Thursday, September 26, 2013
I generally have a rule against eating airport barbecue, mostly because there's no possibility of the meat being properly smoked on-site. That being said, I wasn't in the mood for fast food or Chinese, so Lefty's Colorado Trail Grille would have to do.
There are several Lefty's options scattered through the Denver airport, although only Lefty's Colorado Trail Grille can be found within Concourse A. Regardless of my skepticism for the quality of their food, it was nice to sit down for a while, especially with an hour and a half until our flight. Lefty's had a small bar area, but was otherwise just the average airport functionality you might expect. On a side note, there was no way I was paying $5.50 for a Coors Light when the airport is literally 30 miles from the Coors brewery in Golden, making the transportation costs almost nil. Take your price gouging elsewhere.
Despite my better judgment, I ordered their Pork Sliders: 4 buns of chopped pork and barbecue sauce. I also tacked on an order of fried Onion Rings for good measure.
As expected, the onion rings were clearly not homemade. They weren't terrible, but frozen onion rings can only go so far. I was supposed to receive a side of ranch for dipping, which I only got once I reminded the waiter about it. Things were not starting off well, but I moved on to the Pork Sliders anyway.
The fact that the menu listed them as "pork sliders" rather than something like "bbq sliders" or "bbq pork sliders" did not bode well. The buns themselves looked good but were ice cold, so I cast them aside and ate the pork solo. The meat actually ended up being pulled pork, not chopped as advertised. I'm not complaining about pulled pork, I just wish they could figure out what it is they're actually serving. All four buns were piled high with meat, though quantity can't make up for quality. I wouldn't really describe the pork as tender, more mushy like a sloppy joe or nursing home meatloaf. The sauce tasted mostly like ketchup with vinegar. As you can probably guess, there was no smoke to be found anywhere. I'm not even sure I would call this barbecue.
Just before we decided to eat at Lefty's Colorado Trail Grille, my wife suggested that we just eat ice cream for dinner instead. As usual, she was right.
Lefty's Colorado Trail Grille
Denver International Airport
Concourse A (near Gate A46)
8500 Pena Blvd.
Denver, CO 80249
It was Day 2 of our quick trip to Denver, which clearly necessitated more barbecue. I've seen "Famous Dave" Anderson on numerous televised barbecue competitions over the years, but I've never had the opportunity to try his food. Luckily for me, there was a Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que location fairly close to our hotel.
This particular Famous Dave's is located in the Stapleton area of Denver. I immediately took note of the warm and welcoming feel to the place, especially with the fake timber on the walls. This was probably a nod to Famous Dave's Minnesota/Wisconsin origins. I took a seat at the bar since I was having lunch alone.
Famous Dave's had a full array of sauces and rubs available for purchase. Before I ordered, the bartender gave me a quick rundown of each sauce and its history, which was very helpful and informative. I really considered buying a bottle of the "Texas Pit" barbecue sauce, but I was flying home and didn't know if the liquid would do too well on the plane. The TSA has a history of confiscating hot sauce from my luggage, so I decided not to risk it.
Today's special was All-You-Can-Eat Rib Tips, which was too tempting to pass up. You also get one side (not all-you-can-eat), and I opted for potato salad.
The potato salad had an excellent crunch to it from all the veggies. I also found big chunks of hard-boiled egg mixed in. It was mostly mayo-based, but there might have been a little mustard too. If there had been just a tad more pepper, or perhaps some chili powder, the potato salad would have been perfect.
As for my Rib Tips (or rib knuckles, if you will), they looked phenomenal. There was an excellent bark-filled crust, and the deep red hue suggested a decent amount of smoke. I tried the rib tips sauceless at first to get a good feel for the meat. The seasoning blend on the crust was fantastic, though just a touch too salty. I definitely caught some good smoke in every bite. The meat also had a slight sweetness to it from the pineapple-laden glaze. Even for rib tips the meat was very tender and juicy. I actually found it really hard to stop eating once I had built up some inertia. Each variety of barbecue sauce was unique and tasty in its own way, but unsurprisingly the Texas Pit was my favorite, with its hints of hickory and chipotle. I was incredibly full after the first round of rib tips, but an all-you-can-eat order required at least one more round.
