Saturday, January 4, 2014
Bartley's BBQ (Grapevine, TX)
Bartley's in Grapevine was recently honored by Texas Monthly magazine as one of their Top 50 BBQ Joints, and has received similar accolades from D Magazine (though it's no longer listed as a D Best). Despite the print media kudos, almost all of Bartley's Yelp reviews since the Texas Monthly list came out have been horrendous, mostly one and two-star ratings. TripAdvisor and Urbanspoon yielded better results, but not by much. I had a hard time reconciling all of the harsh criticism with what I've come to expect from most Top 50 joints, so I decided to research further and see what the blogosphere had to say. Some blogs suggested that lunch is the best time to go for delicious meat, while others claim that Bartley's lunch service is simply their opportunity to get rid of yesterday's 'que. But by and large, the majority opinion was lackluster at best, with a splash of disappointment. A few critics were even so bold as to allege a conspiracy on the part of Texas Monthly. Those allegations are probably baseless, but even the magazine's own website (www.txbbq.com) only rated Bartley's a 4 out of 5. Something just didn't add up, and it was clear that I'd have to investigate for myself.
Though much of Grapevine is fairly ritzy, you'll find Bartley's in a run-down strip mall just north of DFW Airport, flanked by a bakery and a washateria. Their mangled sign with the missing "B" seemed to fit in quite nicely. I wandered around back and found an old smoker and lots of stacked hickory, but surprisingly there was no smoke billowing from the chimney. This was not a good omen.
Despite the stagnant smoker, there was an enticing smoky aroma inside, with an equally smoky haze filling the air. The decor and furnishings were pretty dated and simple. I hoped this meant their focus was on the food rather than on frills. Even though it was only 11:00am, the knife men were already hard at work preparing for what they hoped would be a busy lunch service.
I didn't see any reason to sample the Eckrich sausage hot links, but their bologna seems to be a local favorite. I ordered a 3 Meat Combo plate of ribs, brisket, and bologna, and made sure to ask for my brisket fatty. The knife man was very accommodating. He said I looked hungry, so he even threw in an extra rib. Each plate comes with your choice of two sides, which are set out buffet style. None of them looked all that impressive, so I settled for pinto beans and potato salad.
The mustard-based potato salad was both creamy and crunchy at the same time, with good chunks of potatoes and plenty of veggies. I wasn't wowed, but it was decent enough. My beans were pretty undercooked. There was some good seasoning at least, with a peppery kick on the back end. They've got the flavors right, but the execution needs a little work.
I started my meat trio with the brisket, which received the least love from the Internets. I asked for sliced beef, but this looked more chopped. Although the bark had been completely trimmed off, I still found evidence of a slight smoke ring. I found a good amount of hickory smoke in each bite, too. It was also seasoned well, but I wish I could have sampled the crust. The meat was extremely tender and juicy with nicely rendered fat. This certainly wasn't day-old brisket.
My ribs were big and meaty, which is always appreciated. They had a good crust that glistened under the lights. The sugary glaze packed a ton of flavor, though there wasn't as much smoke as I'd hoped for. Don't get me wrong, there was definitely smoke, I just wanted more. The rib meat was tender but stayed put until each subsequent bite. With maybe another 30 to 60 minutes in the smoker, these ribs would be phenomenal.
Two meats down, one more to go. I finished things off with the bologna. There was an awesome char on the edges, which also had a nice seasoning rub to it. A few bites were a bit salty for my liking, but the majority was just right. I found the most smoke here out of all three meats. The thick-sliced bologna was really tender, though it's pretty hard to dry out this kind of meat. I still prefer the Texas Trinity (brisket, ribs, sausage), but the bologna was a very tasty substitute.
I'm not sure that Bartley's is worthy of the hallowed Texas Monthly list, but it was still very good. Given all of the other negative reviews I've seen, it's fair to say that there might at least be some consistency issues. That being said, if you catch Bartley's on a good day, you'll be glad you took the risk. I'd recommend going for lunch on Tuesday or Saturday for the best quality meat.
413 E. Northwest Hwy
Grapevine, TX 76051