Friday, March 29, 2013
There is a Spring Creek location 10-15 minutes from my apartment that I've been meaning to try for a while now, but today I discovered one even closer to my office. It was Friday, so I decided to blow off work and head to Spring Creek for a quick lunch.
This place felt like the barbecue version of Luby's Cafeteria. The booths were very dated and worn, some with huge rips in the cushion. I didn't find any noticeable smoky aroma inside at all, which is usually a bad sign. The staff was very friendly though.
I ordered their Combination Dinner so that I could sample several offerings at once. The menu didn't specify, but I was told that I could have up to three meats on my combo. I ended up with pulled pork, beef brisket, and cracked pepper sausage. The sides are sitting out self-serve buffet style, and you can load up on them as much as you want. Buffet style sides always seem a little unappetizing to me, so I just settled for potato salad and some macaroni and cheese.
The macaroni tasted like nothing more than box elbows and "cheese," and it might as well have been Easy Mac. Most times I don't mind this kind of macaroni, but I think sitting under the buffet heat lamps caused it to suffer more than usual. As for the potato salad, it was actually pretty good. There was a nice sweetness to it, and I didn't find an overpowering mustard flavor, which allowed the natural flavors to stand out more. It had a pleasant crunchy texture mixed with the typical creaminess.
I started my meat trio by diving into the brisket. Based on my initial reactions walking in, I was surprised to find a clearly visible red hue on the brisket's edges. Despite the visible indications of smokiness, I couldn't taste any smoke at all. The brisket was tender and juicy, but cooked to a point that it was more like pot roast. I couldn't find any bark on my slices either, which was disappointing. I dipped my brisket in the accompanying barbecue sauce, and it actually did wonders to improve the taste. The sauce had some great spice and a lot of flavor - a hint of sweetness along with just the right amount of acidity.
The sausage was definitely an improvement over the brisket, although I doubt it was made on site. I found a good snap to the casings. There was also a lot of visible cracked pepper, which I expected from something described as "cracked pepper sausage." Although, for some reason the pepper didn't emit too much heat. I'm glad I opted for the pepper variety, because I suspect the mild sausage would have been extremely bland. There was just a hint of smoke here, but I had to try really hard to find it. As with my brisket, their housemade sauce came to the rescue.
I had saved the pulled pork for last. Their menu slates this as "Carolina style" pulled pork, which seems odd for a joint that prides themselves on having great Texas barbecue. A thin layer of sweet sauce was already coating my pork. The taste was passable, but way too sugary (almost candied) for my liking. If there was any smoke flavor in there, it had been completely masked by the overwhelming sweetness. It had also been cooked to the point that it was almost mushy. While my brisket and sausage had been sliced to order right in front of me, the pulled pork came scooped out of a container covered in plastic wrap.
Of the three meats, I'd have to begrudgingly say that the sausage was my favorite, although only with the addition of barbecue sauce. I doubt I'll be going back, but it's possible that I might order some of their sauce online. The Spring Creek website erroneously makes the claim: "At Spring Creek you'll find the great taste of Texas!" As a Texan myself, this both embarrasses and saddens me.
Spring Creek Barbeque
8628 Camp Bowie Blvd. W.
Fort Worth, TX 76116
Thursday, March 28, 2013
I've been trying to shift my local barbecue outings westward and focus more on Cowtown than the Big D. Today, I decided to try out Railhead Smokehouse in Fort Worth.
When I walked in around 12:15, there was already a long wrap-around line to place your over, so obviously Railhead isn't hurting for business. They have over a dozen plaques and framed certificates on the wall showing off their various awards. Although it didn't apply to me, I also appreciated the sign indicating a 25% discount to military, police, and firefighters. Go 'merica!
There was a large seating area, with even more in back behind the bar. Given the extra large lunch crowd, the amount of seating seemed completely necessary. I also noticed a wide variety in their motley clientele: everything from suits to sweatpants.
Today's (Thursday) special was a rib sandwich plate, which sounded awesome, but I was in the mood for a little more food than that. I settled on a Two Meat Combo with ribs and sausage, as well as potato salad, beans, and coleslaw that automatically come on the side. I had originally hoped that Railhead would have a three meat combo to offer, but after receiving my order I'm glad they didn't. I ended up with a massive pile of food for just under $11.00.
As usual, sides first. The potato salad was creamy and full of mustard, and it had a nice amount of crunch to it too. I also liked that they left some of the potato skins mixed in. The potato salad came served pretty ice cold, which is really my only complaint about it. The beans were cooked perfectly and had a ton of flavor. I would have preferred them to be a little spicier, but I'm sure they omitted the spice for the sake of universal appeal. Despite my dislike of coleslaw, I decided to sample it for the sake of completeness. It was sweet and crunchy, but I won't bother to critique it any further.
