorite cut. Who needs rib tips anyway? They had a beautiful crust which looked perfectly caramelized. The sugary glaze was a great combination of the Texas and Memphis styles of barbecue. It was a slightly thicker glaze than most, suggesting honey as a base. The sweetness also did a nice job of balancing out all of the black pepper. Juice was plentiful in these ribs, so it's a good thing I keep a hand towel in my truck for just such an occasion.
I wish I could have spent more time here, but I still had another three hours or so left on my drive home. This is my 100th barbecue review, and I couldn't be happier to give that honor to Big Boy's Bar-B-Que. Their meat is definitely worthy of the Texas Monthly list.
Big Boy's Bar-B-Que
2117 Lamar St
Sweetwater, TX 79556
I've slowly but surely been eating my way through Texas Monthly's list of "Top 50 Barbecue Joints" for 2013, and Pody's BBQ would make 6 out of 50. I'd probably never find myself in Pecos, Texas again, so this was an opportunity that I just couldn't pass up.
Pecos claims to be the home of the world's first rodeo, though the folks in Deer Trail, Colorado may disagree. Historical accuracy aside, the only thing I wanted to wrangle in Pecos was some delicious barbecue.
Pody's BBQ seemed to embody everything that's great about West Texas. The interior definitely reminded me of the old west, with a few modern accents for good measure. I thought the wagon wheel chandeliers were a nice touch. They are very proud of their nod from Texas Monthly (as well they should be), with several signs and banners showcasing this tremendous accolade. With as much notoriety as Pody's has gotten since the Texas Monthly list came out, they still keep things simple and humble: sweet tea in red solo cups, plastic utensils, styrofoam plates, and paper towels. Even their menu is nothing more than a hand-written marker board.
I knew that a lot of food would probably make the remaining six hours of my drive home long and sleepy, but I couldn't resist sampling all that Pody's had to offer. I ordered a 3 Meat Plate: brisket, ribs, and sausage with potato salad and Southwest pozole on the side. The customer in line ahead of me got a pretty big takeout order with 10 pounds of ribs, thankfully leaving just enough meat for my combo plate. I really dodged a bullet there.
Their potato salad was about average. There wasn't just a ton of flavor, though the pickles did stand out nicely. A little black pepper would have gone a long way here. The pozole, on the other hand, was spectacular. There was a good seasoning to it, with a slight hint of spiciness on the back end of each bite, courtesy of the green chiles. The cheddar cheese also added a nice creaminess. This was my first go round with pozole, and I really enjoyed it. I wish pozole would become more mainstream because it was a great pairing for barbecue.
The brisket had a gorgeous black crust, with a pronounced smoke ring beneath. I could tell it would be melt-in-your-mouth tender just by looking at it. As I suspected, the brisket tasted phenomenal. I received a good combination of lean and fatty pieces, and both kinds were very juicy and tender. The crust had an amazing punch of flavors, and there was indeed a nice degree of smoke in each bite. My order came with one end piece that was about 75% crust, which was absolutely divine. I didn't dare add any sauce, though I'm told Pody's has a habanero-based barbecue sauce that will light you up.
I managed to put down the brisket long enough to try their sausage. The casings were beautiful and dark from the pit. I found a good snap there, though I would have preferred just a little more. The smoke seemed to have penetrated the casings nicely, and the pepper and other seasonings gave it a nice flavor. According to Daniel Vaughn of Full Custom Gospel BBQ/Texas Monthly, Pody's sausage is not made in house. That just goes to show that a true pitmaster can turn even store-bought sausage into something delicious.
The ribs looked so incredible that it was hard to save them for last. My big, meaty spare ribs had a deep black crust, and the smoky hue went almost all the way through to the bone. They were impossible to put down once I started eating. The meat had great staying power, but was still tender enough to come off the bone with only a slight tug. Each bite was very juicy and packed with smoky goodness. I'm glad that I arrived when I did, since otherwise I would have missed out on these tasty ribs.
I was absolutely stuffed by the time I left Pody's. On the way out the door, there's a sign asking you to "Ring Bell If Satisfied." Not a single customer left without ringing that bell, myself included. Kudos to pitmaster Israel Campos, because I could eat Pody's barbecue morning, noon, and night.
