Saturday, February 22, 2014
After months of suffering through icy cold temperatures (well, cold for Texas at least), we were finally treated to a warm, gorgeous Saturday. My wife and I took this opportunity to check out the food trucks in Dallas' infamous Truck Yard. We had several interesting trucks to pick from, but I had my eyes on the smoked meat pizza for sale at Tutta's.
The Truck Yard is set up as a staging area for a rotating variety of local food trucks. It seems to be popular with bikers and coeds alike. If you enjoy the ambiance of dirt, old tires, and wheelbarrows, this is the place for you. Today there was live indie music of some kind, though the band was a bit hard to hear over the roar of afternoon drunkenness. My wife also enjoyed the plethora of puppies bounding about.
Tutta's has more on the menu than just run-of-the-mill pepperoni pizza. Most places that serve a bbq chicken pizza think simply adding sauce to some grilled chicken is sufficient, but not Tutta's. They present an interesting and innovative combination of barbecue and pizza that goes well beyond the norm.
This truck has several options for barbecue pizza available: pulled pork (The Smokey Pig), chopped chicken (The Hot Chick), and pulled brisket (The Texan). They all sounded great, but I'm more of an equal-opportunity carnivore. That's where The Durty Dough pizza comes into play. This awesome pie comes topped with smoked and pulled pork, chicken, and brisket, bacon, chopped Serrano peppers, a five-cheese blend, and Tutta's signature bbq sauce.
I unboxed my order, and was amazed at what I found: big chunks of actual smoked meat. The combination of flavors was great, as were the individual ingredients. The chicken had some good smoke, and was much more tender than I expected. I also found a really seasoning blend. The brisket had less smoke than the chicken, but was still very tasty. These were leaner cuts of brisket than I normally prefer, but the meatier pieces worked better on a pizza than fatty brisket would have. I couldn't pinpoint any smoke in the pulled pork, but it was very tender and had a decent flavor nonetheless.
Meat was certainly the highlight of this pizza, but the other ingredients played a significant role as well. The chopped Serrano peppers added just the right amount of heat without killing my taste buds, though a few bites did light me up a little bit. In addition to its obvious greatness, the bacon added a nice crunchy texture and some much-needed salt. The barbecue sauce was tasty and slightly sweet, but what I most enjoyed was the lack thereof. Most bbq pizzas end up drowning in sauce, but Tutta's correctly used it as more of an accent than a focal point. I also thoroughly enjoyed the perfectly-cooked crust: not too chewy, not too crisp.
Tutta's Pizza offered up a surprisingly flavorful twist on traditional barbecue. The inebriated crowds at the Truck Yard were a little difficult to navigate, but it was definitely worth it.
Tutta's Pizza (various locations)
5624 Sears St.
Dallas, TX 75206
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Today my job took me about an hour south of Dallas to Corsicana, Texas. Things pushed well into the afternoon, so I was pretty famished by the time all was said and done. I didn't want to make the long trek home on an empty stomach, and luckily Bubba's Bar-B-Q and Steakhouse was right along the way.
Bubba's made the Texas Monthly Top 50 back in 2008, but apparently missed the mark when they issued the current 2013 list. Standards at barbecue joints can go downhill for a variety of reasons, including finances and a change in pitmasters. I was curious to find out exactly how far Bubba's had fallen.
This place is decorated with a weird mix of western nicknacks and large model airplanes. It's right next door to a Tractor Supply store, so maybe those were the only decorating options available. Who knows. Regardless, I came here for the meat, not the ambiance.
I ended up ordering a Two Meat Plate of brisket and ribs. For my two self-serve side dishes, I picked potato salad and green beans. Interestingly, the food is all counter-service, but I was assigned a waitress for the sole purpose of bringing my drink and silverware. The waitress also takes your check back up at the end (they swiped my credit card at the counter), so I guess I was expected to tip her for all of her hard work?
As always, I started things off with my side dishes. The green beans seemed like nothing more than Del Monte canned beans. They had very little flavor aside from a hint of pepper. Conversely, the potato salad was pretty good. It was very sweet, with just a dash of mustard mixed in. There was also a decent crunch from the veggies.
My meats were about as disappointing as the green beans had been. The brisket looked pretty terrible from the outset - gray and lifeless. There wasn't much of a crust and only a few small patches of smoky redness. I enjoy fatty brisket, but the tips of my slices were solid, unrendered fat. The fat line also ran the full length of each edge. On the plus side, the meat was decently tender, though not like you'd expect given the high fat content. I also found a moderate amount of smoke, but it wasn't enough to fix things. After half of slice number one, I had eaten enough.
The ribs had more bark than the brisket, and much more visible evidence of smoke. They were also big and meaty, which is always appreciated. The meat itself was smoky enough, but also fairly dry. Aside from the slight smokiness, there really wasn't much flavor that I could pinpoint. Even some extra salt and pepper (or, God forbid, a glaze) would have helped tremendously. Maybe I should have let the waitress bring me some barbecue sauce after all.