I think I had gone up a belt size by the time I was done. It's not often that I find five-star quality barbecue outside of Texas, but Famous Dave's offered up some exceptional smoked meat. I guess there's a reason Dave is famous after all.
Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que
7557 E. 36th Ave
Denver, CO 80207
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
My wife and I had to fly to Denver for business (well, business for her, pleasure for me), and we were in dire need of sustenance after the long flight. I had scoped out The French Press before we left as a possible lunch spot. Little did I know that I'd find some blog-worthy barbecue there as well.
As you might have already guessed, The French Press is mostly a coffee shop, but it's also a decent little cafe with breakfast, brunch, and lunch options. I was still rolling on "Texas time," so eggs and crepes weren't really on my radar. Luckily there were plenty of sandwiches and paninis to choose from. Their wall-mounted chalkboard menus also suggest a rotating selection of food. The cafe itself was fairly small, but had a very welcoming quaintness to it. It felt much less granola than I was expecting for Colorado.
There were several sandwiches that caught my eye, but the barbecue lover in me refused to pass up their Pulled Pork Sandwich: pulled pork carnitas, coleslaw, and barbecue sauce on a brioche bun. The menu description suggested that the sandwich came topped with coleslaw, but I got confused when the server offered coleslaw as a potential side dish selection as well. None of the other side options (chips, french fries) seemed to match the barbecue sandwich, so I ordered coleslaw against my better judgment. I don't particularly care for coleslaw, but I figured at least I could top my sandwich with it for some extra crunch.
When my order came out, I immediately realized my mistake. As I feared, the sandwich did in fact come topped with coleslaw, making my side dish selection extra useless. I tried the slaw anyway just for the sake of completeness. There wasn't just too much flavor, and it definitely could have used more dressing. I should have ordered french fries. Oh well, live and learn.
I moved on to the Pulled Pork Sandwich, where the coleslaw was sure to at least add some texture if nothing else. My meat seemed more chopped than pulled. The pork was much sweeter than I expected, perhaps from the added barbecue sauce. Although, there was only a light drizzling of sauce, which I much prefer to having sauce run down my hands. The pork was fairly tender, but it didn't have just a ton of flavor on its own, making the sauce an absolute necessity. It's unfortunate that the sauce didn't have a little heat to it though, since that would have balanced out the sweetness really well. I couldn't pinpoint any smoke, but sometimes that's just an unfortunate result of serving barbecue in sandwich form. On the other hand, "carnitas" are usually braised or roasted, so perhaps there was just no smoke to be had. The coleslaw added no flavor (not that I expected it to), but I did enjoy the added crunchiness. I also thoroughly enjoyed the brioche bun, which gave the sandwich a much more homemade quality than the typical Mrs. Baird's buns I often find in my barbecue travels.
Overall, my sandwich was a tasty and satisfying lunch. I think it works better in the general sandwich category than as barbecue, but it was a decent attempt nonetheless. The French Press was definitely a good choice for a lunch outing, you just have to go in with realistic expectations, especially if you're craving smoked meat.
The French Press
85 S. Union Blvd.
Lakewood, CO 80228
Sunday, September 15, 2013
My wife and I don't get to eat or play in the Bishop Arts district of Dallas nearly as often as we'd like. There are several restaurants I've wanted to try for quite some time, and Tillman's Roadhouse is one of them. We were having a surprise birthday party for a friend, and it just so happened that Tillman's was the venue of choice. This was a great opportunity to celebrate with friends and to entertain my taste buds at the same time.