The sausage had coarse black pepper clearly visible through the casings, and it came with a perfect dark reddish-brown color. When I dug in, I found plenty of snap to the casings. There was also slight smoke ring penetrating just below the casings, made all the more evident by the great smoky flavor. I also caught a little bit of heat on the back end, which was nice. Their housemade barbecue sauce paired really nicely with the sausage in terms of flavor, but unfortunately it cut down on some of the spiciness that I had come to enjoy. Once piece of my sausage accidentally ended up in the beans, and I actually enjoyed that flavor combination much better than the sauce. Overall though, the sausage tasted best on its own.
My ribs had a nice visible char and looked big and glorious. The meat was tender, juicy, and packed with seasonings. There was also a nice rendering on the fat. I know other reviews have detailed a lack of smoke in Railhead's ribs, but much like my sausage, I found that the ribs had a pleasant and noticeable degree of smoke. Each bite came off the bone with ease, but had enough staying power not to entirely debone the ribs all in one pull. Just the way I like it. I didn't even bother with the sauce here, because it definitely wasn't needed.
I really wanted a t-shirt to commemorate my delicious lunch, but instead I settled for a souvenir cup that came full of lemonade and full of some serious Fort Worth cockiness.
If you want a great Fort Worth experience, add Railhead to your list.
2900 Montgomery St.
Fort Worth, TX 76107
Saturday, March 23, 2013
I've seen Texas Roadhouse locations all across the country, but I've never actually eaten there until today. It was a dreary day outside and a hot meal seemed more important than the source, so we decided to give Texas Roadhouse a try.
When we walked in, the first thing that caught my eye was a display case full of steaks. The hostess even asked if we'd like to pick one out before she seated us. None of us had planned on having steak for lunch, but I was intrigued by the idea nonetheless.
Texas Roadhouse is basically comparable to any other chain "roadhouse" out there, most notably Logan's. The rolls and tabletop peanuts seem to be pretty iconic and universal staples of the various roadhouses. The buttery rolls came served with what appeared to be a cinnamon butter. It was tasty, but overly sweet. I'm always worried about how many hands have touched the peanuts before me. Infectious bacteria aside, it is fun being able to toss my discarded peanut shells on the floor.
After a quick survey of everyone's hunger levels, we decided to start with a round of Fried Pickles for the table.
The menu said we had the option of either ranch or Cajun horseradish sauce for dipping. The Cajun horseradish sounded good, but our waitress never asked which one we wanted. Our pickles came out with a pretty standard ranch dressing, which unfortunately would have to suffice. The pickles were thick and crisp, although some of them were a little too salty. I'm sure the pickle brine was salty enough already, so I doubt they really needed to add much salt to the batter.
For my entree, I decided to try a Texas-Size Combo of pulled pork and ribs, with steak fries and seasoned rice on the side. Our young waitress was really friendly and polite, but the somewhat older server who brought out the entrees to our table was a little grouchy. She almost snarled when we asked a few questions just to make sure they had our order correct.
The fries were completely over-salted and clearly came frozen rather than fresh. They also weren't as crispy as I would have liked, and I'll probably have hypertension from all the sodium. My seasoned rice was really flavorful, although some bites were much more seasoned than others. Their cooks definitely need to work on consistency. I did get a good crunch from the onions, which added a nice texture change.
As for the meats, I started with the pulled pork. It wasn't entirely terrible, but nothing special by any means. Without the heavy dose of sauce poured over it, I doubt there would have been much flavor at all. I found a few pieces of pork that escaped the sauce, and they were as devoid of flavor as I feared. Just a pinch of salt would have done wonders here, since even a little flavor is better than none. The sauce was pretty weak too, and certainly could have used a little pepper and/or chili powder for a little kick. The meat wasn't too tender either, and I would have preferred it to be more stringy rather than being cut into thick chunks.
I moved on to the ribs, and I found them to be equally disappointing. The menu lists these as "Fall-Off-The-Bone Ribs," and they're not lying. I was able to cut my ribs apart and completely clean the bones with nothing more than a fork. There is fine line between being "fall-off-the-bone" tender and being completely overcooked, and most average cooks don't know the difference between the two. I realize that some people enjoy ribs like this, but I prefer the meat to remain intact with each bite. There was a good crisp char on the ribs, although I'm sure most meat would be fairly crisp if it had been cooked as long as these ribs had been. The menu also claims that the ribs are "award-winning," but I couldn't find any mention of specific awards or accolades anywhere on their website.
In my opinion, one of the most fundamental and ubiquitous cooking skills is the proper use of seasonings. Here, the pickles and steak fries were both over-salted, and my grandmother said her green beans were really salty, too. Conversely, the pulled pork seemed to have no salt at all. If Texas Roadhouse is incapable of properly utilizing something as basic as salt, I sincerely doubt they will be winning many awards.
