Sunday, April 28, 2013
My wife was out of town and I had nothing better to do this evening, so I decided to take a short roadtrip over to Coppell and finally sample Hard Eight BBQ.
There was already a huge line of customers when I arrived at 5:00. The line snaked around like we were waiting to ride a rollercoaster. Hard Eight is only open until 6:00, so I didn't really expect that kind of a crowd. This is clearly a popular spot. The smell of delicious smoke was taunting me the entire time I waited in line. The pit area is adjacent to their huge smokers, with an equally huge menu hanging above them.
If you're unfamiliar with Hard Eight, let me give you a brief rundown of the process. When you walk in, you go straight up to the pit (well, after about a 30 minute wait in line). You order your assorted meats by the pound, or fraction thereof. They weigh everything and slap a barcoded sticker on your tray. Once you're finished there, grab your grub and head inside to pick out your side dishes.
There's a sign above the pit that reads: "Be careful not to over order, your eyes may be bigger than your stomach." No sign is gonna tell me what to do! In fact, just to spite the sign, I ordered a meat-tastic smorgasbord: 4 pork ribs, 3 slices of ham, 1/4 link of regular sausage, 1/4 lb. of sliced brisket, and 4 shrimp poppers. I also added a side of fries just for good measure.
The fries were really good and pleasantly homemade. They were crisp, but certainly not hard. I found just the right amount of seasoning here. Although, their side of fries is probably large enough for 3 people to share.
My sausage was slightly disappointing. The casings could have used a little more snap. It had a fairly pale color, suggesting that it needed more time in the smokers. The flavor of the sausage was good overall, and it did have plenty of pepper. Flavor aside, something was just a bit off about it.
The brisket had a nice amount of smoke, with a decently pronounced smoke ring. I had good bark on most of my order. It was also pretty tender and juicy. The only thing I found lacking was the presentation. I wish the pitmaster had cut it properly so I could have gotten some actual slices rather than a stringy chopped mess.
With the ham, I didn't find quite as much smoke as I was expecting. The crust was nice and crispy though. There was a lot of salt, but the ham lacked any other seasonings. At least it was fairly tender.
Their shrimp poppers are basically shrimp and jalapeno wrapped in bacon. They look bitesize, but leaving the tails on makes that a little difficult. I had to disassemble the whole thing to de-tail these suckers, which kind of defeats the purpose. The bacon was tough, and I think it had been warming on the pit for quite a while. One of my 4 poppers was actually of the chicken variety by mistake. Surprisingly, this was the only one that had any actual spiciness to it.
I left the ribs for last, although not for any particular reason. They had a good crust and a decent red smoky hue on the edge. I didn't find much flavor other than salt and smoke. The meat was nice and juicy, but to the point that it fell right off the bone with nothing more than a gentle tug. Overcooked ribs strike again.
This place wasn't all bad, perhaps about average. I might go back if I lived in Coppell or Grapevine. All things considered, I'm not sure that their barbecue is worth the wait, the price, or the drive from uptown Dallas. Sorry Hard Eight, but you crapped out.
Hard Eight BBQ
688 Freeport Parkway
Coppell, TX 75019
Saturday, April 27, 2013
It's not often that I find time for something fun and completely random. A few weeks ago, a friend suggested that we do a double-date at the Scarborough Renaissance Festival down in Waxahachie. My inner nerd couldn't resist.
The first thing I noticed upon entering the fairgrounds was the abundance of wenches all around me. It probably had the highest concentration of gravity-defying cleavage per square foot anywhere I've seen in quite some time. There was an interesting mix of cute families and costumed fanatics, and even a few hipsters who seemed to be wearing chain mail ironically.
