Thursday, June 27, 2013
Today my wife and I were at NorthPark Mall doing a little dress shopping. Well, she was doing a little dress shopping; I was traipsing along behind her playing solitaire on my phone. It was getting fairly late, and we made a last-ditch effort to find dinner before hunger turned me from Jekyll to Hyde. Bread Winners is one of the more recent restaurant additions to the mall, so we thought we'd give it a shot.
Bread Winners has a fairly nice dining room inside, but there is a ton of outdoor seating on the patio. If it hadn't been 100 degrees out there, we might have done the patio. Today, however, was an air conditioning kind of day. A few of the other patrons were exceptionally loud, possibly fueled by the half-price martinis they have on Thursdays. The setup looked much fancier than the other Bread Winners locations I've been to. That being said, perhaps if they're going to have a nice seated dinner service they should opt for cloth napkins instead of paper. Just saying.
We were both thoroughly famished, so I insisted on an appetizer of hummus and pita to start things off. It didn't really fit with either of the entrees my wife and I were contemplating, but sometimes hunger overrides the voice of logic.
The hummus was really fresh and creamy. I didn't care for all the pine nuts, but they weren't enough to ruin this dish. The pita triangles were warm, fluffy, and delicious. I was also glad that we didn't have to rip apart big pieces of pita bread. This was a nice start to the meal.
I'm pretty familiar with Bread Winners' salad-and-sandwich lunch menu, but I was really excited to see ribs as part of their dinner selections. Done and done. I ordered the St. Louis Ribs, which come with green chile mac & cheese on the side.
The mac and cheese was spectacular! It had a nice crust of toasted breadcrumbs, which went perfectly with the gooey, delicious cheese. The chiles added a good kick to the mac. My wife found it a little too spicy, but I really enjoyed it.
My ribs weren't quite as pleasing as the mac and cheese had been. For starters, the meat was sadly fall-off-the-bone tender (i.e. overcooked). I was able to separate meat from bone with almost no effort at all. The rib meat itself was tender, but stringy like pulled pork. It also had zero smoke and barely any crust. The flavor from their sauce was pretty good and wasn't overly sweet. I think the cooks need to work on their butchering skills a bit, because 2 out of my 6 supposed St. Louis ribs still had part of the rib tip (knuckle) attached. I'm also not sure why they felt the need to shove a large sprig of rosemary into the middle of my ribs.
The ribs were rather disappointing, but I could have eaten a whole trough of their mac and cheese. Bread Winners is definitely not a place to go for good barbecue, although my meal as a whole was pretty enjoyable and much tastier than the usual mall food court options.
Bread Winners Bakery & Cafe
8687 N. Central Expy
Dallas, TX 75225
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Despite yesterday's disappointing experience at Whole Foods, I wanted to see how Bluebonnet Bar-B-Q at their Lakewood location measured up. Apparently I'm just a glutton for punishment.
While Whole Foods Park Lane only offers self-serve barbecue, Bluebonnet felt more like an actual barbecue spot than a grocery store. They had a real knife man cutting all of the meats to order. There were also many different combo plates and side dishes available here. It looked a lot more promising, but I was still pretty disappointed by the use of heat lamps.
It was well past lunchtime by this point in the day. My brain was telling me, "Don't spoil your dinner," but the overpowering "Eat! Eat! Eat!" coming from my stomach got the better of me. I ordered a 3 Meat Combo: garlic pork sausage, St. Louis-style pork spareribs, and sliced beef brisket. All of their combos come with two side dishes, and I settled on potato salad and bbq beans.
The potato salad was pretty tasty. I found big slices of potatoes covered in what seemed more like heavy cream than mayonnaise. Dill isn't exactly my favorite herb, but it gave the potato salad a good amount of flavor, coupled with a pleasant sweetness from the cream. As much as I enjoyed the potato salad, the beans were my favorite of the two. The jalapeno and onions mixed in added a good crunch and a big kick of spiciness. These were much tastier (and much spicier) than most bbq beans I find in my travels.
