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Sunday, February 28, 2016
Kolacny Bar-B-Q (Hallettsville, TX)
When Kolacny Bar-B-Q (pronounced co-lotch-nee) first opened its doors in Hallettsville, Texas in 1989, I was but a six-year-old chap in neighboring Schulenburg. It's hard for me to fathom how I spent the next twelve years of my childhood a mere hop, skip, and jump away from Kolacny's and never even knew of its existence until a few months ago. If you scour the Internet, you'll barely find mention of Kolacny's on any of the usual sites. In fact, before Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn reviewed the joint back in September, its presence on the World Wide Web consisted of a dummy Facebook page, a blank Yelp profile, and one brief nod on a Czech food blog from 2013. My dad had never heard of it either, and my mom was only vaguely familiar with the operation through a friend. Had we all been living under a rock this whole time? This was an oversight which I was hell-bent on rectifying as soon as humanly possible. I flew back to Texas to help celebrate my grandma's 87th birthday, a worthy reason in and of itself, but I won't pretend that the smoky allure of barbecue didn't play into my calculus as well.
Its Saturday and Sunday-only hours make Kolacny's a bit of a barbecue unicorn, as does its off-the-beaten-path locale. The bright pink building isn't what you'd expect to find in a town of 2,500 people, and it certainly doesn't scream "barbecue" by any means. Kolacny's isn't so much a restaurant as it is a place to house a counter and some pits. In a town like this, however, the general idea isn't to provide customers with a ritzy dining experience, it's meant for you to pick up good food to enjoy at home with friends or after church with family.
Their 'que is cooked via direct heat over the pitmaster's own felled oak trees. That's some serious dedication right there. Kolacny's is literally a "mom and pop" operation, both of whom are incredibly friendly and welcoming (although Mom is decidedly more talkative than Pop, who stays hard at work out by the pits). They're some interesting characters, that's for sure. Not wanting to miss out on any of their tasty offerings, I made sure to call my order in a day ahead of time. It's a good thing that I did. When we arrived at 11:30am to pick everything up, the only meat which hadn't been spoken for was one chicken, some sausage, and a little pork steak. Bottom line: if you want barbecue from Kolacny's, plan ahead.
I had ordered a meat-tastic buffet to get a true sense of Kolacny's expertise: pork steak, brisket, pork ribs, and a few half-chickens. Head sausage was also available from the deli case, but I chose not to partake today. We also snagged sides of potato salad and coleslaw for good measure, even though we had plenty of side dishes left over from the previous night's dinner.
Not being a big fan of coleslaw in general (particularly the heavy mayonnaise variety), I stuck to the potato salad. It was nice and creamy, with just a hint of mustard to jazz things up. The small-diced potatoes were just right, with a good crunch of pickles in each bite.
The pork steak is certainly Kolacny's specialty. It had a great char from the pit, and the rosy pink meat beneath was perfectly cooked. The tender and juicy pork had a great smoke level, which was all the more evident in its well-rendered fat. I would have liked just a touch more seasoning on the crust, though.
I have to say, this was some of the best, juiciest barbecue chicken I've ever had. I liked that the skin hadn't been cooked to a rock-hard crisp, and it was packed with flavor. I found just the right amount of saltiness to satisfy my palate without being overpowering. The meat itself was very juicy and much smokier than I had expected.
When it came time for pitmaster Ervin Kolacny to slice up our order of brisket, it was readily apparent that we were getting the very last of today's allotment. This ended up being a glorious fatty chunk of the point. Spectacular! The brisket was beautifully smoky, especially the jet-black bark. A simple salt and pepper rub was more than sufficient here. Flavors aside, the meat was a little tough for my liking, but it was otherwise fantastic.
The big, meaty pork ribs came with a nice dose of black pepper that permeated each bite. They were decently smoky, although there wasn't much bark to speak of. I also thought they were a tad on the dry side. The meat, however, still came away cleanly with just a slight tug. Direct heat tends to be a bit hard on moisture, so I chalked this one up to the cooking process itself.