This was a much larger ordeal than I originally assumed it would be. We quite easily spent 7 hours wandering around and enjoying the somewhat historically-inaccurate festivities. I don't want to belabor the non-barbecue details, so I'll simply convey an overview of the various sights and activities via a few example pictures:
I wasn't expecting just one beef rib and some Ruffles chips for $6.00, but at least it was rather large. Size aside, this rib was pretty disgusting. It took significant effort to bite off the meat, which was extremely tough. There were bone fragments jutting out everywhere. The fat was already solidified into a chewy mass. I found only minimal seasoning, though not nearly enough to salvage the leathery meat. This felt like something straight from the cow's "nether eye" (look it up), but I doubt that even The Miller himself would have eaten this garbage.
After a few more hours of walking about, we stopped for a late afternoon snack. By this point, we were near the Crown Kitchens. I had worked up a decent appetite, so I ordered a Rogue Sandwich.
This was basically just a sliced brisket sandwich. I was surprised to find a slight smoke ring on the edges of the meat, although I'm guessing it had been smoked a day or two earlier, judging by the general taste. The brisket was fairly dry, while the bread was greasy and soggy. In retrospect, I should have added sauce, but then the sogginess would have been out of control. I found a few random onions tossed into the mix, though I'm not sure whether they were intentional or accidental.
I certainly didn't anticipate world-class barbecue at the Renaissance festival. That being said, I did expect better food for the price. If we go again next year, I'll have to rethink my meal choices.
Scarborough Renaissance Festival
2511 FM 66
Waxahachie, TX 75167
Thursday, April 25, 2013
I know what you're thinking, but I honestly didn't come here for the girls. Apparently Thursday night is barbecue night at 3rd Base. I didn't have anything better to do, so I drove on over.
When I arrived, the parking lot was absolutely packed. I had to park across the street at the mall. Once you come in, you'll understand why. Tonight happened to be the NFL draft (sadly, I had no idea), which is probably part of the reason they were uber busy. The only seating available was at the bar, so I hopped on up and saddled in.
At 3rd Base, the waitresses are basically walking around in underwear and bikinis, although I only came for the barbecue. Some of them were at least smart enough to wear comfortable shoes. I took a few pictures, just to convey a feel for the overall 3rd Base experience.
Unbeknownst to me, the Babes and BBQ thing is just a lunch special, at least according to my waitress. Their online menu definitely calls it "Barbeque Night," but also only mentions a bbq lunch platter, so who knows. She looked pretty confused by the whole thing, so I didn't press the issue. I ordered a half rack of BBQ Baby Back Ribs (at least those are a regular menu item), which automatically comes with fries and coleslaw on the side.
What I ended up with were frozen school cafeteria crinkle fries. Seriously? Thanks, Ore Ida. There wasn't even any salt sprinkled on top. I didn't expect anything gourmet, but this was ridiculous. As for the coleslaw, it had a decent flavor. I always like to mention that I'm not a coleslaw fan in general. That being said, it probably came premade.
The ribs had a healthy slathering of viscous barbecue sauce on top. My half rack amounted to 7 ribs. They didn't look smoked, so probably oven roasted and finished on the grill. The lack of any pink hue whatsoever confirmed my suspicions. The meat slid off the bone with almost no effort. Even more depressing, the whole crust peeled off my rack in one tug. Sigh. Even if they were overcooked, the ribs were actually decently flavorful. The sauce was nice and sweet, with just a slight kick on the back end. My ribs weren't awful, but they also weren't real barbecue either.
I basically drove 30 minutes to Frisco for ribs that I could have eaten down the street at Chili's. This is a decent place to go for TNA, but definitely not for BBQ. 2 stars for the food, 5 stars for the scenery. Oh well. I'll just call 3rd Base a 3 and be done with it. #bigboobsbadfood
3rd Base Sports Bar & Grill
2390 Parkwood Blvd.
Frisco, TX 75034
Today I was traveling between Fort Worth and Dallas around lunchtime. My stomach was already rumbling, so I decided to pop into Bodacious Bar-B-Q to try and quell my mounting hunger.