All-pork sausage isn't really the norm for barbecue; most places serve all-beef or a pork and beef mixture. Rare as it is to find, I thoroughly enjoy pork sausage. The garlic gave this offering a good flavor, but I didn't find as much other seasoning as I would have liked. The casings had a little snap to them, though not too much. The meat itself sort of crumbled apart, which was probably an unfortunate byproduct of the all-pork stuffing. Overall, it seemed more grilled than smoked.
The thin slices of brisket had a good black crust and a slight smoke ring. I ended up with a mix of both lean and fatty slices. The lean slices were a little dried out, though they still had a decent amount of smoke to them. The fatty slices needed more rendering, but were tasty nonetheless. This brisket was much better than I was expecting, and the smokiness was a big surprise given yesterday's bland Whole Foods barbecue.
St. Louis-style ribs are probably my favorite rib cut, doing away with that disgusting and unnecessary rib knuckle found on typical spareribs. These had a hint of smoke, but certainly not as much as there should have been. I also thought the crust could have used more seasoning. The meat had good staying power, and wasn't at all "falling off the bone." That being said, the meat was still tender and juicy.
Bluebonnet Bar-B-Q wasn't perfect by any means, but it was definitely better than many actual barbecue restaurants that I've sampled in recent months.
Whole Foods Market
2118 Abrams Rd.
Dallas, TX 75214
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
I absolutely dread going to the dentist. I'm not scared or anything, I just hate going. Sadly, it was once again time for my regular check-up and cleaning. After all of the poking and prodding and scrubbing was done, I decided to undo all of my dentist's hard work and scarf down a bunch of smoked meat. According to my Texas Monthly BBQ Finder, the nearby Whole Foods Market is home to Dixon's BBQ. Grocery store barbecue didn't sound all that appealing, but I decided to give it a try anyway.
Dixon's BBQ appears to be an independent part of Whole Foods, although I'm not 100% certain about that. There was one knife man working behind the counter, but it's basically set up as self-serve barbecue sitting under heat lamps for God knows how long. They're open from 10:30-9:00, and I'm not sure how often they replenish the meats. I wasn't optimistic.
There were several different options to choose from, but I didn't want to overdo things (at least not too much). I decided to sample their pork spare ribs, pork and beef garlic pepper sausage, smoked buffalo wings, and pulled pork. Chopped beef and beef short ribs were also available, but neither looked particularly appetizing. At the last minute I uncovered some previously-hidden sliced beef brisket, and I decided to add on a few slices of that for good measure. Their pre-packaged side dishes seemed pretty pitiful, so I figured I'd just make do with my five-meat carnivore feast.
The brisket didn't have much of a crust on it, and there was no noticeable smoke ring. I couldn't taste any smoke either. In fact, I couldn't taste much of anything, not even salt. The fat was barely rendered and was pretty chewy. The meat was fairly dried out, probably a result of the tanning bed it had been warming under. Dixon's was not off to a good start.
I moved on to the pulled pork, which was equally disappointing and forgettable. The meat was fairly tender, but lacked any real flavor. It certainly didn't have any smoke to it, although I would have settled for some salt and pepper. I'm not much of a sauce fan in general, but the pulled pork definitely could have used some.
As for the sausage, it was a welcome change of pace. Given the "garlic pepper" description, I figured that the sausage would at least have some good flavor. There was a decent kick from the peppers, and a good amount of black pepper too. Garlic was noticeable throughout and much appreciated. The casings were also nice and crisp. I didn't find too much smoke in the sausage, but it was certainly much tastier than my first two meat selections.
I don't often see smoked chicken wings on the menu at barbecue joints, so I was anxious to give it a try. Barbecue chicken skin is a guilty pleasure of mine, but this was pretty disappointing. The skin wasn't so much crispy as it was chewy, and the same was true for the meat. The chicken was fairly dry and tough to eat. I found a decent amount of seasoning, but that's really the only positive thing I can say about these wings.
The big, meaty spare ribs seemed like a good way to finish off this meal. Meatiness aside, the ribs had almost no crust and only a slight smoky hue. The meat itself was cooked well: each bite came cleanly off the bone, while the rest of the meat stayed put. The fat, however, was rubbery and abysmal. I couldn't taste much aside from plain pork. These ribs definitely needed more seasoning and more smoke.
