Monday, January 13, 2014
I'm rarely driving through Giddings at the right time to stop by City Meat Market, but today I was in luck. Even though I had just eaten lunch, there was no way I could pass up the chance for some more top shelf barbecue.
City Meat Market has made Texas Monthly's list of the Top 50 BBQ Joints twice in a row now (2008 and 2013). If you're used to the fast-paced urban lifestyle, don't go into City Meat Market expecting Whole Foods. In terms of the actual restaurant, this little spot is mostly just a meat market with some barbecue on the side. Although, I must admit that the smell of delicious pit smoke does make me feel a little lovey-dovey, so perhaps there is some romantic ambiance after all.
The barbecue part of this venture is situated way in the back near the pits. It was just a little before closing time when I arrived, so all they had left was some pork butt and fatty brisket. Perfect! I got a quarter-pound sample of each, as well as a small side of potato salad. There were 2.5 hours left between me and Dallas, so I took my food to-go. I saddled up and unwrapped the butcher paper to admire my $6.00 worth of meaty goodness.
The potato salad had a great crunch from the plentiful veggies. It wasn't overly mustardy, which I appreciated. There was also a slight sweetness to the potato salad that made it very pleasant to eat.
My brisket had a very pronounced smoke ring and a great black crust. There was a good punch of both seasoning and smoke in each bite. It was so tender that the brisket quite literally melted in my mouth. There was a high fat content, but it was all rendered perfectly. I found absolutely no reason to ruin the meat with sauce. By the time I finished my sampling, I regretted not ordering several pounds.
The pork butt also had a nice crust to it. I found even more seasoning here, and all the black pepper gave it a great bite. There was also a good smoky flavor throughout. I initially thought that the pork looked kind of dry, but it was definitely tender and juicy. I guess looks can be deceiving.
I can only imagine how phenomenal their barbecue is at peak hours. If you find yourself in Giddings for some reason, City Meat Market is absolutely worth the stop.
City Meat Market
101 West Austin St
Giddings, TX 78942
Sunday, January 12, 2014
Shiner isn't exactly a town known for fine cuisine, but it would have to do tonight. At 8:30pm on a Sunday, Werner's was the only restaurant we found open on our drive home aside from the usual cast of fast food joints. It was either this or Whataburger.
The ambiance at Werner's is about what you'd expect from a town this small. It's decorated with a motley assortment of animal mounts, including elk, pronghorn antelope, and buffalo. There really didn't seem to be any overall theme to the place. Most of their booths are ripped to shreds, so we opted for a table instead.
And no restaurant would be complete without a wishing well. This one is filled with pennies as well as bottle caps. I think a Shiner Bock cap is worth more luck than Abe Lincoln, but it was still weird. The fountain also took up half the space in the dining room, so it's bad on multiple levels. The animal mounts coupled with the water effects made this place seem more like a poor man's Cabela's rather than an eatery.
Oddly enough, there was no Shiner beer on tap (just bottled), so we started with some fried pickles for the table instead. For my entree, I picked their Sliced BBQ Beef Sandwich on French Bread, and added some Homemade Onion Rings to round things out.
I was expecting frozen pickles, but these actually looked homemade. There was a decent dusting of seasoning which gave them a very pleasant taste. The cornmeal batter was also good and crunchy. These were a really nice way to warm up my palate.
The onion rings could have used a touch more seasoning, but were otherwise tasty enough. The batter was both flaky and crisp, and they were certainly better than I anticipated.
The sandwich, however, was an utter disappointment in every way. Apparently what passes for "French bread" here is a toasted hotdog bun. And no, that's not an exaggeration - it was literally a hotdog bun, which I cast aside with disdain. The meat itself was completely coated with sauce, so there was no hope for finding a smoke ring. I did manage to find a few bits of crust peeking through the sauce. The bottled barbecue sauce was overly sweet and tasted really artificial. It was also the main downfall here, since that's all you could taste. The brisket was tender, but that's the only positive thing I can say.
I realize this probably wasn't the best place to look for barbecue, but their other food wasn't that outstanding either. My mom's ribeye (if you can call it that) was cut thinner than her accompanying chunks of zucchini, and my grandma's hamburger steak was surprisingly tough for ground beef. Actually, the best part of this meal was the fried pickle appetizer, but even they weren't good enough to bump Werner's beyond one star territory. Looks like we should have gone with Whataburger...
317 North Ave E
Shiner, TX 77984
With its population of only 300 residents, Abbott, Texas is barely a roadside stop. I've passed by Up in Smoke BBQ countless times while driving to my hometown, and I finally decided to give it a try.