This place is decorated like a western antique store: wagon wheels, old tools, and the like. The tables and chairs are fairly haphazard, with several different varieties of each scattered about. I think they just decided to go with whatever they had available. Apparently they also sell farm fresh brown eggs here. My grandparents would love it...
I decided on a 2 Meat Combination Plate with brisket and pork ribs. The sides are self-serve, so I helped myself to pinto beans and potato salad.
The beans had a pretty good flavor. There was just a slight hint of spiciness, although I would have preferred much more. They were cooked well, but there wasn't anything in particular that stood out about them. I liked the big chunks of potato in their potato salad. There was a lot of visible black pepper as well as other assorted spices. I also enjoyed the mayo base over the typical mustard potato salad that most places serve. There was a nice sweetness to it too.
As for the brisket, it was pretty uninspired. I got a few slices with some good char, and there was a very pronounced smoke ring. Red smoke hue aside, there was almost no smoky taste. The brisket was also fairly dry and tough. It crumbled apart with every poke and prod of my fork, so it was likely overcooked. In retrospect, I should have specifically asked for fatty brisket, but I'm not sure that would have helped things much.
The ribs looked pretty inviting sitting on my plate. They had a good crispy crust, while the meat below was very juicy. The meat came off the bone easily, but one bite at a time like it should. I found a good degree of seasoning here, with a sugary aftertaste from their marinade. There was also a decent amount of smoke. My only complaint about the ribs is a pretty major one: apparently they didn't see fit to remove the membrane from the bone side. This is a serious barbecue blunder.
I'm really torn on whether or not to recommend Bodacious Bar-B-Q. On the one hand, the ribs were really excellent and, faux pas aside, the membrane didn't seem to detract from the overall taste. On the other hand, the brisket was sub-par at best. All I can say is, take my review for what it is and make your own decision.
1206 E. Division St.
Arlington, TX 76011
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
The Dallas blogosphere has been on fire lately, raving about Jack Perkins' week-old barbecue joint, The Slow Bone. I've been fooled by public opinion before, so I had to scope things out for myself.
An amazing smoky aroma hits you as soon as you step within 50 feet of this place. The exterior looks like a shady nightclub, while the interior has more of a diner feel to it. I dig it. They have great old school blues and classic rock pumping through the speakers that adds to the overall experience. From the doorway to the counter, they have a wrap-around ordering line set up in anticipation of large crowds. Even at 3:00, there was a steady stream of customers coming through the door. You could also see Jack Perkins cruising around, keeping tabs on his new baby.
I was pretty hungry by this point, so I ordered a 3 Meat Platter: brisket, St. Louis ribs, and jalapeno bratwurst. For my sides, I settled on sweet potato casserole and mac n' cheese. They were also kind enough to toss on a few hush puppies for good measure.
Their sweet potato casserole was absolutely delicious: creamy whipped sweet potatoes with a streusel-like crust mixed in. It was more like a dessert than anything, so I decided to leave the rest until the end of my meal. My mac n' cheese was covered in several varieties of gooey cheese. The chives and other goodies mixed in reminded me of a loaded baked potato. This was much better than the average macaroni, and definitely didn't come from a box. The hush puppies were nice and flaky, with a cornbread-esque interior. There wasn't as much spice as I was expecting, but they were still very tasty.
The brisket looked amazing, and had a very pronounced black crust. I dug in, and it was like manna from heaven! Great seasoning, perfectly rendered fat, and plenty of smoke. Every bite was juicy and tender. Their trays come with a special compartment to house your personal pool of barbecue sauce, but there was no reason to add sauce here. I found it very hard to stop eating once I got rolling. This was easily some of the best brisket I've had in the Big D, or anywhere else for that matter.
Once I broke free from my brisket trance, I moved on to the jalapeno bratwurst. There were big visible chunks of jalapeno throughout each slice. The casings had a good amount of snap to them, and a nice smoky flavor just below. It had a decent level of heat, but not so much that it masked the other flavors. There was also a noticeable amount of black pepper dancing on my taste buds. Spiciness aside, the bratwurst left an interesting, sweet aftertaste. Beautifully done.