My meal wasn't a complete failure, but it was pretty close. Although the heat lamps were certainly a contributing factor, the main problem here was the overall lack of flavor and lack of smoke. Dixon's BBQ was pretty decent for grocery store barbecue, but falls short on any other scale.
Whole Foods Market
8190 Park Ln
Dallas, TX 75231
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Today I had a little time to kill for lunch, so I headed toward Fair Park to sample Two Podners Bar-B-Que & Seafood. Ordinarily I would be worried about a barbecue joint that doesn't focus solely on smoked meat, but since the only "seafood" they have on the menu is fried catfish, it seemed worth the risk.
The drive-thru line here is really helpful if you want your food to go, but otherwise it makes it a little difficult for dine-in customers to park. I had to wait almost 5 minutes for a break in the line just so I could pull through the parking lot. Part of this is poor design and planning, although the general rudeness of the drive-thru customers was also to blame.
Judging by the interior setup, coupled with the existing drive-thru, I'm about 98% certain that Two Podners used to be a McDonald's. It even had the telltale red and yellow booths, which were ragged and nearly falling apart at the seams. What was once most likely a playground area is now used for outdoor patio seating.
After a few questions for the server behind the counter, I ended up ordering a Combo Plate of ribs and sliced brisket, with sweet potatoes and pinto beans on the side. When I ordered, the server asked if I wanted "mild or hot". I didn't really understand the question, so I naturally picked hot. She handed me my order, and I soon realized that she was asking about the barbecue sauce which would inevitably be poured all over my meat. Sigh. As I paid for my food I noticed that refills are free for soda, but apparently the same isn't true for punch or lemonade, despite the fact that they're all self-serve fountain drinks. Undaunted, I picked up a big glass of lemonade.
I picked pinto beans over baked beans, mostly because I feared the baked variety would originate from a can. They were tasty with a good amount of salt. The onions and peppers mixed in added no crunch and not much flavor either. It was a decent side dish, but not spectacular. The sweet potatoes were pleasantly sweet and had a good softness to them. That being said, they were nothing to write home about either.
Sad as I was about the heavy dose of sauce my meat had received, I can rarely resist a brisket in any form. There was a good smoke ring and a nice black crust, but even by looking at it I could tell that the brisket was completely dried out. It was tough and chewy, even for a lean cut. My roll of silverware came only with a fork and spoon, but a knife was definitely required here. As promised, the sauce was rather spicy, which is good because it was the only part of the brisket that had any real flavor. I stopped eating the brisket after only 3 bites.
The ribs were some of the saddest little ribs I've been served in a while. The meat was tough and chewy, just like the brisket. The thick slathering of sauce precluded any possibility of tasting smoke, although there may not have been any to begin with judging by the brisket I'd just eaten. I didn't see any smokey hue to the ribs either, but it could have been hidden by the sauce, so who knows for sure. I managed to salvage half of one rib from the sauce, only to find no flavors other than meat and just a hint of salt.
I hate to waste food or money, but today I ended up discarding half of my ribs and 3/4 of my brisket, plus the majority of the sides. I almost gave Two Podners two stars solely because of their tasty lemonade, but they don't deserve it.
On a final note, I found this quote in a Facebook review of Two Podners, and I couldn't help but include it here out of pure enjoyment: "I went there about a month ago and they had put oniceos in they greens they was nastey, i said you told them to put that o in them greens that cuts the taste in it+!" All things considered, I guess I'm glad I ordered sweet potatoes instead of "they nastey greens."
Two Podners Bar-B-Que & Seafood
1441 Robert B McCullum Blvd.
Dallas, TX 75210
Sunday, June 16, 2013
As much as I love the usual barbecue offerings of brisket and ribs, barbacoa is also an important part of the Texas barbecue tradition. A friend of mine told me that I could find some great barbacoa tacos down in Lakewood at the Super Mercado Mexico, and he was right.