4908 N. Navarro St.
Victoria, TX 77904
Friday, March 15, 2013
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons molasses
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons liquid smoke
Heat the vegetable oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is golden, 6 to 7 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, 1 cup water, the vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, mustard, garlic powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the onion is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the liquid smoke. Strain the sauce, pressing the solids to extract any liquid.
Courtesy Food Network Magazine
June 2012 - Volume 5, Issue 5
Photograph by Andrew Purcell
Sunday, March 10, 2013
Jake n' Boo's is located inside a small antique shop in "downtown" Rosebud, which is a little odd to say the least. I've thought about stopping here several times, but today was the first time I felt adventurous enough to try it.
The small dining room isn't fancy by any means, but I think they probably intended it to look that way. Apparently they don't have set prices for alcohol, because there's a sign that says you can simply pay what you think is an acceptable price for your beer. Just put your money in the bucket and move on. I was only making a quick stop on my drive back to Dallas, so I didn't take them up on this unusual offer.
I had eaten lunch just a little earlier, so I only wanted to grab a light snack. I settled on their sausage wrap. I had wanted two since they're only $2.00 each, but apparently they only had enough sausage left for 1 1/2 sausage wraps. It was already 3:30, so I guess they had a busy lunch rush earlier. Oh well. I wasn't exactly sure what I had just purchased until I hopped back into my truck and unwrapped the tortilla.
I was hoping for slices of smoky link sausage. Instead, I was disappointed to find a bratwurst-sized "sausage" that looked more like a large hotdog than anything else. I mean, the flavor was acceptable, but there was nothing spectacular that would draw me back for more. The sausage had almost no snap, no char, and very little smoke.
Since I didn't want sauce leaking out onto my shirt while I was driving, I got my sausage wraps with just a light drizzling of sauce. It had a decent taste and a nice hint of sweetness, but again, no wow factor. I also would have preferred a little more acidity. The sauce was extremely runny, so despite my best efforts I ended up with it all over my shirt, as well as my seatbelt.
Jake n' Boo's worked fine for a cheap afternoon snack, but I wasn't overly impressed. In all fairness, I don't know if you can judge a barbecue joint solely on one meat, so I'll have to try again another time.
Jake n' Boo's Backdoor Bar & Grill (Rosebud, TX)
341 W. Main St.
Rosebud, TX 76570
Saturday, March 9, 2013
This review is way overdue. I'm a Schulenburg native, so I've eaten City Market barbecue more times than I can count. That being said, this was the first time I've had their awesome smoked meats since starting my blog.
I tried to check in on Yelp from the parking lot, but for some reason Yelp told me I was 5.4 miles away and was thus out of range for a check-in. Hmm...oh well. All of their barbecue offerings are delicious, so I usually have a hard time deciding on just one thing. We got our to-go order in bulk, which ended up being sausage, pork ribs, pork butt, and potato salad.
Their potato salad isn't really what I would consider a mustard-based potato salad. The pepper and other assorted spices give it a great taste. There's also a nice crunch from the veggies, and what appeared to be pimentos.
The sausage was tasty as always, but a little too finely ground for my liking. There was plenty of seasoning to go around, and a great snap on the casings. Their meats are usually loaded up with smoke, but for some reason the sausage was a little lacking in this department today.
As for the pork butt, it was spectacular. There was a thick heap of black pepper crusting the pork, which gives off a decent amount of heat as well as flavor. Unlike the sausage, the pork had a nice amount of smoke, as well as a visible smoke ring. The accompanying sauce is pretty tasty, but you really don't need it with the pork butt, since it's tender and juicy as is.
I thought I had eaten enough, but at the last minute I decided to have a pork rib for dessert.
Much like the pork butt, their ribs are caked with coarse black pepper, which gives off a ton of flavor. The rib meat was very tender, but also had enough staying power not to fall completely off the bone. Perfect. The ribs are certainly tasty, just make sure you have a toothpick handy afterward to rid yourself of the pepper.
Owner and head pitmaster Roy Smrkovsky has a great personality, and serves up a healthy dose of local color alongside his delicious smoked meats. Roy also sells guns (although not in-store), just in case you'd rather provide your own meat, which they're also happy to process for you.
If you find yourself in Schulenburg for some reason, make sure to stop by City Market. It's worth it.
109 Kessler Ave
Schulenburg, TX 78956
I usually take a quick pit stop in Cameron when I'm on the road from Dallas to Schulenburg. This time, I decided to make it a true pit stop and sample Clem Mikeska's.