Already thoroughly stuffed, I finished things off with the ribs. These were big, meaty St. Louis ribs, so two was probably sufficient. They were cooked perfectly, and I got a good hit of spices with every bite. The meat had lots of staying power, none of this "falling off the bone" nonsense. I could taste plenty of smoke, although it's hard to say the ribs had a smoke ring when the red hue goes all the way to the bone.
I could easily eat their food by the truckload, and there wasn't a scrap of meat left by the time I was done. The Slow Bone is on the fast track to becoming the new top dog of Dallas barbecue.
The Slow Bone
2234 Irving Blvd.
Dallas, TX 75207
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Sometimes I don't have too long for lunch, so I've been searching for more great barbecue close to my office. Today I wanted to try out Soda Springs, but they had already closed for the day. Disappointed, I headed a little further down the street to give Bill's Bar-B-Q a try.
Calling Bill's a "hole in the wall" is an understatement. There is only a small makeshift counter to order food, although that's probably enough for the 2 employees they have working there. The dining room, if you can call it that, was comprised of a half-dozen crummy tables and even crummier chairs. The walls were completely bare, with the exception of a window unit air conditioner and a small TV from the late 80s, probably just for the benefit of the staff. The stain-covered cement floors were also kind of a turn-off. There wasn't anything welcoming about this place, inside or out.
Based on the menu, it looks like they mostly serve burgers and tacos here. Despite the restaurant name, barbecue seemed like more of an afterthought. I wasn't too optimistic about things, but I decided to order a 2 Meat Plate: sliced beef (I assumed they meant brisket) and hot links. No ribs here. Their plates automatically come with beans and potato salad on the side. I got my order to go, just so I could eat in my truck instead of in the horrible dining area.
The potato salad looked exactly like lumpy, instant mashed potatoes. There was no yellow color, so I assumed it was mayo based. The flavor was ok, but nothing fantastic. It would have been nice if there were some veggies mixed in for an added crunch. They need to work on their texture issues and presentation if nothing else. As for the beans, they were pretty pitiful too. The menu didn't specify, but they looked like chunky refried beans. The beans were bland, and most likely came straight from a can. I couldn't taste any seasoning at all, so I stopped eating after the first bite.
I started my meat duo with the brisket. It had a disgusting brownish-gray color, no crust or bark, and certainly no smoke ring. The only flavors I could taste were salt and dry beef. It was also pretty tough, almost like eating a catcher's mitt. Part of the problem was definitely their cooking abilities, but I suspect that they buy cheap cuts of meat too. I could go on and on, but there are only so many ways to describe how bad it was.
My hot links had the characteristic reddish color of artificial spiciness. I caught a little heat, but not much. There was no snap to the casings whatsoever. I could cut the slices in half with the side of my plastic fork, and the meat was mushy and severely overcooked. Most of the casings had snapped apart at the seams, indicating high heat grilling rather than the "slow and low" of true barbecue.
I only went here as a last-minute Plan B. I guess I'll just have to eat lunch a little earlier from now on, because Bill's Bar-B-Q was terrible.
600 N. Las Vegas Trail
White Settlement, TX 76108
Monday, April 22, 2013
From time to time, my job takes me to random places throughout Texas. Once again it was necessary for me to make the long, tedious drive to Lufkin, nestled deep within East Texas. I decided to do some pre-trip research and find a good barbecue joint to try out along the way. Some brief googling led me to Bryan's Smokehouse, which had been recently renovated by critically-acclaimed chef Robert Irvine and his Restaurant: Impossible crew. I couldn't resist!
Apparently the local newspaper did a write-up about Chef Robert's March 2013 visit to Bryan's. You would think that the Bryan's management would want to play this up a little and use it to their advantage, but instead they only saw fit to laminate the article and stick it on the wall with Scotch tape. They didn't seem to be all that appreciative of the time, energy, and money that Chef Robert put into their restaurant.