This place doesn't look like much from the street, but the food you'll find here packs a powerful punch. The Super Mercado has a lot of the standard Mexican groceries, as well as a great meat market and some fresh homemade tortillas. I thoroughly enjoy a good Jarritos soda, but what I really came here for was the taco stand in the back corner. Although they have tacos and tortas every day, you'll only find barbacoa and menudo options available on Sabados y Domingos (Saturdays and Sundays).
It took a while for a gringo like me to figure things out, but I got it squared away in the end. The first step is to order your tacos from the front register, then bring your receipt back to the taco man. It took every ounce of my Spanglish to place my order, but I'm about 90% certain that I asked for two Cabeza de Borrego Tacos (sheep's head) and two Tacos al Pastor (think pork shawarma).
The tacos at Super Mercado Mexico are only $1.25 each, so it took great restraint to limit myself to just four. These come topped with the usual mix of diced onion and cilantro, and a cup of salsa verde on the side.
Both taco varieties looked superb, but I decided to start with the cabeza de borrego. The meat was succulent and juicy. Unlike a lot of street tacos you'll find out there, these weren't at all greasy or stringy. The onions gave it a nice crunch, and the cilantro added a great flavor. I found the borrego to be fantastic and tasty on its own, but the salsa verde added a great new level of flavor.
The al pastor tacos were just as delicious as the borrego. I found tender, tasty pieces of pork here, as well as a great seasoning from the dried chiles. The onions and cilantro paired nicely with the pork, too. There was also a slight sweetness to the meat that I really liked. I decided to forgo the salsa with the al pastor tacos and just enjoy their natural flavors, which were outstanding.
If you saw Super Mercado Mexico from the street, it would be easy to drive on by without giving it a second thought, but that would be a big mistake. For phenomenal barbacoa in Dallas, this is definitely the place to go.
Super Mercado Mexico
5535 Columbia Ave.
Dallas, TX 75214
Saturday, June 15, 2013
I had heard that there was some good traditional Hawaiian barbecue to be had up in Plano, but unfortunately I don't find myself up that far north very often. Today my wife suggested a trip to Ikea in Plano, and I agreed in exchange for lunch at L&L.
I've never had Hawaiian barbecue anywhere other than Hawaii itself, so I wasn't sure exactly what I'd find in the land-locked city of Plano, Texas. L&L didn't have the overly-touristy Hawaiian atmosphere that I was expecting, but instead had a small cafe-sized dining area with a few surfboards on the wall. I also enjoyed the looping video footage of fire dancers and luau music playing in the background. Not quite so enjoyable were the employees both in the dining area and behind the counter who were loudly slurping down big bowls of kimchi. Granted it was lunchtime, but it was a little off-putting from a customer's standpoint.
L&L had lots of tasty looking things to try. The staff and management appear to be Asian, so they have a few spring rolls, etc. on the menu in addition to the typical Hawaiian selections. I ended up ordering a BBQ Mix Plate: BBQ Beef, BBQ Ribs, and I substituted in some Kalua Pork for the BBQ Chicken that's supposed to come on the mix plate. Their entrees automatically come with steamed rice and macaroni salad, and since there didn't seem to be any other options, those side dishes would have to do.
The macaroni salad was pretty bland and forgettable. It was basically just macaroni and mayonnaise, like a coleslaw with pasta instead of cabbage. The rice was just plain, steamed white rice, and was as equally forgettable as the macaroni salad had been. I did appreciate that it was cooked well at least.
When I ordered something that included ribs, I was expecting, well, ribs. You know, long bone with some meat attached to it. What I got here were some of the weirdest "ribs" I'd ever seen. It looked like they shaved a cross-sectioned slice off of the slab from the wrong direction, with just three oval-shaped slivers of bone embedded in a deli-style slice of rib meat. To make matters worse, the meat was pretty tough to chew. The fat was not at all well-rendered, and it was actually really gristly. The flavor was basically nothing more than teriyaki, and not a particularly memorable teriyaki at that.
I moved on to the beef, only to find it on par with the ribs. The single thin slice of meat was completely overcooked and fairly dry. It was also just as gristly as the ribs. I had initially assumed that something called the "mix plate" would be a mix of different types of barbecue. Instead, the L&L mix plate is essentially three different meats all covered in the same teriyaki sauce. The beef was a big let down.
