Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Mr. Blackwell's Smoke Ring BBQ (Mesquite, TX) - CLOSED
After a week of solid packing, I felt like I deserved a little smoked meat treat. Some protein would probably be helpful as well. For no reason in particular, Mr. Blackwell's Smoke Ring BBQ was my pick of the day.
You'll find Mr. Blackwell's inside an imaginatively-named "C Store" brand convenience store. The bbq signage isn't readable from the road, so you pretty much have to know where you're going in advance. I arrived around 11:15am, hoping to get the freshest cuts. A trailer-mounted smoker churning in the parking lot was a good omen. I wandered inside, only to find Mr. Blackwell's counter closed. The store clerk assured me that 11:00am was the usual start time, so I guess Mr. Blackwell was just running late today. I figured he wouldn't leave his smoker unattended for too long, so I waited out in my truck and returned a few emails.
By 11:30am, I was pretty tired of waiting, but I didn't want my 20-minute drive out here to have been for naught. I figured I would give him 15 more minutes before giving up. 45 minutes past the scheduled opening time, Mr. Blackwell finally pulled up. Huzzah! When I got back inside, there were three other guys waiting for 'que. Mr. Blackwell seemed nice enough. He was very apologetic about the wait and said time just got away from him since he doesn't own a watch.
Famished, I ordered a Three Meat Combo Plate of sliced brisket, pork ribs, and pulled pork. For my sides, I snagged his signature potato salad and southwestern corn. While Mr. Blackwell was preparing an order (I don't know if it was mine or another customer's), I heard the distinct chime of a microwave that had just finished ruining some meat. This was not a good sign. After continued observation, I determined that it's just the pulled pork which gets nuked in the microwave. The other meats stay nestled in a warming box, which honestly isn't a whole lot better. Heating up pre-cooked meat in the microwave defeats the purpose of dining out. If I wanted to eat microwaved food, I could have stayed at home.
I found a Yelp review that describes this joint perfectly: "The ambiance is probably about the best you could expect for a place inside a convenience store across from a high school." Despite the lack of ambiance and the lack of confidence I now had in the food, I decided to stay and eat my lunch on site. It took about 20 minutes to receive my food. I know Mr. Blackwell is doing the best he can for a one-man show, but that's still a long time to wait. When I finally got my order, I was disappointed to find all three meats covered in a generous helping of sauce.
The potato salad had a good flavor and a decent crunch. However, he used mashed potatoes for the base, which I don't particularly care for. Maybe I'm just used to German-style potato salad. The corn was ok, though kind of bland. I'm not sure what makes it "southwestern," but it sure wasn't spicy by any means.
My razor-thin slices of brisket had a good black crust at least. I couldn't pinpoint a smoke ring under the abundant sauce. Despite the lack of visual cues, there was actually a really decent smoke level. Nine times out of ten, a heavy layer of sauce precludes any possibility of tasting smoke, but it actually managed to shine through nicely here. Unfortunately, all that time in the smoker resulted in overcooked meat which fell apart at the slightest touch. My slices turned into chopped beef by the time I was done digging around in it. There is a fine line to walk with brisket, but I suppose I'd rather have flavorful, smoky meat that was a little overcooked than bland meat cooked just right.
Unlike the brisket, their pulled pork seems to derive most of its flavor from the sauce. At least the sauce itself is pretty tasty, with a nice vinegary bite to it. The meat was tender, but a little dried out (likely from the zap in the microwave). I didn't catch any smoke here at all, and found myself sorely disappointed.
I could tell the ribs were overcooked without even taking a bite. The meat was mushy and dry, with the texture of boiled stew meat. It was so overcooked that I could literally eat it with a spoon. Silverware was actually needed here, since the first rib I picked up lost all of its meat with nothing more than the force of gravity tugging on it. Underneath my three ribs were several peculiar strips of rib meat. I'm guessing their bones fell out somewhere in the plating process. These overcooked ribs somehow didn't soak up as much smoke as the overcooked brisket, leaving the sauce as the only source of flavor.
There is a photograph of Mr. Blackwell's barbecue on TripAdvisor.com that I felt compelled to share here. The photo is labeled as a "Management Photo" from November 2013, which I guess means Mr. Blackwell provided the photo himself or had someone do it for him.
The barbecue in this TripAdvisor picture is night-and-day different from the barbecue I received. The ribs actually look like a completely different cut, and I would have loved to have received some bark on mine. I also didn't get my sides in little containers, and I certainly didn't have sauce on the side (I would have requested it had I known). Unless Mr. Blackwell has completely changed up his meat cuts and his serving style, I'm assuming this photo was staged with advertisement in mind.
In retrospect, nearly $16.00 (including an extra $2.00 for ribs) is a bit pricey for a three-meat combo. The portions were certainly generous, but I'd rather have a smaller quantity of higher quality food. Mr. Blackwell was such a warm and kind man that I feel bad giving him such a negative review. That being said, I pride myself on honest criticism when it comes to barbecue.
Mr. Blackwell's Smoke Ring BBQ
2929 N. Galloway Ave.
Mesquite, TX 75150