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Friday, December 28, 2012
My wife and I drove up to the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma for a Little Big Town concert. Despite being heralded as the second largest casino in the world, the WinStar has slim pickens as far as restaurants go. In keeping with our country music theme for the evening, we decided to try out Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill for dinner.
The decor is exactly what you would expect from Toby Keith: American flags, truck tailgates, neon beer signs, and a full-size Ford F-150 on the wall. There isn't much for ambiance here though despite all of the assorted redneck nick-nacks. The restaurant itself is a huge space, but there really aren't that many tables for the immense size.
Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill isn't what you would consider a true barbecue joint, but they did have ribs on the menu, so I thought it was worth a review. We started with an order of Tater Skins for an appetizer, and then I ordered a full rack of St. Louis Ribs, with Freedom Fries, Cowboy Beans, and cornbread on the side.
The Tater Skins were fantastic. They were big, crispy, covered in cheese and bacon, and came with both ranch and sour cream for dipping. How could you go wrong with that?
The Freedom Fries, however, were a different story. The fries were pretty limp and soggy, so I'm guessing they hadn't been cooked to order. They had some nice seasoning, but I couldn't get past the texture enough to eat more than 3. The Cowboy Beans were pretty disappointing too. They were bland and in desperate need of salt. Not even the big chunks of bacon could save them. A big part of me suspects they came from a can. Of my sides, the cornbread was the clear winner. It had a good sweet flavor, but it would have been nice if it was a little flakier and a little less grainy.
My St. Louis Ribs came to the table drowning in sauce, which is what I assumed their version of St. Louis-style barbecue would look like. The sauce had a nice sweet taste, but could have used a little more kick to it, even just some black pepper. The ribs were almost too tender, to the point that all the meat pulled off the bone in one bite. I would guess that they been cooking for several hours longer than needed, and then probably steamed themselves to death for another hour or two waiting for me to order them. It was almost like eating pulled pork, and the bone was just there so that you knew they were supposed to be ribs.
I wasn't expecting much from Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill, which is good because they didn't have much to give. If we ever go back to the WinStar for another concert, I'd probably try a burger instead.
Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill
WinStar World Casino
777 Casino Ave. #1
Thackerville, OK 73459
Saturday, December 15, 2012
1 cup yellow mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Whisk the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, red wine vinegar, white vinegar, brown sugar, and pepper in a bowl until combined. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Courtesy Food Network Magazine
June 2012 - Volume 5, Issue 5
Photograph by Andrew Purcell
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Today I decided to check out Back Country Bar-B-Q for no reason other than that I was starving and in need of meat. Back Country isn't too far from my apartment, so it was a good choice for a lunch run.
The name "Back Country" fits this place perfectly. The walls aren't painted or lined with wallpaper, just old cedar-style planks of wood, and the decor consists of assorted trophy mounts (moose, whitetail, buffalo) and collegiate flags. I was surprised, yet happy, to see they even had a flag for my alma mater Vanderbilt. I'm not sure where they keep the pits and smokers, but I couldn't smell much inside.
I decided to step a little outside of my usual meats and sides this round. I ordered the Three Meat Combo with ribs, hot links, bbq chicken, potato salad (ok, so not too far outside the box), fried okra, and Texas toast.
My fried okra came straight out of the fryer, and had a nice crispy batter to it. You can imagine my disappointment when I bit in and realized that the okra was pretty much devoid of any flavor whatsoever. Dipping the okra in ranch was the only way to make it palatable, but even a little salt would have helped. The potato salad had a great mustard flavor. Oddly, the potatoes were very finely diced, so the consistency was much more like egg salad. Since the potato salad seemed sandwich-ready for some reason, I made an open-faced sandwich with it and my Texas toast, and it worked perfectly.
When I first looked at my combo plate, I was a little upset that it only came with two small ribs. Although, after I started eating them, I decided that they had probably given me two too many. The ribs had a good crust on them, but there wasn't much smoke and they were a little on the dry side.
The bbq chicken was cooked perfectly. It had a nice crisp skin on it, and was juicy all the way through. I opted for dark meat, so that probably helped. My only complaint is that both the leg and thigh were pretty small.
My favorite meat of the trio was definitely the hot links. They had a nice char on the outside, so there was a good snap to the casing. The links were peppery and slightly spicy, but not enough to set your tongue on fire. They were great with Back Country's Original Smokehouse BBQ Sauce, which was a good mix of tangy and sweet. Here again though, the portion was pretty small.
On my way out the door, I noticed a small sign advertising "Mick Mick's Homemade Banana Pudding" that I really wish I had seen on my way in. I'm not sure who Mick Mick is, but I'm sure the banana pudding is fantastic. Oh well, something to think about for next time.
Aside from the small portions of meat, I would definitely give Back Country Bar-B-Q another try.