My wife isn't really the biggest fan of teriyaki. She had ordered the BBQ Chicken plate, which the menu described as being marinated in their special L&L Hawaiian barbecue sauce. What she didn't realize was that "special L&L Hawaiian barbecue sauce" is apparently just their fancy way of saying "teriyaki sauce." She didn't really eat any more after the first few bites, so I stepped in to try it out. Here again, we had both expected the dark meat chicken to be on-the-bone, but just like the ribs, we instead received deli-style slices of chicken. The chicken was cooked well and was very juicy. I wanted to like it, though I can only handle so much teriyaki at one time.
After what I tasted on my wife's plate, I was really glad that I had substituted the Kalua Pork for the BBQ Chicken. The shredded pork was very tender, and there was a huge portion of it with my mix plate. I enjoyed the natural flavors of the pork, but sadly that was the only flavor I could find. I smelled some delicious smoke outside before we walked through the door, which really got my hopes up. I'm not sure where the smoke was emanating from, but it sure wasn't L&L. The menu describes the pork as being "smoke-flavored," which is usually code for liquid smoke. Even then, I couldn't taste the slightest bit of smoke in this pork.
It's been almost 3 1/2 years since my wife and I were in Hawaii for our honeymoon, but I still remember how delicious the food was. L&L Hawaiian Barbecue wasn't even close to the amazing and flavorful barbecue and luau meats that we had eaten during our time there. I think L&L has probably gotten lazy and complacent over the years. While adherence to tradition is obviously an important part of their business, they need to pay more attention to the quality of the meats and sauces they use, because otherwise tradition is meaningless.
L&L Hawaiian Barbecue
8404 Preston Rd.
Plano, TX 75024
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Let me begin by going on record to say that I do not consider Burger King to be barbecue in any sense of the word. That being said, I was admittedly a little intrigued by their recently-unveiled Summer menu, which contains several "BBQ" selections. I suspect that the term "BBQ" is being very loosely applied here, but since Burger King is only a two-minute walk from my apartment, I decided to try out a few of their new sandwiches.
This Burger King location has recently reopened after undergoing a major renovation, so I was interested to see what the outcome would be. The interior looks much nicer, and has a more welcoming feel than the Burger Kings of yesteryear. They do still have the paper crowns available at least, so it hasn't changed all that much.
I ended up ordering two of their new Summer menu items: the BK Rib Sandwich and the Memphis BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich, along with a standard order of fries. Burger King has sweet potato fries available as part of the summer selections, but I thoroughly enjoy their regular fries, so I passed for today.
The BK Rib Sandwich is surely their answer to the McDonald's McRib. I've never been a fan of the McRib, but somehow the BK version seemed a little better than its competition. I enjoyed the artisanal bun, which was an improvement over the standard sesame seed version. Although they didn't look very appetizing, the bread and butter pickles offered a good sweetness, but I think dill pickles would have been a better pairing. The barbecue sauce tasted more like a sweet ketchup. The "patty" or whatever looked like three ladyfingers waiting to be part of a tiramisu. My brain kept telling me, "They can't call it a rib sandwich if it isn't rib meat," but my taste buds refused to believe it. Overall, the BK Rib Sandwich was slightly tastier than the McRib, but that really isn't saying much.
Thoroughly disappointed by the Rib Sandwich, I moved on to the Memphis BBQ Pulled Pork. Rather than the neat pile of pulled pork pictured on the Burger King website, what I received was a balled-up mass of pork shoved onto a bun. The meat (if you can call it that) was very mushy and had the consistency of uncooked hamburger meat. It was well-suited for people with dentures, but not for those of us who have acquired the evolutionary advantage of teeth. The crunch of the onions gave this sandwich its only texture. According to the menu description, this sandwich has a Memphis-style barbecue sauce and a "sweet southern dressing," though I'm not sure I understand the need for both. The sauce was pleasantly sweet, but I can get better sauce from the Kroger next door. Basically, this was nothing more than a sweet sloppy joe.