The crowds and parking were much easier to manage than usual, suggesting that Sunday night is an ideal time to eat in this neighborhood. The decor at Tillman's was an interesting mix of woodsy and hipster. Interestingly, the blank plaster taxidermy mounts and wooden plank walls were the most "roadhouse" things about this place. The fake crystal chandeliers and tall floral curtains, not so roadhouse. Overall, it was fairly posh and on par with the rest of Bishop Arts.
Rather than serve something as mundane as chips and salsa, customers are treated to bowls of seasoned popcorn for the table.
I guess it's less messy than having roadhouse peanuts all over the floor. The popcorn had an unusual and unpleasant taste, like burnt pepper. It wasn't really the best thing to warm up my palate with.
One of our ambitious tablemates ordered the Trio of Fries as a shared appetizer, which included parmesan kennebec fries, chili-dusted purple potato fries, and smoked salt sweet potato fries. It also came with housemade ketchup and horseradish pickle mayo for dipping.
Each variation was fantastic in its own way, though the purple potato fries were a clear frontrunner. They had a slight sweetness to them, but not as much as the sweet potato fries. I found a good amount of salt, which I was craving for some reason. Of the dipping spreads, I only tried the horseradish pickle mayo. It had a phenomenal array of flavors, and I ended up eating it by the spoonful.
Someone also ended up getting a few orders of the Truffle Goat Cheese Tater Tots, and I'm really glad they did. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to snag a picture of the tots before everyone dug in. These tots come with a confit garlic aioli and chive sticks. They were absolutely delicious! The goat cheese made the tots really creamy, almost like a croquette. The garlic aioli also paired perfectly with the mild cheese.
I wasn't sure if I'd even have room for an actual entree, but I threw caution to the wind and ordered another appetizer: Crispy Pork Belly with a Dr. Pepper glaze, Appaloosa bean spread, and pickled okra.
What I received was basically an inch of solid bacon fat. The top and bottom edges were nice and crisp, while the middle stayed moist and tender. It may have been better to serve smaller cubes of pork belly that they can crisp on all sides. The Dr. Pepper glaze gave it an amazing sweetness. Unlike other soda-based glazes and sauces I've had over the years, I could actually taste the Dr. Pepper here. I probably gained 10 pounds from eating it.
Even as full as I was, I couldn't resist the call of barbecue. For my entree, I ordered their Post Oak Smoked Baby Back Ribs, which are accompanied by a citrus-chipotle barbecue sauce and bacon-cheddar mac & cheese.
The mac was really tasty, though there wasn't as much gooey cheese as I'd hoped for. The flavors were great, but it lacked that homeyness that a good mac and cheese should have. Bacon was just what this dish needed. Instead of chives, I think diced jalapeños would have added the spice this side needed to balance perfectly.
My baby back ribs came stacked up like meaty Jenga pieces. The flavors here were incredible. I found plenty of smoke and a decent amount of heat. Texture-wise, the first rib I tried wasn't so good: the meat was really mushy and it had no crust at all. Luckily, the second and consecutive ribs were much better. The ribs were bordering on overcooked, but had just enough meat retention to stay put while I ate. The barbecue sauce had a nice acidity from the citrus. It also had a natural sweetness that wasn't as overpowering as other sugar-heavy sauces.
I left Tillman's Roadhouse both incredibly full and incredibly happy. With only a few minor hiccups, the food was terrific. The ribs were really good, but with a little improvement they could be exceptional. The flavors are definitely there, it's the execution that could be better. Maybe Tillman's chefs should take a few pointers from Will Fleischman at Lockhart Smokehouse down the street.
324 W. 7th Street
Dallas, TX 75208
Friday, September 13, 2013
After months of anticipation, it was finally time for the Miranda Lambert/Dierks Bentley concert in Fair Park. My wife and I had eaten dinner beforehand, but when I saw the fabled OinknMoo BBQ food truck parked inside the gates, I couldn't resist.