Back Country Bar-B-Q
6940 Greenville Ave.
Dallas, TX 75231
Saturday, December 8, 2012
Let me start by saying that 3B Texas Spice Co. is not an actual restaurant, but rather a purveyor of phenomenal rubs, seasonings, and spice blends. My co-worker Karen Baylor and her husband Wayne (two of the three B's) hosted a barbecue at their house, and I was lucky enough to be on the invite list.
Tonight's menu included ribs and strip steaks, as well as a motley assortment of sides and desserts brought by the other guests. I've had their 3B-spiced brisket, chicken, and pinto beans on other occasions, but I guess I'll just have to settle for ribs and steak this time around.
The ribs were fantastic! They were tender and juicy, and I was happy to see that each tiny rib bone was supporting almost an inch of solid meat on top. A light slathering of sauce added to the already delicious flavor of the 3B Rib rub. The sauce was sweet with a nice kick on the back end. I was initially told that there would be enough ribs for each guest to have 3. Luckily for me, this was not a hard-and-fast rule, because I easily ate 15 ribs myself. I probably would have eaten more, but I wanted to leave a little room for the steak that was still to come.
Wayne's pit spent the whole night covered in thick, magnificent Angus strip steaks loaded with their 3B Steak and Chophouse rub. The steaks had a nice char on the outside, and were cooked to a perfect medium on the inside. The 3B rub flavor was seared nicely to the steaks, so there was no need for added sauce here. Sadly, I had eaten far too many ribs to finish my whole steak, but at least I gave it a valiant effort.
Along with their cousin Brock (the third B), Karen and Wayne use their hand-crafted spice blends to compete in barbecue competitions across the state. They frequently place (if not win) in every category they enter, and once you try their spice blends you'll understand why. I highly recommend checking out their website to buy a few. There are also several different sets that are "ready for gifting" if you have a barbecue lover in the family.
3B Texas Spice Co.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Despite living within minutes of Baker's Ribs for over 6 years now, somehow I've never actually eaten here. Well, today I finally slapped some sense into myself and swung by for lunch. I'm glad I did.
The outside of the building doesn't look very fancy at all, and frankly neither does the inside. That usually means they concentrate on the food, so I was optimistic. Baker's is set up cafeteria style, so you can just slide yourself along until they've loaded enough deliciousness onto your plate. Be careful not to drink too much sweet tea though, since there are no public restrooms.
When a place has "ribs" right in their name, it's hubris to leave them off of your order. I got the 2 Meat Combo with ribs, sliced brisket, pinto beans, and potato salad.
I'm always worried that I'll end up with canned beans just spooned out onto my platter, but these beans were great and clearly homemade. They could have used a little more salt, but I probably need to watch my blood pressure anyway. The potato salad was creamy and full of dill and pepper. I usually don't like a lot of dill, but it gave the potato salad a nice sweetness. It was also a nice change of pace from the usual mustard potato salad.
The ribs were everything I hoped they would be: tender and juicy, and a little sweet on the meat side. I'm guessing they got a healthy dose of sauce while cooking. My only complaint is that my combo plate only came with three. The brisket, on the other hand, was a little disappointing. It had a nice char on the edge, but it was way too lean. It wasn't wholly inedible, but definitely too dry to get five stars. The flavor was good though, I must have just gotten a bad cut.
At the last minute, I decided to add peach cobbler to my order. It was spectacular. Not as good as my grandma's, but then again that's a pretty high standard to match. The cobbler had nice big chunks of peaches and warm gooey crust. I was pretty full after my main course, but I happily scarfed this cobbler down with a smile on my face.
Baker's Ribs has locations all across the DFW metroplex, and even one in Minneapolis for no apparent reason. I highly recommend stopping by to rip some rib meat off the bone.
4844 Greenville Ave.
Dallas, TX 75226
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
I commute to Fort Worth for work almost every day, but I rarely eat there outside of fast food joints close to my office. A co-worker told me that Cousin's had some awesome 'que, so today I took a short road trip for lunch. I was surprised to see that they had a drive-thru, which I took advantage of since I was planning on getting my food to-go anyway. Even from the drive-thru window I could smell the smoky aroma wafting from inside this local legend.
I ordered the Two Meat Combination platter with pulled pork and smoked German sausage (surprise, surprise) and got mustard potato salad and macaroni and cheese on the side.
For some reason I always start my review with the side dishes. I guess that's because I'd rather get them out of the way and focus on the meaty goodness. Oh well. The mac and cheese tasted like Easy Mac, but that's ok since I happen to like quasi-edible macaroni. The potato salad was actually really good and had a decent amount of spice to it. There seemed to be a little paprika or chili powder or something sprinkled on top, which added a nice kick at the end of each bite.