If I could have given this meal zero stars, I would have. Wait. It's my blog, and I can do whatever I want. Negative one stars! Instead of trying to outpace McDonald's in the arena of fake barbecue, perhaps Burger King should instead focus on making a better hamburger.
5456 E. Mockingbird Ln.
Dallas, TX 75206
About a month ago I went to the Smokey John's location on Gaston full of anticipation, only to find the building demolished. Their website currently still lists both the Gaston and Mockingbird locations, so I'm not sure what's going on exactly. Undaunted, I decided to drive over to the Mockingbird Smokey John's for lunch today.
According to the signage out front, as well as above the single cafeteria line you go through for both businesses, Smokey John's shares their space with something called Ruth's Famous Tamales. I was immediately reminded of an episode of The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon, concerned for his dry cleaner's lack of focus on a singular craft, says, "Did you notice the sign on his counter? He's not a full-time dry cleaner. He also makes keys." Giving Smokey John's the benefit of the doubt, I assumed that the same people weren't cooking both the barbecue and the tamales, but it was still a little concerning.
I had originally wanted to sample Smokey John's beef sausage, which is one of the only sausages they make in-house (the other being their garlic beef sausage). Unfortunately, they were out of both varieties of beef sausage, even though it was only 11:15 in the morning. They import their pork sausage from Snook, Texas, so I guess that alternative would have to do. Smokey John's 5-meat "Full House" was pretty tempting, but I decided not to over-order and instead opted for a 3-Meat Plate of ribs, pork sausage, and brisket, with potato salad and sweet potatoes on the side.
The sweet potatoes were nice and soft, with a great taste of cinnamon and sugar. They were also cooked really well, crumbling apart in my mouth. The potato salad had good flavor, and was creamy and crunchy at the same time. It could have used a little more in the spice department though. My main complaint with the sides is more with their plating rather than with the flavors. The sweet potatoes are served along with all of their underlying juices from the pan, which inevitably spilled over into the potato salad. This kind of ruined the bottom portion of my potato salad, so I just ate the top half and left the rest to wallow in the sogginess.
I started my meat trio with the sausage, which had a great, audible snap to the casings. It was only slightly smoky, and most of the flavor I found was from the cracked black pepper. Part of the sweet potato juices had also made their way onto my sausage slices, which was actually a really tasty collaboration. The cinnamon and sausage together tasted more like a breakfast link, a surprise that I rather enjoyed. The pork sausage might not have been homemade, but at least they cooked it well.
The brisket came in much thinner slices than I usually receive at barbecue joints. I had asked the knife man to make my brisket fatty, and although the brisket had some good fat to it, it was definitely a leaner cut than I was expecting. It had a nicely seasoned crust, but sadly the crust was the only part of the brisket with any smoke to it. I was pretty disappointed with the overall lack of flavor here.
For some God-forsaken reason, Smokey John's cuts their spare ribs in half, separating the rib bone itself from the rib tip (or, as Texas Monthly's barbecue editor Daniel Vaughan affectionately calls it, the "knuckle"). The two bifurcated ribs that came with my combo plate looked really sad, as if half of the meat had been removed and/or fallen off. The meat itself was tasty enough: slightly sweet, though not much smoke. The modicum of meat on the rib bone was cooked well and was very tender. The meat on the rib tip, however, was rather tough and hard to chew. I don't want to unfairly slander Smokey John's, but the ribs seemed like they might have been reheated from the day before. I hope not.
I'm sad to say that the sweet potatoes were my favorite part of this meal. Maybe I should have ordered some of Ruth's tamales instead.
UPDATE (July 1, 2015): Today I received a message through my Yelp account from Brent Reaves, co-owner of Smokey John's. Mr. Reeves apologized for the less-than-stellar food I'd eaten at Smokey John's over two years ago, and he invited me back to the restaurant for a free meal. My wife and I had also relocated to Nashville more than a year ago, but better late than never I suppose. Were I still in the Dallas area, I'd consider giving Smokey John's another try, but it wouldn't be pre-scheduled and it certainly wouldn't be on the house. Nevertheless, I appreciated his apology and I wish them the best of luck.
Smokey John's Bar-B-Que
1820 W. Mockingbird Ln.
Dallas, TX 75235