Clem Mikeska's isn't a stand-alone building, but rather is affixed to the side of a Cefco convenience store. They have a drive-thru available, which probably works well with the convenience store location. There wasn't much to the interior except a few booths and a counter to order at. It was 10:00 in the morning, but they already had their side dishes laid out buffet style. I didn't sample any of them, but the fact that they were sitting out so early was a little odd.
I was on the road solo, and I was in serious need of some mid-morning breakfast. I asked the girl behind the counter what kind of breakfast sandwiches they had (I was hoping for a barbecue variety), since the menu didn't specify. She quickly informed me that they had already switched over from breakfast to lunch. Really? At 10:00? Even McDonald's doesn't start serving lunch until 10:30. Weird.
Despite my disappointment, I ordered a jalapeno sausage sandwich for the road. I got mine with no sauce, pickles, or onions since I planned on eating while I drove.
When I unboxed my order, I immediately noticed the big chunks of jalapeno scattered throughout. The sausage also had a noticeable amount of cheddar cheese embedded in it. The whole "eat while driving" idea didn't work as well as I had planned, so I ended up just eating the sausage and the bun individually.
I had high hopes for this sandwich, but those hopes were quickly dashed by the mass produced grocery store bun. The sandwich certainly could have benefited from a homemade bun, both in terms of taste and aesthetic appeal. I'm sure there is a local bakery in Cameron willing to partner up with Clem.
The sausage had a nice snap and a fair amount of heat to it. I suppose all that cheddar cheese made my sandwich somewhat breakfasty. There was a good amount of pepper and just the right amount of salt, too. I would have preferred a little coarser grind on the meat, but the sausage was pretty tasty nonetheless.
Although Clem Mikeska's wasn't top shelf by any means, it was a decent offering for a random pit stop. I'd like to go back and see how their other barbecue selections measure up.
Clem Mikeska's Pit Bar-B-Q
1005 East 1st St.
Cameron, TX 76520
Saturday, March 2, 2013
Today was Texas Independence Day, and J. Black's was having a small shindig to celebrate the occasion.
The artwork inside J. Black's is a little odd, but definitely not stuffy or boring. Their leather, backed barstools are surprisingly comfy, and there are also booths if you prefer. Outside, you'll find picnic table seating on the pet-friendly patio. It was a little too cold to be sitting outside today, but I made sure to make a mental note for the future.
In celebration of this most holiest of holidays, J. Black's had live Texas country and classic rock music courtesy of the Texas Pearl Band. These guys looked way past their prime, but they could still rock out. Their Texas flag dress shirts were a nice touch too.
Today only, they had Texas beer specials and reduced-price Texas appetizers. My wife and I decided to share an order of the Texas Sliders, as well as an order of Pulled Pork Sliders. On the side, we got hand-cut fries and homemade chips.
I started with the pulled pork, while my wife chowed down on the burgers. The Pulled Pork Sliders are loaded with slow-roasted pork, barbecue sauce, and coleslaw.
The pulled pork was tender without being overly stringy. Their barbecue sauce was a pleasant combination of sweet and tangy. I was also glad that there was just enough sauce to act as a condiment, but it wasn't dripping down the sides. The coleslaw also added a nice crunch to the tenderness of the pork. The pulled pork certainly wasn't smoked, but it was flavorful nonetheless.
Pulled pork thoroughly sampled, I moved on to the Texas Sliders. The menu lists these as "Texas Wagyu beef, white cheddar, pickles, dijon, and ketchup".
The sliders had a great char from the grill, which gave them a decent crust on the outside while still remaining tender and moist on the inside. I generally eat my hamburgers sans vegetables, but the pickles worked well here. The acidity from the pickles and the dijon mustard was a nice contrast from the sweetness in the pulled pork.
As for our sides, they fell a little short. The homemade chips were thin and crispy and had a great taste. However, they had almost no salt whatsoever. The fries were pretty much the same: tasty, no salt. I appreciate their concern for my sodium intake, but I'm more concerned with my flavor intake.
When I checked into J. Black's on Yelp, I got an offer for a free bumper sticker. Much as it embarrassed my wife, I was determined to get my free gift. Our waiter wasn't very attentive, which was surprising since there were only 7 tables of customers in the entire place. I showed him my coupon right when we ordered, and he said he would have to ask someone about it. We didn't hear anything more about the elusive bumper sticker after that. When it was time to pay the check, I showed my Yelp coupon to the manager, and our waiter suddenly started paying more attention to us. Go figure.
All in all, I was pretty pleased with J. Black's. Even though the service was a bit lacking, the food was terrific. This was a great way to celebrate the day. Happy Birthday, Texas. Happy Birthday.
J. Black's Feel Good Kitchen & Lounge
2409 N. Henderson Ave.
Dallas, TX 75206