1330 S. Cedar
Pecos, TX 79772
Sunday, December 1, 2013
Sundays are always hard on the barbecue lover, particularly in smaller towns. I was heading west in search of mule deer and aoudad sheep, and Wagon Wheel Bar-B-Que in Odessa was one of the only joints open on a 500 mile stretch of road.
Wagon Wheel was a little farther off the interstate than I'd hoped for, but after six hours of driving I was in dire need of sustenance. I hoped the 'que would at least be halfway decent. The interior was surprisingly more inviting than the shoddy exterior would lead you to believe. It had the kind of western decor you might expect from a place called "Wagon Wheel." It also seemed to be a favorite for all of the local oil field workers.
I was hungry, but didn't want to overdo things too much. I ordered a 2 Meat Plate of brisket and pork ribs, with potato salad and pinto beans on the side.
The potato salad had a decent crunch from the veggies, although it could have used more pickles. It was overly mustardy, making all of the black pepper completely unnecessary since I couldn't taste it anyway. As for the pinto beans, they were absolutely disgusting. The broth or whatever the beans were swimming in had a really weird taste. It was like a runny bean dip of sorts. I couldn't stand more than two forkfuls.
Disappointed by the side dishes, I moved on to the meats. The brisket's crust looked decent enough, but there wasn't much of a smoke ring. The meat was pretty tender, though a leaner cut would likely have been too dry to eat. I couldn't taste much other than salt (not that it was overly salty, that was just the only flavor). There was only a slight hint of smoke to be had. This is one of those rare instances where I wish my meat had been pre-sauced.
My pork spare ribs were rather massive. The rib tips hadn't been trimmed off, adding to their enormous size. I saw a slightly better smoke ring here, and there was a good dark crust too. The flavor was better than with the brisket, but was still a pretty basic salt and pepper blend. The underbelly was a little mushy, like the ribs had been sitting in a pan of their own juices. I wish there had been more smoke, and there might have been if Wagon Wheel had bothered to remove the membrane from their ribs.
Considering their roadside marquee only advertises pancakes and catfish, I guess I should have known better. I hoped the stops I had planned for my drive back to Dallas would yield better results.
Wagon Wheel Bar-B-Que
10161 W University Blvd
Odessa, TX 79764
Thursday, October 31, 2013
There are several restaurants, etc. nearby my apartment that for some reason have eluded me for years. My wife and I have been making a concerted effort to try all of them out during our remaining time in Dallas. I recently discovered that the Parkit Market's deli serves a barbecue sandwich, and although I wasn't expecting much, I was determined to eat it.
By the look of things, the keg sales and convenience store aspects of the Parkit Market seem to comprise the vast majority of their business. The deli remains unstaffed until they have a customer waiting to order. According to the signage out front, the Parkit Market deli has been serving up sandwiches since 1962, and I hoped that much history would translate into halfway decent food. That being said, I approached the situation with only cautious optimism.
I know it's just a mom-and-pop operation here, but we were the only customers at the deli and the service was still excruciatingly slow. Rather than taking our whole order at once, "Pop" decided to make my wife's entire sandwich before even asking what I wanted. I ordered their Homemade B.B.Q. on a Bun, only to be told that he didn't have barbecue today. Sadly, I had to settle for a Ham, Salami, and Cheese Sub.
This was the tiniest little sandwich I've eaten in a while, even though it cost me $4.79 plus tax. FYI, my chips were extra. The sub bun was still cold, meaning that they most likely refrigerate their bread to extend its shelf-life instead of giving customers fresh food. If I'm going to pay five bucks for a sandwich, at least give me a fresh bun. Needless to say, the sandwich was nothing special and really isn't worth describing in detail.
My wife's Chicken Bacon Cheese sandwich was equally as bad. Hers was a "hot sandwich," which apparently meant using the microwave to heat the chicken, and then again to melt the cheese. It was incredible dry by the time all was said and done.
Things were not looking good for my barbecue sandwich.
My first go-round with the Parkit Market was at lunchtime on a Sunday, so I decided to see if a Thursday afternoon would produce more favorable results on the barbecue front. This time I ended up with the "Mom" in the mom-and-pop duo. She was much friendlier and dolled out much faster service than I'd received from Pop.