There were 3 or 4 people manning various stations within the truck, although only one of them seemed exceptionally competent. The woman working the register appeared extremely flummoxed by the whole thing. My wait in line wasn't as long as many other food trucks I've encountered. Line size aside, food was coming out rather slow, which is surprising considering the only entrees they had to offer were sandwiches.
Although the choices were somewhat limited, a Hot Link Sandwich actually sounded pretty good. I opted to forgo the side dishes and eat my sandwich a la carte. After all, I had just eaten dinner about 45 minutes earlier.
This wasn't exactly the hot link sandwich I was expecting. My first disappointment was the Mrs. Baird's hamburger bun that it came on. By no means did I think a food truck would be baking their own homemade buns, but they could have at least bought some (Central Market has plenty). Their sausage quite obviously lacked the telltale reddish color of true East Texas hot links. I hoped that at least the sausage would have some good heat to it, but sadly I found no spiciness whatsoever. I couldn't taste any smoke either. There was a decent snap to the casings, but this was most likely store-bought sausage. The sauce had a pleasant sweetness to it, though some pepper would have added some nice balance.
There is no shame in selling a Sausage Sandwich if that's what it is. I would have probably upped my rating slightly if they hadn't falsely advertised this as a Hot Link Sandwich. Nice try OinknMoo, but we Texans know our sausage.
Downtown Dallas, TX (various locations)
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Today my mother-in-law noticed that I hadn't updated my barbecue blog in over a week and was understandably concerned. I don't like to disappoint, so I started researching possible dinner options. My evening barbecue choices are usually much more limited than around lunchtime, but the nearby Park Tavern seemed worth a try. I headed over to see how their ribs measured up to more traditional barbecue joints.
Park Tavern had a rockin' bar scene and felt much less pretentious and hipster than the usual Dallas spots - only a handful of people were wearing glasses ironically, and I didn't see a single fedora. There was great music and a great energy. It was a little loud, but I was flying solo tonight so I didn't mind too much. The high ceilings gave the interior a really open feel. Their large outdoor patio area seemed rather popular, despite the scorching heat and unbearable humidity. I opted for the indoor bar instead and took a seat for the TCU/Texas Tech game.
All of the bartenders were really friendly and attentive. I missed happy hour by about 5 minutes, but I came here for smoked meat rather than libations. Although, it did mean I'd miss out on the appetizer specials.
I ordered a half-rack of Baby Back Ribs, which come topped with a cascabel chile barbecue sauce. You also get your choice of two sides. I really wanted to sub in their chorizo deviled eggs from the appetizer section, but I was told this wasn't an option, despite the eggs being the same price as most of the individual sides. I even offered to trade both sides for some deviled eggs. Sadly it just wasn't happening. Party poopers. I begrudgingly picked the Hand-Cut Fries and Jalapeno Bacon Mac as my side dishes.
The hand-cut fries were definitely fresh and homemade. They were natural cut with the skins left on. I noticed a slight sweetness to the fries, and also found just the right amount of salt. The parsley sprinkled over the top added nothing, but I guess they looked prettier that way.
Interestingly, the mac and cheese was also topped with parsley. It was made with penne rather than the usual elbow pasta, which was a welcome change of pace. I was expecting gooey cheese, but my mac was drowning in what was essentially a runny cheese soup, and I thought about taking it home to eat with tortilla chips. The cheese sauce also didn't have much flavor. Despite the jalapenos, I found only a slight spiciness. The bacon was a nice touch, as were the breadcrumbs, but apparently there are things even bacon can't fix.