The sausage had a nice smoky flavor and plenty of pepper to boot. It was sliced thin, which I think helped keep each piece moist while sitting in its own juices. But the real star here was the pulled pork. It was magnificently tender and had a small load of sauce mixed right it. I usually don't add sauce to my meat if I can avoid it, but this worked really well and didn't detract from the meat's natural flavors at all. I completely annihilated the pulled pork in under a minute, so that should tell you something.
My order came with a small container of sauce on the side, which really wasn't needed for this meal given the sausage's natural flavor and the sauce pre-mixed into the pulled pork. I tend to think adding sauce is a way to mask a pitmaster's inability to cook flavor into the meat directly, but Cousin's definitely didn't have that problem.
If you're ever in southwest Fort Worth, this place is worth a stop.
5125 Bryant Irvin Rd.
Fort Worth, TX 76132
Friday, November 30, 2012
The wife and I were up in Allen doing some Christmas shopping at the outlets, and we decided to check out Bar-B-Cutie for dinner. It wasn't really on my radar, but a quick Internet search told me it had been voted Nashville's best barbecue 4 years in a row. We both went to college in Nashville, so I was willing to give it a try.
The place wasn't exceptionally busy, although that's probably because the Allen Eagles were playing high school football just down the street. The staff was mostly high school kids, but they were surprisingly pleasant and hard-working. Despite the scandalously sexy cowgirl on their logo, Bar-B-Cutie had a very family-friendly feel to it. It definitely seemed more like an actual restaurant than a smokehouse.
I ended up ordering the Two Step Platter with pulled pork, sausage, potato salad, and fried pickles, while my wife tried the beef brisket sandwich.
The potato salad was good, but definitely nothing to write home about. The fried pickles, on the other hand, were amazing. I got a pretty big portion of each with my platter, but I didn't want to fill up on vegetarian nonsense. I set that aside and turned my attention to the meat.
I'm always up for some good sausage (I know, I know), so I dug right in. The sausage had decent seasoning and a fair amount of smoke, but the sauce selections helped tremendously. I tried both the sweet sauce and the mild sauce and left the hot sauce for another day. Oddly enough, the mild sauce had a sweeter flavor than its sweet counterpart, but they were both welcome companions.
The pulled pork was juicy and tender, but again the sauce definitely helped on the flavor. My wife almost inhaled her brisket sandwich, so I'm guessing it was pretty tasty. Looking back, I wish I had ordered the brisket on my platter instead of the pork, or maybe just opted for the Texas Trio Platter and added a third meat.
Bar-B-Cutie was a good offering all in all. I would probably go back if I was in the area, but I wouldn't make a special trip.
208 N. Greenville Ave.
Allen, TX 75002
Saturday, November 24, 2012
My wife's family lives in Little Rock, and I've been dying to try out the Whole Hog Cafe for a while now. They affectionately describe their food as "World Champion Barbecue," but as a Texan, I was understandably a bit skeptical. I finally got the chance to go during Thanksgiving weekend, and it did not disappoint.
The ambiance was par for the course: rows of picnic tables lined with plastic checkered tablecloths, rolls of paper towels, and all the saucy accoutrements any good BBQ lover needs. A great smokehouse aroma filled the whole restaurant, which made the whole experience all the more enjoyable.
Naturally, I went for the Whole Hog Platter: pulled pork, beef brisket, baby back ribs, beans, potato salad, and coleslaw.
The sides were about the typical average fare what you would expect from a local BBQ joint, but that wasn't the reason I went, so we'll give a pass on that. Now, on to the main course.
The ribs were perfectly cooked, and the meat almost fell off the bone. They were already pre-covered in a moderate amount of sauce, which had a good mild sweet flavor. I'm not a huge fan of sauce on BBQ in general, but it worked here. The brisket and pork were also both phenomenal. Perfectly tender and seasoned just right. The brisket had just the right amount of fat laced across, which kept it from being too dry. For these two, I decided to sample all 6 options in the sauce array set before me at the table:
- Sauce No. 1: Classic barbecue sauce
- Sauce No. 2: Tangy tomato
- Sauce No. 3: Same as #2, but spicier
- Sauce No. 4: Traditional Southern vinegar and spice
- Sauce No. 5: Sweet, dark, and bold molasses flavor
- Sauce No. 6: Rich mustard and vinegar
The Whole Hog also has a Volcano Sauce (no description necessary) available upon request, but I thought I'd give my gastrointestinal tract a break for once. All of the different sauces were uniquely tasty in their own way. I ended up buying an extra six-pack sampler of the sauces as a Christmas gift for a friend, as well as a t-shirt to commemorate my trip. As an added bonus, my t-shirt smelled like a smokehouse for days afterward until I finally gave in and washed it.
Despite growing up instilled with a natural contempt for anything other than true Texas barbecue, the Whole Hog Cafe satisfied my carnivorous yearnings without fail. Well done, Little Rock.
Whole Hog Cafe
2516 Cantrell Road
Little Rock, AR 72202