There was no need to peruse the menu. I once again ordered their Homemade B.B.Q. on a Bun, and I was in luck today, at least as far as availability goes. Mom asked if I wanted either relish or hot sauce on my sandwich, but I declined since neither option seemed appropriate for barbecue. Coleslaw yes, relish no.
I unwrapped my sandwich at home, and it looked absolutely disgusting. It was far from being chopped beef, but more like a glob of shredded beef (I hoped), akin to a Sloppy Joe or a Manwich. There was no sauce drizzled on top, so perhaps this was the "hot sauce" I was offered at the start. The meat, if you can even call it that, was greasy and extremely mushy with way too much salt. There was a hint of spiciness in the meat, though I'm not sure about the source. It reminded me of Old El Paso taco seasoning. I couldn't bring myself to eat more than a few bites before tossing it in the trash. Sad as it is to say, I actually wish they had been out of barbecue again today.
My entire ordeal with the Parkit Market ended up being a complete waste of time, energy, and money.
4724 Greenville Ave
Dallas, TX 75206
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Hutchins BBQ has been on my radar for a while now, especially given their recent inclusion in Texas Monthly's list of "Top 50 Barbecue Joints" for 2013. I don't travel north of Dallas too often (except to shop at Cabela's), so I decided to make the most of today's opportunity for some delicious Collin County barbecue.
I caught the scent of delicious smoke as soon as I opened the door to Hutchins BBQ, which is always a good sign. The short, winding line to order ended at the knife men, who slice everything to order right in front of you. No surprises here. I eagerly watched the customers ahead of me receiving plate after plate of amazing meats and tried not to drool.
The interior at Hutchins is almost entirely comprised of wood, from the booths and tables to the walls, floor, and ceiling. I hope they regularly treat for termites, otherwise the entire place might just collapse under its own weight. The rustic decor was very welcoming and put me in the perfect mood for barbecue.
Having skipped breakfast this morning, I was fairly hungry. I also wanted to sample as many of their meats as possible, so I ordered a Three Meat Plate of sliced brisket, sausage, and ribs (the Texas Trinity). My meats weighed in right at a pound; I certainly had my work cut out for me. Their combo plates come with two side dishes, which are all set out self-serve buffet style. I picked the Texas beans and potato salad.
I really wanted to dive into my meat trio, but I thought it better to start with the sides. The potato salad was both creamy and crunchy at the same time. It had just the right amount of salt, with a hint of dill too. The pickles gave it a nice flavor, and I'm glad that it wasn't overly mustardy. The Texas beans were also really tasty. I found big chunks of tender brisket mixed right in. The seasoning blend was perfect - not spicy, but definitely not bland either. They were also nice and warm, which was a good counter to the dreary weather outside.
With my side dishes out of the way, it was time for the main attraction. The brisket looked gorgeous and had a deep black crust, with a thick smoke ring beneath. The meat was extremely tender and juicy and had an almost silky texture to it. I also found just the right amount of fat, which was perfectly rendered. There was a good amount of smoke and a very tasty seasoning blend. I seriously considered getting back in line to order another five pounds of the brisket, not to share with anyone, but to eat on the drive home.
Next was the sausage, which was also delicious. There was a good snap to the casings, though the smoke seemed to have penetrated nicely. I liked the medium grind to the meat. There was plenty of black pepper mixed throughout and just a hint of garlic. No store-bought sausage here, that's for sure.
Last came the big, meaty St. Louis-style spare ribs, which happen to be my favorite kind. To put it mildly, they were amazing! Just like the brisket, these ribs had a great crust. The meat was very tender, but properly stayed put until each subsequent bite. There was a great seasoning and lots of smoky goodness throughout. No sauce was needed here at all, and I didn't dare add any. The only downside to the ribs was that my combo only came with two.
At Hutchins, dine-in customers are treated to complimentary desserts. I was fairly full by this point, but I certainly wasn't going to pass on their generous offer. That would just be rude. I tried both the banana pudding and the peach cobbler. Sorry diet, better luck next time.
The 'nana pudding seemed to be a 50/50 combination of whipped cream and pudding, with a few bananas and Nilla wafers tossed in for good measure. It was really light and airy compared to my past pudding experiences. Their peach cobbler is made in a shallow baking sheet, so there was a lot of crust to be had. The peaches were most likely canned, but still tasted good either way. The cobbler was really warm and gooey, and was a great end to a great meal.
