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Monday, April 22, 2013

Bryan's Smokehouse Bar-B-Q (Lufkin, TX)




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.

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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."

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Bryan's Smokehouse Bar-B-Q
609 S. Timberland Drive
Lufkin, TX 75901
(936) 632-2255

Bryan's Smokehouse Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

44 comments:

  1. Thats not the only place to eat here,and just because you did'nt like this paticular place doesnt mean you haft to dislike the whole town - but if you feel that way I dont want you here anyway - maybe you should choose you wording little different if your gonna post something a whole towns gonna see!

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    1. The reason I said I hope I never have to go back to Lufkin is because it's a 3.5 hour drive each way, and the work I've had to do there has been awful. I have no problem with Lufkin itself. I saw several other barbecue joints while I was there, and I'll happily try them out if I have to come back.

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  2. 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

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    1. Dear Ms. Bryan,

      Rather than responding to you directly, I have chosen to simply update my review of Bryan's Smokehouse.

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    2. I found it very professional of you that you didn't attack her grammar the way that she attacked the English language. I appreciate your discretion. (lol)

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    3. Thanks Greg. I tend to be a bit of a grammar Nazi sometimes, so it was actually really hard to restrain myself.

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    4. I agree with Greg. That probably would have been the first thing I responded to even though I know that harping on a person's grammar would win me now friends and could quite possibly make me look like an ass. Sometimes it's just so hard not to and I'm impressed and grateful that you were able to resist.

      It makes me sad and disappointed that Mrs. Bryan has decided to respond in this way. I had high hopes that this one could be one of the success stories. There's certainly potential there for it to be.
      An owner and/or a manager of a restaurant should always take a customers complaints graciously. Especially if they are given in a polite, respectful and thoughtful manner as they are here. Surely the owner of a business that is floundering should take criticisms and complaints even more to heart. This doesn't mean bending to every guests whim, but taking in critiques and complaints over time can give you a very, very clear picture of what people (in general) want and whether or not certain changes would be in the restaurant's best interest.

      It's also important for every restaurant owner and manager to remember that each guest experience is a chance to win a repeat customer. It doesn't matter if the guest is a local, from out of town, out of state or from the other side of the world. You want them to want to tell others about your establishment in a positive way.

      For some reason, from the Restaurant Impossible episode I was under the impression that Mrs. Bryan knew and understood these basic tenets and that she'd simply let them fall by the wayside when she fell in to a pit of depression and despondency.

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    5. (my apologies: this site apparently doesn't like my tablet and I was forced to publish this comment before completing it.)

      We all fall in to those wells sometimes, some deeper than others, but I really thought that Mrs. Bryan had pulled herself out and was ready to take the bull by the horns and do what needed to be done to get this restaurant back on its feet.
      She may or may not be out of the well, but it seems she may still be in denial about her restaurant, the quality of the food and the customers' reasons for preferring her competitors despite all that the Restaurant Impossible team did to try to open her eyes to the reality of the situation.

      It really makes me sad to find this out, and I do hope that she is able to climb out of the pit and run the restaurant professionally and make the changes necessary to give Bryan's Smokehouse the friendly service and great food it needs and can do.

      I'm still pulling for them, but not nearly as hopeful about their success as I was.

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    6. No need to emphasize you are a Christian. It is plain enough from your venom-filled reply to this blog post.

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    7. @ Ani - I think it may be too late for Ms. Bryan. I got a message from someone claiming to be the new owner of Bryan's, so hopefully new management will be able to pull them out of the rut.

      @ Angelo - I agree completely. It makes me sad for her actually.

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    8. The supposed new owner no longer is employed there. As a Lufkinite I can tell tou that the place is back to normal meaning no customers.

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    9. That's a shame Kevin. I'll be returning to Lufkin for work again this week and had actually considered giving Bryan's another go-round considering the new management. That's pretty much out the window. I think I'll be trying Lufkin Bar-B-Q instead, or possibly the Pitt Stop.

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    10. HAHA jeeeezzz someone is a hater. I live in Austin and have tried tons of BBQ in the city and surrounding areas and personally I think Bryan's is as good as any I've tried here. I'm not knocking you for disliking your experience, however, I'm not sure I would have spent so much time and energy typing up a negative review. You could have summed it up in about a paragraph....

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  3. Jared as a resident of the community and having been to the before and after of Bryan's I agree whole heartily with your assessment. I will say that the décor is an improvement but that is not saying a lot.

