Saturday, August 24, 2013
My wife and I used to pick up dinner from Roly Poly quite regularly when they were open until 8:00, but not so much now that they close at 6:00. The last time we ate there, I didn't notice their barbecue sandwich until it was too late and we were already walking out the door. A rolled barbecue sandwich seemed like a good quick option for lunch today.
Roly Poly has only a mere two tables and five barstools inside, plus another few tables outside. Basically, this is a place best suited for to-go orders. There are only about three employees working here at any given time, so it takes an unusually long time to get a simple rolled sandwich.
In addition to their standard menu, Roly Poly also offers daily specials, although those don't seem to rotate too often. The sandwich I had my eye on was still on their list of specials from last week. Undaunted, I ordered the #41 Barbeque Pork Melt. Per the menu description, this sandwich consists of smoked pork tenderloin, melted cheddar and jalapeno jack cheese, bacon, barbecue sauce, and onion with a side of ranch dressing.
My initial reaction was disappointment at the sliced deli pork I found. The barbecue sauce had a good sweetness to it, and I enjoyed the crunch of the onions. I noticed a slight spiciness from the jalapeno jack cheese, though not as much as I was expecting. The cheddar, however, just sort of blended into the background. Sadly, the bacon was also entirely unnoticeable. The thinly sliced pork was fairly tender, but was so thin that any hint of smoke was entirely lost. My side of ranch dressing made no sense with the barbecue sandwich, so I didn't even bother with it.
I usually order a #53 Chicken Popper sandwich, and I think I'll be sticking to that from now on. Roly Poly offers up some pretty tasty sandwiches in general, but sadly fails on the barbecue front.
3038 Mockingbird Ln
Dallas, TX 75205
Saturday, August 10, 2013
My niece and nephew were in town for the weekend, and my wife and I were thrilled to be part of their first trip to the zoo. I certainly wasn't expecting to find barbecue out amongst the lions and giraffes, but far be it from me to pass up an opportunity for smoked meat.
Near the entrance to the Dallas Zoo's "Giants of the Savanna" exhibit lies the Serengeti Grill. There wasn't much in the way of indoor seating here, which was unfortunate given the 100 degree temperatures outside. We managed to find a few tables under the outdoor awning. The indoor tables are in high demand because of their proximity to the sleeping lions propped up against the cool glass. I wasn't sure how good the food would be, but the promise of lions was worth the risk.
Although the sliced beef plate sounded pretty tasty, I opted for a bbq chopped beef sandwich instead. I probably could have substituted potato salad or beans as my side dish, but the pre-selected side of french fries seemed the most appropriate pairing for this sandwich.
Judging by the way my sandwich was stacked on top of the fries, the Dallas Zoo is hell bent on conserving paper plates. In fact, their paper plates and bowls are made from recycled sugar cane, the utensils from recycled potatoes, and the cups from recycled corn. The fries were obviously frozen and were probably better suited for making plastic forks than for eating. I wish there had been more seasoning than the mere sprinkling of salt I received. The barbecue sauce runoff from my sandwich was a nice addition to the otherwise bland fries, but wasn't enough to salvage things.
The brisket had a better flavor than I was expecting, and the homemade bun was a nice touch, too. I found big chunks of beef rather than the finely-chopped sloppy joe I had pictured in my mind. Any remnants of bark/crust had unfortunately been trimmed off. The meat was fairly tender, although I couldn't taste any smoke. This was probably the result of an over-abundance of barbecue sauce, but it's still no excuse. Despite its prevalence on the sandwich, the sauce didn't have much of a pronounced flavor; it was more tomatoey than anything. I also found a few diced grilled onions mixed in. They didn't add much in terms of taste, but they did add a pleasant texture. Overall, I was fairly disappointed.
Admittedly, the Serengeti Grill wasn't the best place to look for phenomenal barbecue. My tablemates seemed to enjoy their cheeseburgers just fine, so perhaps I was just too ambitious. The main reason to eat here is the view, and even then the lions don't always strike the most modest of poses.
650 S. RL Thornton Freeway
Dallas, TX 75203
Friday, August 2, 2013
Cuney, Texas isn't one of those places you'd think to look for barbecue. Actually, with its population of 145 residents, you'd be hard-pressed to even know it existed. I saw Al's Place BBQ by the roadside and decided to make it my final barbecue stop on the long drive home to Dallas.
Cuney, Texas has only a handful of businesses visible from the highway, about 80% of which are liquor stores. Al's Place is little more than a small shack set out in the grass and dirt just off the main road. The guys operating it (Al, I presume) were mostly just hanging out, having a good time waiting to see if any customers would show up.
I ordered a Sliced Beef Sandwich and traipsed back to my truck to unwrap my snack.
My sandwich came wrapped in tin foil and stuffed into a grease-stained paper bag. I was a little disappointed to find the massive amount of brisket smashed between two slices of soggy, sauce-soaked white bread. Luckily, I keep a few plastic forks in my truck for just such a purpose, so I discarded the bread and dug in.
I couldn't see any bark or smoke ring on this brisket. There was no smoke, and hardly any seasoning. Even salt would be a luxury here. The barbecue sauce was watery and not very flavorful. The meat itself was akin to a flimsy pot roast, with a weird skin on the edges where the crust should have been. It was pretty gross, and I stopped eating after only three bites.
Saddened by my snack, I popped into a Dairy Queen in the next town over to rinse the taste of the brisket out of my mouth with a smoothie. Sorry, Al.
Al's Place BBQ
Cuney, TX 75759
As you wind through the trees on the drive into Rusk, Texas, a very dated barbecue joint pops up out of the woods. I didn't really need another snack at the moment, but All Star Bar-B-Q beckoned and I submitted.