Sadly, I found myself a little unimpressed with the renovation, although I don't know what it looked like before, so maybe it is an improvement. The walls were fairly bare, but I did enjoy the wagon wheel chandeliers and rustic metal wall art. The framed tools were a nice touch too. I liked the decor in general, but it just didn't seem to fit; it was a little uppity for barbecue. This isn't to say that upscale barbecue joints don't exist and even thrive under the right conditions, but I doubt Lufkin, Texas fits the bill for this. My initial research told me that Bryan's wasn't allowing cameras inside until after their episode of Restaurant: Impossible officially airs on Food Network sometime in May. Luckily, I've never been one for following the rules:
Given the upgrade and local publicity that Bryan's recently received, I was expecting a decent lunch crowd. There was only one occupied table when I arrived, and in the 30 minutes I spent there, only two other customers came in for lunch. This brought the grand total to six. Wasn't the whole point of the renovation to help revitalize this restaurant?
Having watched as many episodes of Restaurant: Impossible as I have, I'm assuming that Chef Robert's intention was for their chalkboard menu to change daily (or at least weekly) and feature specials. I doubt the menu changes at all. Actually, it was a little hard to decipher. I really wanted to sample several of their different smoked offerings, but I didn't see any combos listed on the menu. When I asked the girl behind the counter about the possibility of getting a combo, she quickly said that they had two-meat combos and looked at me like I was stupid for asking.
I ended up ordering a Two Meat Combo of sausage and sliced brisket, with potato salad and baked beans on the side. After ordering, I sat down to wait for them to bring out my lunch. Despite the lack of customers, it took over 10 minutes to get my food. All they had to do was slice the meat and stick it on a plate. I was a little irritated by the wait, but it did give me enough time to see the Orkin man coming in to inspect their pest control problems. They probably should have had him come after business hours.
When my order finally came, I found myself a little disappointed with the plating. Everything was just slung onto a plastic Dixie plate. I've happily eaten delicious barbecue off of butcher paper plenty of times before, but I was certainly expecting something a little fancier given the decor and attempted upscale atmosphere.
Just before I dug in, I was held hostage for 15 minutes by the owner's father (I know because he told me). He was in the process of wandering around and filling up the salt shakers, which should have been done before they even opened their doors today. I got to hear all about the 32 years that he worked at the nearby paper mill. While I don't generally begrudge the stories and sage advice of my elders, I would have preferred eating my meal in peace. I guess he was bored.
Finally, on to the food. The potato salad looked like nothing more than mashed potatoes sitting on the plate, with no visible spices of any kind. I found absolutely no crunch from vegetables, and I'm not even sure there were any. Basically, it tasted like cold mashed potatoes with a little mustard mixed in. According to what I overheard from the owner, Chef Robert left their potato salad unchanged. That was probably a mistake on his part. The beans were chunky, mushy, and tasted no different than a can of Bush's baked beans. There was no pepper or spiciness at all. I don't know if Chef Robert modified their bean recipe, but I suspect not.
My sausage had big visible bits of cracked pepper, which was a good sign. As you can see in the picture, the meats came pre-covered in sauce. Had I known in advance I would have ordered it on the side, but I wasn't given that option. I liked the flavor of the vinegar-based sauce; it was just applied a little too heavily. The sausage was very finely ground, although I won't criticize them just because I happen to prefer a more coarse grind. All of the black pepper gave the sausage a nice kick, and the rest of the seasonings were pretty tasty too.
The brisket came with a beautiful black crust and a pronounced red (not pink) smoke ring. That being said, it was a big let down. I couldn't get a good grasp of the smoke level because the brisket was drowning in their potent, acidic sauce. It was also a little difficult to cut with the accompanying butter knife. Some pieces were ok, but most of the brisket was dry and tough. Even the fatty bites weren't very tender and juicy. The fat wasn't very well rendered either; the fatty slices had a half-inch thick strip of rubbery fat along the edge. Maybe they need a new meat supplier.