I was sad to leave Hutchins, but I guess all good things must come to an end sooner or later. Daniel Vaughn and the rest of the Texas Monthly crew definitely made a good call including this place in their list of immaculate Texas barbecue.
1301 N. Tennessee St.
McKinney, TX 75069
Saturday, October 26, 2013
Every once in a while I just get this uncontrollable urge for barbacoa. I've driven past Taqueria la Paisanita more times than I can count, but today was the first time I decided to stop.
La Paisanita certainly doesn't look like much, though these kinds of places usually have the best street tacos. There are a few barstool seats inside this tiny shanty, but a to-go order seemed more appropriate. I mustered up all of the Spanglish available in my personal lexicon and prepared myself for difficulties in ordering. Luckily, the teen working the counter today spoke perfect English.
I asked about the source of their barbacoa and was assured that it was cachete (cheek meat). Far too often, you'll find shredded brisket masquerading as traditional barbacoa, so I was hopeful that I'd receive the beef cheeks they promised. I ordered a trio of tacos: barbacoa, lengua (tongue), and al pastor. Most taquerias only serve their tacos in corn tortillas. Here, I had the option for corn or flour tortillas, but I much prefer flour to corn, so that was a no-brainer. They also asked if I want my tacos "all the way." I didn't know exactly what that would entail, but I was pretty sure I wanted it.
I started my taco smorgasbord with the lengua. Tongue meat probably isn't something that most city folk care to eat, but I really enjoy it. The meat was tender and rich. It didn't have a lot of flavor on its own, but the fresh cilantro and onions fixed that nicely. That being said, I found a slightly unusual aftertaste, even for tongue.
Next came the al pastor taco. Unlike the lengua, this one had a lot of flavor. Al pastor meat is typically marinated over the course of 1-2 days, so you'd expect nothing less. The marinated pork was a real pleasure to eat, though lacked the spiciness I hoped for. It was a little greasier than I'd prefer, and just a tad too salty.
Finally, the piece de resistance: barbacoa. It was just as good as I'd hoped it would be. You'd never guess that it was cheek meat if you didn't know better. The crunch of the onions worked well with the tender meat. It had a very mild seasoning, which let the barbacoa's natural flavors really shine.
Taqueria la Paisanita wasn't the best barbacoa I've had in Dallas, but it was good enough for a $4.00 lunch.
Taqueria la Paisanita
2505 Inwood Rd.
Dallas, TX 75235
Friday, October 25, 2013
There is no backstory here. I was hungry, and Dixie House has ribs on their menu. It's also fairly close to my apartment. After the miserably long day at work I'd just had, those were the only qualifications that needed to be met tonight.
Although once an independent restaurant, Dixie House has been acquired by Black Eyed Pea. It's still a quaint little neighborhood spot, but I think the atmosphere here is actually better than the rest of the chain. Dated and homely, but better.
Eating dinner alone is always a bit awkward for me, so I took a seat at the bar. The delightful octogenarian sitting next to me kept smiling at me in a really uncomfortable and flirtatious way, but her perm just didn't rev my engine. The bartender was very friendly and welcoming. She wrote my order down on a drink napkin, so I just had to cross my fingers and see what the end result would be.
I decided to start with a Southern-style appetizer of Fried Green Tomatoes. For my entree, there was only one thing on my mind: a half-rack of Baby Back Ribs. The ribs come with two sides, and I picked Onion Rings and Mac and Cheese.
Serving food on a bed of lettuce is so old school that it should be illegal. That being said, the tomatoes came out piping hot and straight from the fryer. The batter was crisp and had a good seasoning blend. My order came with both ranch dressing and a "spicy remoulade." The remoulade tasted like a basic tartar sauce with some extra spice mixed in, but it was decent enough.
I hadn't spent more than 5 minutes with my appetizer before the ribs arrived. I wasn't expecting five-star food from Dixie House, but I also wasn't expecting it to look quite this unappetizing either.
The onion rings weren't nearly as hot as the fried green tomatoes had been, but at least the batter was decently crisp. There wasn't really much flavor from the onions. Worst of all, they tasted a little like old grease. The mac and cheese was nothing more than an amorphous, flavorless glob of elbow macaroni and Velveeta. My wife made herself some Kraft mac and cheese for dinner earlier, and I guess I should have just stayed home and eaten that instead.
