Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Ellis County BBQ (Midlothian, TX)
My job forced me into an Ellis/Tarrant/Dallas tri-county drive today, and as a result I found myself in Midlothian around lunchtime. I had a little time to kill before my afternoon duties kicked in, so I decided pull over for a bit and try out Ellis County BBQ.
Although it's certainly not the norm for barbecue, Ellis County BBQ is set up as a table service restaurant. They had a nice big bar area (usually my location of choice whilst dining alone), but today I felt like grabbing an actual table. The dining room is decorated in a more upscale western motif, which was surprisingly swanky for a place like Midlothian.
I ordered up their Dennis Plate, which comes with three meats, two sides, and Texas toast. I usually try to avoid handheld barbecue when I'm wearing a suit, but I was feeling pretty cavalier today. After much deliberation, I settled on pork ribs, beef brisket, and sliced sausage with potato salad and macaroni and cheese on the side. I didn't know if Ellis County BBQ pre-sauced their meats or not, but since I couldn't see my plate being prepared, I made sure to ask for sauce on the side. After ordering I noticed a bottle of sauce on my table, so this was probably an unnecessary request, but you can't be too careful with these things.
As always, I started my meal by sampling the side dishes. The potato salad had a good crunch from the pickles and pimentos. The potatoes were slightly creamy, though chunkier than mashed potatoes. It had a nice natural flavor to it without being bland. The mac and cheese, however, was not quite so pleasant. What I received was basically plain elbow macaroni with a little cheese melted over the top. It was pretty skimpy on flavor, and tasted only slightly better than Easy Mac.
From the outset, the brisket looked a little dry and far too lean. It had a decent black crust on it, but no actual bark. I also didn't notice much of a smoke ring, and I certainly couldn't taste any smoke either. Actually, all I could taste was dry meat and salt. I added some of their house barbecue sauce out of pure necessity. The sweet vinegar sauce helped things, but not enough for me to continue eating it.
The pre-sliced sausage had no visible black pepper or other spices, which made it look suspiciously like Hormel or Eckrich. I hoped the taste would change my opinion, but no such luck. It tasted exactly like it looked: grocery store sausage. There definitely wasn't any smoke to it either. The casings did have a decent snap, but that's really the only positive thing I can say.
After my first two meat selections, I wasn't feeling very optimistic about the ribs. The big meaty spare ribs looked like they had a good crust, but were lacking much of a red smoky hue. I found some smoke in the crust, but it tasted more like artificial liquid smoke rather than the natural kind. This gave the ribs a really weird taste. The meat came cleanly off the bone one bite at a time, so at least the ribs were cooked properly (from a time standpoint only).
I took the remainder of my food in a to-go box just to be polite, but I had no intention of eating any more of it. Ellis County BBQ definitely has some work to do on their seasonings and their smoking process. Getting rid of the liquid smoke should certainly be step one, but I'd also suggest they steer clear of Kroger and find a new sausage supplier.
UPDATE (December 5, 2013): Once again, I found a restaurant owner posting comments to my blog post under the guise of an average customer. This time the comments came courtesy of Dennis DeWeerd, who is in fact the owner of Ellis County BBQ. Apparently Mr. DeWeerd was not aware that his name would show up next to the comments, which speaks to both his carelessness and his technological ignorance. In order to prevent his comments from being prematurely deleted, I have chosen to re-post them here. These comments are unabridged and unaltered:
"Where is your restaurant??? Ellis County Bbq has won numerous awards for their Bbq . We eat there 3-4 times a week the food is awesome. Anyone with a keyboard thinks they are a valid critic. Suit up and start your own restaurant and then I'll listen to you. Your a Joke"
1. The fact that Mr. DeWeerd has to resort to posing as a customer in order to defend his restaurant is just sad. Other comments seem to agree with my critique of Ellis County BBQ. Considering that there are no actual customers coming to his rescue, I'll stand by my review.
2. Mr. DeWeerd mentions numerous awards won by Ellis County BBQ. Interestingly, the restaurant's website doesn't list a single specific award. After 20 minutes of Googling, I couldn't come up with any results either. Perhaps none of these awards were recent enough to be noteworthy.
3. The comments suggest that simply starting a restaurant somehow magically makes a food critic's opinions valid. Does owning a McDonald's qualify someone to critique a Michelin-star steakhouse? I have eaten at countless horrible restaurants over the years, so maybe we should strive for standards a little higher than that.
4. If Mr. DeWeerd wants his comments to be taken seriously, I suggest he first learn to spell and use proper punctuation. The sloppiness with which he writes truly exemplifies the quality of the food at Ellis County BBQ.
UPDATE (December 19, 2013): Today I received more comments from Dennis DeWeerd, the owner of Ellis County BBQ. Here are his unabridged and unaltered comments:
"For your information, A Customer read your joke of a review, and ask if he could use my IPad to respond. Once again you don't know the facts. Just another idiot with a keypad.if you would like to talk face to face and see our numerous awards, I will be more than glad to show them to you. I can take criticism, but not from a person who doesn't even verify facts before writing an ignorant response . Any customer that would like to show here try our bbq and comment to me or my wife about it is welcomed. Not a coward who runs home and misleads people with a keypad and a $ 20 web site. Call and get facts before you accuse a restaurant owner of doing something they didn't do. Oh yea and next time check IBCA, LSBS, and KCBS. The trophies are here and always have been. If you are such a BBQ expert lets do a head to head cookoff with the loser giving $1000 to the winners favorite Charity. Wiling to put your money where your mouth is. I think not"
At no point did I claim to be an expert on barbecue or anything else, and I do not make that claim now. I won't even address the fact that Mr. DeWeerd chooses to respond to customer criticism by calling me an idiot and a coward and saying that I am ignorant. However, at Mr. DeWeerd's request I did some additional research into his assertion that "Ellis County BBQ has won numerous awards."