This place looks like it's been there for ages, or at least the building probably has. I found their shameless misappropriation of the old Houston Astros logo pretty amusing. All Star had some indoor seating, but I was content ordering from the walk-up window.
My options were a little limited since I planned on eating out in my truck. I snagged a Rib Sandwich to-go and saddled up in my trusty steed.
I wasn't entirely sure what the rib sandwich would be exactly, but I was hoping for something better that what I got. My initial reaction was disdain for the "some assembly required" nature of my snack. Rather than a rib sandwich, what I received was basically 5 spareribs, 2 slices of bread, and a little container of sauce. I decided to just eat the ribs on their own and forgo the plain white bread.
They looked like decent spareribs, but looks can be deceiving. There was a good amount of black pepper, though not much else. The sweet, sticky glaze screamed "grilled" rather than "smoked". There was no smoke and no discernible crust. I also ended up with a pretty terrible cut of meat, with small rib bones jutting out from unusual places. The ribs left a weird film and unpleasant taste in my mouth.
I'm a curious person by nature, so All Star Bar-B-Q was certainly worth investigating no matter what. That being said, it's not worth a return trip.
UPDATE (September 22, 2015): Today I received a Yelp "compliment" from Christy Turner of All Star Bar-B-Q:
"Just to clear things up, we don't even own a grill and paid over $40,000 for our pits, aka smokers. And, obviously you have never had a proper "rib sandwich" when stated that there was "some assembly required". Interesting take on barbecue. You must not know much."
Ms. Turner is correct when she says that I have "obviously" never had a proper rib sandwich, which includes the one I received from All Star Bar-B-Q. Likewise, she "obviously" does not understand the correct way to address customer feedback. There are many different ways to approach an unhappy customer, but challenging my general barbecue knowledge probably isn't the right way to do it. Assembly required or not, the ribs completely failed from a taste perspective, which is honestly a pretty basic thing to nail down.
All Star Bar-B-Q
267 S. Dickinson
Rusk, TX 75785
I was only about 30 minutes into my drive home from Lufkin to Dallas, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to sample more East Texas barbecue. I found Lindsey's Lazy L Bar-B-Q along the highway near Alto, Texas and decided to give it a try.
This place seems primarily focused on their convenience store and farmers market-style produce selection. The barbecue area is way in the back, mostly comprised of a clientele that was apparently very fond of boots and overalls. I decided that a to-go order might be in order here. For take out, grab your food from there and proceed back up front to pay at the main store register.
I settled on a Hotlink Sandwich. It probably wouldn't have ordinarily been my first choice, but this is East Texas after all, so hotlinks seemed appropriate.
The deep purple color on the hotlinks was very beet-like and was also a little off-putting. I dug in anyway, only to find that the casings had very little snap and the meat was fairly mushy. The sauce was ok, but nothing special. I saw the remnants of jalapenos in the form of large seeds. That being said, there was only a hint of heat, certainly not as much as I was anticipating. There was no smoke whatsoever. Business at the Lazy L wasn't exactly booming, but I think it would be worthwhile to invest in something better and more homemade than Mrs. Baird's hamburger buns from the local grocery store. Needless to say, I didn't bother finishing my sandwich.
When the word "lazy" is right in their name, I guess I shouldn't have expected too much effort from this place. Lindsey's Lazy L Bar-B-Q was a sad representation of East Texas hotlinks.
Lindsey's Lazy L Bar-B-Q
12157 Hwy 69 S
Alto, TX 75925
Despite my best efforts, my job yet again forced me into another trip East to Lufkin, Texas. The last time I was in town I tried out Bryan's Smokehouse, but I wasn't going to make that mistake again. I decided instead to sample Lufkin Bar-B-Q, which is interestingly only a block away from Bryan's.
Lufkin Bar-B-Q has been pumping out smoke in one form or another since the 1950s. I hoped that all that history would lend itself to some really tasty barbecue.
The drive-thru window out front seems to comprise a large portion of their business. Despite the rugged sheet metal exterior, this place has a pretty nice feel to it once you get inside. Bright woods line the walls and the booths, and the western motif ties the whole thing together. It was exceptionally quiet in the dining room, so some background music would have been nice.
If you're dining in, waitress service is the only option. I had several barbecue stops planned for my drive home, so I didn't want to fill up too much. I settled on a Half Plate of sliced beef (aka brisket, at least I really hoped). There weren't too many options for side dishes, but potato salad and beans would do just fine.
Visually, things looked pretty good. The potato salad was basically just warm mashed potatoes with some veggies mixed in for crunch. It was slightly sweet. The flavors were ok, but definitely not the German-style potato salad I'm used to in Central Texas. As for the beans, they had a really good flavor to them. I found brisket mixed in, which was a nice touch. They needed a little spiciness to round things out. Others have raved about Lufkin Bar-B-Q's complimentary dough rolls, but to me they were nearly inedible. They had the texture of a really dense doughnut, and mine were a little raw and chewy in the middle. Maybe I just got a bad batch, but they weren't very good.
The brisket had a good black crust and a pronounced smoke ring. There also appeared to be a good mix of fatty and lean parts to comb through. There wasn't much smoke to the brisket, but it wasn't completely absent either. What stood out the most, unfortunately, was the undercooked meat which failed miserably on the "accordion test." It took way too much effort to pull the meat apart across the grain. A few of my slices beneath surface of the seemingly-beautiful pile had a weird sheen to them, which reminded me of fish scales glistening in the sun.
Lufkin Bar-B-Q was only slightly better than Bryan's Smokehouse had been, although maybe it's more accurate to say that it was just differently bad.
203 S. Chestnut St.
Lufkin, TX 75901