As for the ribs, they looked brown and lifeless on the plate, and I was quite certain they'd taste as bad as they looked. The menu listed the ribs as "fall off the bone" pork ribs. As promised, the overcooked meat took virtually no effort to separate from the rack. I didn't even need the serrated knife I'd been provided. The meat near the edges was extremely dry. There was no crust, no seasoning, and no smoke. In fact, the only flavors I found were from the sauce, and even that was most likely store-bought. I could have made better ribs at home using nothing more than an oven, a grill pan, and some salt and pepper.
The fried green tomatoes were the only thing about this meal I enjoyed. Well, that and the free cornbread. At least checking in on Yelp scored me a coupon for 20% off my order. I think my grandma would really like Dixie House, and I mean that in the most sincere way possible.
6400 Gaston Ave.
Dallas, TX 75214
Thursday, October 24, 2013
I hadn't been able to eat lunch today, so I decided to make a quick pit stop in Lewisville on my way home from Denton. Fat Cow BBQ had some really great reviews online and seemed worth a try. I've been fooled by reviews before, but I went there with an open mind.
Fat Cow is located in a small shopping strip and is very much set up fast-casual style (think Chipotle). The interior has a very clean and open feel to it, but lacks that rustic, welcoming feel that you'll find at more traditional barbecue joints. It just didn't have any character to it.
I didn't want to ruin my impending dinner, but I did want to get a good sampling of what Fat Cow has to offer. There were several options that seemed to fit that bill, but I settled on a 1 Meat Plate of brisket, with potato salad and mac & cheese on the side. I also added on an order of their Fat Japs (the PC Police are sure to be all over that one soon) for good measure.
The Fat Japs are smoked jalapenos, stuffed with pulled pork and cream cheese, wrapped in bacon, and served with ranch dressing. Yes, please!
My jalapenos had a nice char to them, but given the speed at which I received my plate, they clearly aren't cooked to order. I also somehow missed out on the creamy homemade ranch dressing that the menu advertised. Their decision not to de-stem the jalapenos was certainly a faux pas, but was easily correctable. The bacon was awesome and had a great flavor. I found a pretty powerful kick to these peppers, so be careful. The cream cheese helped temper the heat and added a good creaminess to the texture. My jalapenos didn't come with very much pulled pork inside, and, due to the level of heat, I couldn't really taste the pork either. I removed the meat from one pepper and found it to be rather bland actually. They might as well leave out the pulled pork and just drop the price a bit.
Once my mouth had cooled down a little, it was time to move on to the entree round.
The potato salad looked great and had lots of black pepper mixed in. It was a mayo-based potato salad, so there wasn't the potent mustard flavor that many cooks gravitate toward. There was a good crunch and bite from all of the onions, which added to the flavor profile. I also found a pleasant sweetness to the potato salad. As for the mac & cheese, it wasn't quite as flavorful. Like the potato salad, the mac also had plenty of black pepper, but it didn't add much in terms of flavor. The big spiral noodles were loaded with a creamy cheese sauce. It was better than Easy Mac, though not world class by any means.
I was expecting the usual sliced brisket, so you can imagine my disappointment at the pile of shredded beef that sat before me. There was no crust in sight due to this poor carving choice. I also couldn't see any smoke ring since they decided to confiscate all of the delicious bark. Meat like this is more conducive to sandwiches than to plates. At least the meat was tender and juicy, and I also found a decent amount of smoke. Actually, the only flavors I noticed were smoke and salt, so I decided to try their table-side duo of sauces. The "Original" sauce was nice and light with a slight sweetness to it. Surprisingly, the "Sweet" variety tasted exactly the same. I grabbed a bottle of "Original" from another table just in case someone mislabeled them. No such luck. I tried all three bottles again with exactly the same results, so who knows.
Despite the mediocre food, I couldn't resist snagging a Halloween-themed souvenir cup emblazoned with the phrase, "Our BBQ is so good, it's SCARY!"
The barbecue I found at Fat Cow was certainly scary, but probably not in the way they intended.
Fat Cow BBQ
850 Valley Ridge Blvd.
Lewisville, TX 75077