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  4. Jared, I'm also from Lufkin, and I agree with what you have written here. To me, the biggest obstacle to the success of the establishment is the fact that there are two different BBQ options within sight of Bryan's, and both surpass the flavor of Bryan's. One is a chain, the other a local landmark BBQ restaurant that has been on the top list of Texas Monthly a couple of times that I know of. Both SMELL like BBQ as you are outside and enter the doors, Bryan's just doesn't have that smell that I associate with really good BBQ.

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    1. Thanks for the comments. I could see Bodacious just behind Bryan's when I was there, and I passed Lufkin BBQ down the street. I've never been too keen on Bodacious, but I'd love to give Lufkin BBQ a try if/when I'm in town again.

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    2. You know, I'll respectfully disagree with the proximity of the other places being the major contributor to failure. Before this was "Bryan's" it was "Wagon Wheel" which was a Lufkin institution. The location has to be one of the best ones in town and the other chain and semi-chain (I will give Bodacious a little grace since it is from Longview) shops didn't show up until they saw that there was a opening in the market. Had it been run well it would be an every day competition between this place and Lufkin BBQ. With the low end junk that is served here, you don't have to be good to compete so I think overall it has hurt the BBQ culture in the area keeping people's expectations low with respect to all the BBQ joints in the area. To top off the invasion of mediocrity, we now have a Dickie's out on the South Loop which reportedly is gas oven BBQ so I haven't even tried it.

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    3. Don't bother trying Dickey's, it's not worth your time.

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  5. In my opinion the best barbeque is the one that is served on the white freezer paper, eaten outdoors or indoors and the smell of the barbeque travels for miles. It's Rudy's at Leon Springs, Tx. just outta of San Antonio on Interstate 10. The brisket is tender, the pork is tender, the chicken is to die for... and the sides include yummy potato salad, creamed corn, beans and you get up to a loaf of bread on your tray! Rudys is the best... find one in your neighborhood!

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    1. Butcher paper barbecue is one of my favorites too. The only Rudy's I've been to is in Denton, TX, but it certainly was delicious. Thanks for the comments.

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  6. I just watched this episone of Resturant Impossible about Bryans. I dont live anywhere near this TX town. And I have watched many RI episones, and i thing Chef Robert wasted his time on this resturant.
    The owners are greesey looking, you think they would have cleaned themselves up for thier resturant's reopening.
    The renivation, in my opion, was terrible. I dont think i would go to this resturant. NASTY

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    1. Thanks for the comments. I agree, the renovation doesn't really help if the food is still awful.

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  7. Sounds like Bryan's BBQ is a charity and not a restaurant. Just think about how many more people she could "aid" if she had a successful place with more revenue. It sounds like she is obviously oblivious to her own shortcomings in regards to taste and management. The funniest comment I saw was that of the owner hoping that business will boom after the show has aired! Wasn't the idea of getting the business renovated to have a maintained increase in revenue? Sounds like she lacks critical thinking abilities. I bet if she hired a general manager that knew what he/she was doing that place would turn a profit. From what everyone is saying, she has reverted to tasteless, over-sauced, tough beef. That, along with the noted terrible service and hiked up prices don't add up to success. COMMON SENSE!!!

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    1. Thanks for the comments. Chef Robert can only do so much to change up the decor, but if the food isn't up to par, the restaurant will surely go under.

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  8. I do not believe that either restaurant that was featured on RI yesterday will continue to thrive. You can changethe decor of the place, but if the owner's cannot own up to the responsibility of the restaurant failing and make a lot of changes, then the businesses will continue to fail.
    These people have been running these places badly for years, you cannot change that in two days. RI needs to be giving that $10K to charity themselves! Guess that would not make good TV.

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    1. You can put lipstick on a pig, but...

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    2. Thanks for the comments. I agree with you completely, I don't think this place will be around much longer.

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  9. I checked yelp while beginning to watch this episode as I was pretty sure after seeing 10 minutes that it would not still be open. Surprise, surprise to me.

    If this woman is a good Christian as she flaunts (I love how that is supposed to make all the bad go away) maybe she should pray for better staff and recipes.

    As a small business owner the most important things are customer service and quality of product. Those are your cornerstones. Then you add market share and for a bricks and mortar shop, location location location. From the episode basically NONE of the above exist.

    With the renovation I would take the chance to sell and cut your losses.

    Quote of the show (need to use your best screechy psycho voice) -
    "WE HAVE NO RIBS!!!"

    Thanks to the Barbeque fiend for this - the reason I posted is that recently I had been attached verbally and threatened by the owner of a place I gave a negative yelp review. I believe that you get what you deserve out there and thank good ness for blogs like this and yelp to give this to the public!