My ribs were the third piece in a parsley-topped trifecta, suggesting that the chef needs more practice with garnish diversification. The lemon wedge nestled next to my rack told me that these ribs were best suited for a knife and fork. Beneath the sauce I could see a decently-peppered crust. Cascabel chiles fall somewhere between poblanos and jalapenos on the Scoville scale, but I didn't really pick up too much heat (some, but not nearly enough). I tasted a decent smokiness in the barbecue sauce, though not at all in the meat. The few bites of sauceless meat I found were actually almost devoid of flavor. I liked the sauce a lot, but their total reliance on it for flavor was really disappointing. As I feared, the rib meat was noticeably overcooked and falling off the bone. The bone side of my rack was complete mush from resting in its own grease and juices for who knows how long. Oddly enough, the ribs were both tender and chewy at the same time, which admittedly makes no sense.
Overall, Park Tavern was kind of a let down, from the runny mac and overcooked ribs to the chef's disturbing parsley fetish. The ribs were listed in the "Smoked" section of their menu, but I have my doubts. I'd go back there to watch more college football and possibly to try the chorizo deviled eggs, but definitely not for barbecue.
8166 Park Lane
Dallas, TX 75231
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
My afternoon court hearing fell through, so I decided to play hooky and treat myself to some barbecue. Sweet Georgia Brown has been on my radar for a while, and it was recently named as one of D Magazine's "Top 100 Restaurants" for 2013. That was all the motivation I needed.
I've read several other reviews which detail the sheer terror and discomfort at dining in this area of Dallas. This isn't a neighborhood where I'd want to be stranded at 3am, but I didn't feel the least bit unsafe in broad daylight. I guess it might be a little intimidating if your usual stomping grounds include Highland Park and Uptown. That being said, if you have a concealed handgun license like I do, it's probably not the worst idea in the world to pack some heat. With my trusty Springfield XDS-45 strapped to my ankle, I walked right past the "No Weapons Allowed" sign and headed inside in search of delicious barbecue.
Everyone at Sweet Georgia Brown was extremely friendly and welcoming, from the knife man at the buffet counter to the busboy refilling drinks. They have quite a few soul food options to choose from, but I wanted my meat smoked rather than fried or smothered. I ordered a Two Meat Combination Dinner: ribs and sliced beef with sweet potatoes, macaroni & cheese, and black eyed peas on the side.
Upon unboxing my order, the first thing that caught my eye was the absolutely gigantic portion of food I had received. I had to start somewhere, so I picked the mac and cheese. Some of the cheese was grainy and hadn't melted properly, with big chunks of re-solidified cheese scattered throughout. The flavors were good though, and all things considered it was a pretty solid side dish. The sweet potatoes were homey and delicious. They were mashed, but there were still decent-sized chunks of potatoes left in. They also had a good sweetness to them. The black eyed peas came swimming in a sort of brown gravy. I found a slight spiciness on the back end which caught me a bit off guard. This was probably my favorite of the three sides.
My brisket had a beautiful red smoke ring and nice bark to boot. The meat was very tender and pulled apart easily. It wasn't too lean or too fatty - this was definitely some Goldilocks brisket. The smoke flavor wasn't overpowering, but it was definitely there. I found just the right amount of seasoning, both on the bark and on the meat beneath. I had the option of sauce when I ordered, but declined without hesitation. Looking back, I wish I had at least gotten some sauce on the side so I could sample all of their cooking abilities.
I saved the ribs for last, and they ended up being a really great end to my lunch. The ribs were so tender that they were barely still intact from the plating. In fact, most of the meat had already come off the bone before I touched them. Maybe they were slightly overdone, but not enough to ruin things. The meat was moist and succulent and had a great amount of smoke. The crust packed a lot of flavor, and I also found a mild sweetness to it that was really enjoyable. Without sauce, I was able to relish in all of the different flavors packed into the ribs.
Although their barbecue may not be quite as good (definitely close) as restaurants like Lockhart Smokehouse, Pecan Lodge, or Slow Bone, Sweet Georgia Brown definitely deserves their place on the Dallas Top 100 list. With food this good only 5 minutes from the VA Hospital, it's easy to understand why so many of my wife's patients have weight problems.
Sweet Georgia Brown Bar-B-Q
2840 E Ledbetter Dr
Dallas, TX 75216