Sorry Chef Robert, but this place still needs a lot of improvement. It will be interesting to watch their episode of Restaurant: Impossible to see how my experience measures up to the before-and-after. My guess is that they've backtracked quite a bit since his renovation. Although, the best decor in the world can't make up for bad food and bad service. I hope I never have to go back to Lufkin for work (no offense), but if I do, I definitely won't be returning to Bryan's Smokehouse.
UPDATE (April 29, 2013): This morning I awoke to find a rather combative comment posted on my review of Bryan's Smokehouse Bar-B-Q. According to the name listed on the comment, it came courtesy of a "Lynn Marie Bryan." It only took about 30 seconds of Googling to uncover that Lynn Marie Bryan is the owner of Bryan's Smokehouse. In order to prevent her comments from being prematurely deleted, I have chosen to re-post them here. These comments are unabridged and unaltered:
"You are sad person and taking those pics was a Big Big Mistake you will no what I mean soon enough lol hope your evil ways pay off for you lol Bryan's smokehouse is a great great place Christian ran ,locally owned, they feed the hungry and help family's who are in need , donate to everyone who's in need , put kids thru church Camps and help the kid that are sick so you being ugly will only hurt you in the end you sad person !!!' Learn to only speak good things for a change be happy not a sad mad jerk"
1. The comments themselves seem to suggest that they are being posted by an uninterested third party, but they were most assuredly posted by the owner herself. Perhaps Ms. Bryan should have chosen a course of action other than posting such things from her own personal account.
2. When I mentioned the "no photos allowed" rule discussed above, this was something that I read in an online news article. There was no mention of such a rule posted on the websites for Bryan's Smokehouse, Food Network, or Restaurant: Impossible. There were no signs indicating such a rule inside or outside the restaurant itself. While taking pictures with my phone, I wasn't exactly sneaking around CIA style or trying to be clandestine in any way. In fact, I made no effort to hide what I was doing. Not once did anyone approach me and ask me to stop.
3. My review was based on my experience at Bryan's Smokehouse and my personal opinion of the food, service, etc. I don't make up lies just for the sake of having negative criticisms to post. To the contrary, I believe in being fair and giving credit where credit is due. In my review above, I mentioned several positive things about Bryan's. For example, aside from my personal preferences regarding barbecue sauce and coarse vs. fine ground meat, I stated, "All of the black pepper gave the sausage a nice kick, and the rest of the seasonings were pretty tasty too." If Ms. Bryan had bothered to read any of my other reviews, she would see several barbecue joints for which I didn't have one negative thing to say. Why? Because their food, service, and my overall experience there was spectacular and beyond reproach. If there had been more positive things about my trip to Bryan's, I certainly would have mentioned them.
4. I find it interesting that in her entire comment, not once did Ms. Bryan even attempt to defend any of the things that I actually critiqued, such as their food. While I certainly applaud the charity and generosity of any person or business, these things have nothing to do with their ability to prepare good, flavorful food or to serve it in a prompt and polite manner.
5. I can certainly understand the frustration that any restaurant owner must feel upon reading negative criticism of his or her establishment. However, if this is the way that Ms. Bryan chooses to address customer complaints (particularly in a public forum), it's not surprising that their business is dwindling.
UPDATE (July 2, 2013): I found more maniacal comments posted by Lynn Marie Bryan on another website, and I thought I should share. As always, these comments are unabridged and unaltered, despite the horrendous grammar and spelling.
"Seem to be some X employees posting some bad reviews which is funny ,X staff means they was fired for a reason mostly theifs , trash , drug users , or just dont have a pot to pee in So consider the sorce."
Bryan's Smokehouse Bar-B-Q
609 S. Timberland Drive
Lufkin, TX 75901