The old wooden building looks more like it should house a Cracker Barrel, and the interior isn't much better. Their decor is drab with horribly dusty fake trees and furniture straight out of a small town estate sale. It's not kitschy, it's not antique, it's just old.
I ordered a Combo Plate of ribs and brisket. Side dishes are self-serve here. I couldn't figure out what some of them were, so I played it safe and stuck with the usual beans and potato salad.
The potato salad didn't taste like anything other than mustard. It also could have benefited from more pickles for both crunch and flavor. The beans had a sweet flavor, but were basically canned beans with some onions mixed in for good measure. They were nothing special by any means.
My brisket had a decent black crust and a slight smoke ring. That being said, the crust was a little difficult to cut through and didn't seem to have more than a pinch of salt for seasoning. I found a good amount of smoke, but otherwise the brisket was kind of bland. The meat was nice and tender at least, though some of the leaner cuts were too dry. It wasn't inedible, but it also wasn't worth finishing.
From a presentation standpoint, it probably wasn't the best idea to serve the ribs bone-side up. Just saying. I flipped them over and found a good amount of meat on the bones, though only minimal bark. There was visible evidence of smoke, with a good hit of smoke in each bite. The semi-sweet glaze was nice, but I found myself wanting more flavor. The rib meat was juicy and wasn't overdone to the point of falling off the bone. Although, the fat probably could have used some more time in the smoker to render properly.
They've got the cooking process down fairly well, but frankly taste is more important, and that's mostly where they're lacking. Up in Smoke could have really stellar barbecue with some more work and attention to detail.
UPDATE (June 1, 2014): Apparently Up in Smoke BBQ has moved to downtown Hillsboro, Texas, and can now be found at 103 N. Waco St, Hillsboro, TX 76645. Most places try to keep the same phone number when moving, but Up in Smoke changed that as well. Their new phone number is (254) 582-0105.
Up in Smoke probably wasn't doing enough business out in Abbott (which is basically nowhere) to make ends meet, but I doubt the restaurant's location was their main problem. Customers will drive a long way to eat phenomenal barbecue, but they won't waste even five minutes to eat flavorless, half-hearted food. Regardless, I wish Up in Smoke the best of luck in their new location.
Up in Smoke BBQ
212 South Hickory
Abbott, TX 76621
Saturday, January 4, 2014
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
Thursday, January 2, 2014
Every so often, Dickey's invents new menu items to try and drum up business, much the same way that McDonald's does. Nevertheless, their new Buttery Cornbread BBQ Sandwiches sounded interesting, so I thought I'd give Dickey's another shot. This time I decided to try out their Uptown branch on McKinney Ave to see if I'd have better luck there.
This Dickey's is located inside a gas station/convenience store. Their website asserts that each branch smokes their meat on-site, though I'm not quite sure where you'll find the smoker here. I didn't wander around back, so who knows. There is a small dining area inside, but it obviously has no ambiance to it. It seemed more appropriate to just get my food to-go.
The slogan on Dickey's ad for the two different Buttery Cornbread Sandwiches reads: "The Choice is Yours." I didn't really have enough information to choose, so I did the only logical thing and ordered both the Texas Pete Spicy Chicken and the Sweet Pulled Pork. Each sandwich comes topped with a slice of cheddar cheese, although I opted out of the pickles and onions. I didn't necessarily want the cheddar either, but I did want to sample these sandwiches as they were intended.
I started with the pulled pork so as not to ruin my palate. There was a decent smoke ring on a few of the pieces. That being said, there was no smoky flavor and the meat was altogether pretty bland. It was decently tender at least. The combination of sugar-laden cornbread and sweet barbecue sauce was tasty enough, but seemed a tad redundant. The cornbread itself was slightly dry, though not overly so. I didn't mind the cheddar, but it sort of just faded into the background. It certainly wasn't the sandwich I was hoping for.
Next up was the spicy chicken sandwich. I caught a few sauceless pieces, which had decent seasoning but no smoke either. Even the seasoning I did find tasted more like the type you'd find on rotisserie chicken. The big chunks of sliced white meat chicken were rather dry. Perhaps pulled dark meat would have been a better choice. The cheese didn't really add anything to the sandwich other than a gooey texture. There was certainly some spiciness to the sauce, but it was still fairly tame by Texas standards.
Dickey's to-go bags have the words "hickory smoked" written all over them. I've tried four different menu items from two different locations, and I have yet to find even a hint of smoke.
Dickey's Barbecue Pit
2324 McKinney Ave
Dallas, TX 75201