The International Bar-B-Que Cookers Association (IBCA) has cookoff results posted on their website from January 2011 through March 2013. I read through the results for each and every barbecue cookoff listed. For 2011 and 2012, I found no mention of Dennis DeWeerd or Ellis County BBQ. 2013 seemed to have been a better year for Mr. DeWeerd. He won 2nd place sauce in the Waxahachie Knights of Columbus cookoff. Then came the 20th Annual West, Texas Volunteer Fire Department cookoff, where he won 4th place brisket, 8th place sausage, and 14th place overall.
I next looked through the records of the Lonestar Barbeque Society (LSBS), which are posted from January 2011 through December 2013. Again, I read through the results of each individual barbecue cookoff. There were no awards listed for Mr. DeWeerd in 2011. In 2012, Mr. DeWeerd won 5th place fajitas at the San Marcos League of United Latin American Citizens BBQ & Chili Cookoff. He went on to win several awards at the Bridgeport 1st Ever Volunteer Fire Department BBQ Cook-Off: 7th place brisket, 9th place pork spare ribs, and 4th place chicken. It is worth noting that there were a total of 10 participants at the Bridgeport event. I found no awards listed for Mr. DeWeerd in 2013.
As for the Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS), they had cookoff results going back to 2007, but there are far too many events to go through one-by-one, especially when I don't know the name of Mr. DeWeerd's team (results are listed by team name, not individual name).
3 hours of researching, and these were the most prestigious awards I could find for Mr. DeWeerd. It's worth mentioning that these awards were given to Mr. DeWeerd personally, not to Ellis County BBQ. In a cookoff, you'll typically give a lot of attention to a small quantity of meat, and you'll offer only the best cuts to the judges. I fail to see how Mr. DeWeerd's "lofty" individual achievements in the realm of competition-quality barbecue translate into the Ellis County BBQ restaurant having award-winning food. Suppose for a moment that I owned and operated a burger joint somewhere in DFW, and that I had personally won 4th place in the hypothetical 2011 Grayson County League of Women Voters Burger Cookoff. Does that give me the right to claim that my restaurant serves award-winning hamburgers? I think not.
UPDATE (December 20, 2013): Here are some more delightful comments I received from Dennis DeWeerd:
"Once again your facts are wrong. The challange is still on . Hard to cook when you hide behind a keypad and have no life other than to criticize other people's hard work. The fact you found any of the awards and shows you lie and do not have a clue. Read your own words.
FACT: We have won numerous Championships with Cookoffs having over 100 Teams.
FACT: We have been in Business 6 years and serve over 250+ people a day.
FACT: We sell over $1,000,000.00 a year in BBQ
FACT: I am not Hostile, every Village has an idiot and I thank you for being ours.
FACT: instead of confronting a Restaurant Owner You lie about you choose to call Kirby and cry to him .
FACT: You choose to hide behind your Little Key Board instead of raising money for your favorite charity. Or your just not that good.
FACT: I really don't care about a persons opinion that is to afraid to complain to an owner of a Restaurant Face To Face .
FACT: Ellis County BBQ help raise over $100,000 for Fallen Navy Seal Chris Kyle's family this year,
I'll take my credentials over yours any day of the week.
FACT: You missed all of our 1st place Awards and our Grand Championship just a few short months ago.
FACT: your piss poor at research
Tell Kirby I said Hi tomorrow. And by the way you should join him for lunch, He eats up here all the time, well until he goes to work, The Crack Of March"
I typically don't respond to such things directly, but this time I couldn't help myself. Here is my reply, just in case the comments section is on the fritz:
"Wow, you really don't get it, do you? I have absolutely nothing to prove to you, and you are clearly out of touch with public opinion.
After searching several different website, I found dozens of negative reviews for Ellis County BBQ. On Yelp.com, 47% of reviewers had negative comments, as did 43% of reviewers on TripAdvisor.com. On Urbanspoon.com, 48% gave Ellis County BBQ bad reviews, and out of 148 votes it only received a 64% approval rating. One review on Urbanspoon states, "the restaurant owner is probably the rudest person i have ever met. will never step foot in your establishment ever again." I guess we're all just cowardly idiots who hide behind our keyboards.
You seem to completely disregard the opinions of amateur critics such as myself, but how about author of Full Custom Gospel BBQ and the recently-appointed BBQ Editor at Texas Monthly magazine, Daniel Vaughn? Like me, Mr. Vaughn gave Ellis County BBQ a two-star rating, stating, "Ribs were tender and came easily off the bone, but the flavor tasted of liquid smoke. While the meat was moist and well cooked, I couldn't get past the odd flavor profile. Unlike competition brisket, these slices had no smoke ring and were missing a deep smoke flavor in bites that didn't include crust." You can scoff at my expertise all you like, but it's hard to argue with Mr. Vaughn.
Perhaps you should simply take customer criticism for what it is and focus on the quality and consistency of food coming out of your kitchen, rather than hurling insults and issuing ridiculous challenges for the sake of your own ego. It is quite clear that nothing I say will get past your narcissism, so I won't bother responding to any more of your hostility.
P.S. Who in the hell is Kirby?"
Ellis County BBQ
700 Silken Crossing
Midlothian, TX 76065