Texas Monthly definitely made the right call leaving this place off of their 2013 Top 50. I took my leftovers to-go just to be polite, but they went straight into the trash. Needless to say, I found no reason for a return trip to Bubba's.
Bubba's Bar-B-Q and Steakhouse
210 S. Interstate Hwy 45
Ennis, TX 75119
Monday, February 3, 2014
I had already eaten barbecue for lunch and I had a pending dinner date with my wife, but sometimes it's hard to resist the call of the 'que. I decided to take a quick pit stop in Athens, Texas and find myself a light snack.
Cripple Creek made the Texas Monthly Top 50 back in 2008 (they publish every 5-6 years), but was snubbed by the current 2013 list. Even if it was no longer top shelf, I was sure to find some fairly tasty meat here no matter what. They're clearly going for an old west, wagon wheel atmosphere at Cripple Creek, but it comes off as more of a sad western antique store. Customers were few and far between mid-afternoon on a Monday, so a to-go order seemed appropriate.
This place has all of the usual barbecue offerings, but the big surprise you'll find here is something called "Hog Wings." I think we're all familiar enough with porcine anatomy to assume that the "wings" label is an intentional misnomer. Actually, the Hog Wings are small smoked pork shanks that have been whittled down to resemble chicken legs. If that wasn't outside-the-box enough already, they also come with a sweet and spicy chili sauce for an added Asian twist.
When I unwrapped my order, I found meat that looked pretty grey and lifeless. That being said, these pork shanks were extremely tender and juicy despite outward appearances. I also found more smoke than I had anticipated. Even though it was somewhat lacking in the seasoning department, the meat was really pleasant to eat on its own. The straight-from-the-bottle chili sauce didn't add much in terms of heat, but did add an interesting sweetness to the pork. For my money, I would have preferred a traditional bbq sauce over the halfhearted attempt at Asian fusion.
Cripple Creek may have fallen a tad short of expectations, but it was still a tasty roadside snack nonetheless. I'd definitely give them another try to see if the more traditional barbecue offerings can pass muster.
Cripple Creek Bar-B-Q
500 S. Palestine St.
Athens, TX 75751
Each time I venture to Lufkin, Texas for work, I swear it'll be my last, but I inevitably end up there again and again. This time I decided to take a new route through Tyler. If I have to make this mind-numbing drive, I might as well put some top tier barbecue on my itinerary.
Stanley's missed the original Texas Monthly list of the "Top 50 BBQ Joints" in 1997, but they acquired a new pit master in 2000 and have been part of each list since then. They also won "Best Pork Ribs" at the 2010 and 2011 Texas Monthly BBQ Festival. With that much street cred, I was sure to find awesome barbecue here.
I didn't have just a ton of time to kill, so I planned my arrival for 10:45am and waited for them to open up shop. There were only a few of us waiting for food at the opening bell, but by 11:30 the place was fairly packed. Getting here early was definitely a good idea.
Stanley's has an array of interesting divorce-themed BBQ sandwiches that sounded very tasty, including The Ex-Wife and The Brother-in-Law. Intriguing as these sandwiches were, I couldn't resist their Four Meat Sampler Plate (all meat, no sides). For my meat-tastic sampler, I picked brisket, sausage, pulled pork, and baby back ribs. I wish more barbecue joints would adopt the all-meat platter. Who needs side dishes anyway?
Customers are encouraged to order their preferred cut of brisket. Naturally I asked for fatty brisket with some extra bark. Score! The slices I received looked absolutely phenomenal. The smoke ring, if you can even call it that, went almost end to end. There was also a layer of beautiful black bark on every edge. I dug in and found plenty of smoke in each bite, as well as a good hit of spices. The meat itself was incredibly tender and juicy. There was no reason for sauce here. Actually, there was no reason for silverware either - just grab a handful and inhale.
Next came the sausage, which is admittedly a little harder to make stand out. There was a good snap to the casings and a mild hint of smoke. I liked the seasoning blend, which had a small bite of pepper without being overly spicy. The sausage wasn't bad by any means, but it didn't wow me either.
Although it's not traditionally part of Texas barbecue, I do enjoy pulled pork from time to time, though mostly on sandwiches. I didn't find any visible smoke hue. This was the only one of my four meats that came pre-sauced, which I think was ultimately its undoing. The pork was a little dry for my liking, and the sauce precluded any hope of pinpointing some smoke. The sweet, vinegary sauce was tasty enough, but I prefer mine on the side.
Stanley's lists their baby back ribs as "double-rubbed," so I expected them to be packed with flavor. I know these were supposed to be baby backs, but they were still pretty tiny, like small buffalo wings. There was a good crust and visible smoke. My first bite resulted in a mouthful of bone fragments, but things got better after that. The sugary sweet glaze was really tasty, though I'm not sure where the double rub was at. The meat itself was tender, but not overcooked. I didn't find as much smoke as I'd hoped for, which could be a result of the hefty glaze.
The brisket was the clear winner today. The other meats had their moments too, but could have been better. Small flaws aside, I'm really glad that I stopped to try Stanley's barbecue.
Stanley's Famous Pit Bar-B-Q
525 S. Beckham Ave.
Tyler, TX 75702