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    1. Thanks for the comments and the support. Their values don't matter very much if the food is still bad.

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  10. As a Lufkinite and Christian, I am truly apologetic about your experience in our little town. Unfortunately Lufkin is a bit of a vacuum when it comes to good BBQ. Even our best doesn't really stand out with the likes of J. Mueller, Franklin, Kreuz etc. If you do find yourself here again, might I suggest using the opportunity to re-calibrate your palate with a little barbacoa or other authentic south of the border fare that contributed to the evolution of BBQ. Lufkin has plenty of guys with pits that make damn good BBQ, but none of them do it for a living so you might also crash a family reunion or wedding and get some pretty decent 'que. As for all the "Christian" stuff. Capitalizing on Christianity just gives all of us a bad name and for that I'm genuinely sorry. I'll be adding your blog to my reading list.

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    1. Thanks for the comments and the suggestion. I love barbacoa, so I'd definitely give that a try if I'm ever back in the Lufkin area.

      On another note, I completely agree with you about capitalizing on Christianity. As a Christian myself, it saddens me when people use that to try and win an argument.

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  11. I wanted to say, too, Jared, that I'm bookmarking your blog. I currently live in Corpus Christi and when we travel barbecue is one of the first places we look from since this town has very little decent barbecue (Especially since Joe Cotten's burned down. They're going to re-open it, but it will take several years).
    I have lots and lots of family up in DFW (one branch of which actually owns a few barbecue places) so I'll be checking out your blog before our next trip to see which places are worth going to. I also plan to send a link to my parents, siblings and cousins up that way too.

    Thanks so much!

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    1. Thanks so much for the comments. Joe Cotten's will certainly be missed.

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  12. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog.
    I will keep visiting this blog very often. edam parties Nebraska

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    1. Thanks for your comments. Glad you enjoy reading.

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  13. My husband and I just watched the RI episode on Bryan's. We were actually going to drive 2 hours to taste those ribs. After reading the reviews on yelp, urban spoon & on here, I think we'll stay in Spring and get Rudy's.

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    1. Thanks for the comments. I think you made the right choice there.

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  14. Just watched the "repeat" of this episode tonight. Three things that stuck out to me.
    1)Robert Irvine telling her hickory was not a good wood to use for BBQ, because it was to hard and "tasteless", made me do a mini spit-take back into my bottle of Lone Star.
    2)Lynn Bryan telling him she didn't/couldn't use pecan wood, because it's "illegal to cut down pecan tress, since they're the state tree".
    3)They seemed to have no one who they actually had designated as their "pit master".

    It's pretty easy to get why they're on the verge of closing.

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    1. Thanks for the comments Paul. I couldn't agree with you more.

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  15. It seems as though everyone on here is very quick to judge and degrade these people. I have an idea. Why don't everyone of the people who decided to write rude comments keep them to yourselves. If you can't say anything nice and supportive, then keep your mouths shut and your fingers off of the keys.

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    1. Christine,

      While I appreciate you taking the time to comment on my blog, I must disagree with you. If you were investigating a restaurant that you were interested in trying out, wouldn't you want to know if other customers thought the food, service, etc. wasn't quite up to par? Similarly, wouldn't you want to know if your new doctor had a history of treating patients badly or giving them an incorrect diagnosis? Bad reviews serve a beneficial purpose for prospective customers in many respects. I agree with you that bad reviews don't need to be degrading or overly harsh in order to achieve that purpose, but that doesn't mean we should omit them entirely.

      As for my review in particular, you'll notice that I had several positive comments about Bryan's food. I enjoyed their sausage and the bbq sauce. My goal is not to unfairly bash a restaurant. If there had been more positive things about my experience there, I certainly would have mentioned them. Check out some of my five-star reviews (Slow Bone, for example) if you'd like proof.

      Perhaps rather than criticizing other customers for discussing their negative experiences at Bryan's, we should instead expect Bryan's to take these negative opinions and use them to improve their food and their restaurant as a whole.

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  16. I am a Lufkin resident. I tried Bryan's BBQ a couple of times. It was okay but not nearly the best I have eaten. I do know that the restaurant has recently changed owners. I have not been there yet but I will give the new owners the benefit of a fresh start. I think it is important that they have a chance to make this restaurant a success.

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    1. Thanks for the info Mel. I had heard about a change in ownership once before, but I don't think that ever materialized. If there are new owners now, I wish them the best of luck.

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