In a digital age where even the most obscure information can be uncovered in the blink of an eye, it's astonishing that a place like Kolacny's could exist for nearly three decades in relative seclusion. I find comfort in the knowledge that there are still some surprises to be found in small town America. Kolacny Bar-B-Q might be hard to come by, but it's certainly worth the effort.
100 S. Russell
Hallettsville, TX 77964
Saturday, February 13, 2016
Jack and Jameson's Smokehouse (Franklin, TN)
One week ago, Jack and Jameson's Smokehouse opened up shop in the former home of Mickey Roos Barbecue down in Franklin. The owners of this joint are new to the barbecue arena, but you'll likely recognize them anyway. Television stars Jonathan Jackson (Nashville, General Hospital, The Sarah Connor Chronicles) and Steve Burton (The Young and the Restless, General Hospital) joined forces to bring this restaurant/bar/music venue to life. I can imagine that Jack and Jameson's will become a tourist hotspot, so I wanted to check them out before word officially spread to the masses.
With most of the open tables adorned with "reserved" signage, my seating options were limited to the bar or a large communal table. Not having the slightest desire to dine with strangers, I settled for the bar, which was only slightly better. High barstools and no foot rail made things a little uncomfortable for a tall person, my knees aching by the time I left. The large flat screen TV mounted above the beer taps would have been perfect for a little lunchtime athletic entertainment. However, it's sole use seems to be as a digital list of their available draft beers, all of which are local and craft beers (none of the usual domestics). On that topic, I think they're being a little too heavy handed with the faux Southern charm; everything does not need to come served in a mason jar.
The atmosphere here is about as rustic-chic as you'd expect. The plank wood that lines the walls gives this place a homey, welcoming feel, while the large windows bring in plenty of nice natural light. Near the rear of the dining room is a large music stage, which I assume they intend to make frequent use of (although not today, I was told). I'm also sure that the outdoor patio space will be hopping once Spring has sprung.
The vast majority of their offerings were burgers and patty melts, with more choices for salad than for smoked meat. For a restaurant with "smokehouse" right in its name, I was rather aghast to see only two barbecue entrees on the menu (not including a burger that you have the option to stuff with pork or brisket). With no multi-meat combos either, I settled for a brisket plate with loaded baked potato salad and mac-n-cheese on the side. It took just over 20 minutes to receive something that should have only required slicing and plating. By the time my order finally came, I was both starving and irritated. Not a good start.
The potato salad was inelegantly slopped down right into a puddle of grease and/or juice draining from the brisket. It did have a great flavor though. I could definitely taste the bacon, and it was delectably creamy. Braided noodles were an interesting choice for macaroni and cheese. It was nice and cheesy, but didn't have much flavor beyond that. I'm not sure what type of shredded cheese they put on top, but it was certainly not one of the good melty ones (e.g. Gouda, Fontina, Gruyere). In the end, it just kind of sat there adding a hard texture to an otherwise gooey side dish.
Chopped brisket? Seriously??? Ugh. Once I got past my initial disdain, I explored the pile-o-meat further, only to find even more disappointment. It had a slight touch of smoke, but not nearly enough. There were plenty of red bits of smoked meat scattered throughout, though they seemed to have only picked up the smoke's coloring and hardly any of its savory deliciousness. The brisket was tender, but its juiciness came mostly in the form of a liquidy au jus poured over the top. Frankly, this tasted more like a pot roast or what I'll call "Hanukkah brisket" than real barbecue.
My favorite part of the meal was their potato salad, by a very, very wide margin. I overheard the bartender say that their grand opening isn't until March, which I suppose makes this a soft opening. The other customers sitting near me seemed to really enjoy their burgers. That being said, I hope these guys add some new barbecue menu items between now and March, otherwise they might as well rename it "Jack and Jameson's Burger House". Either way, I doubt I'll be back.
Jack and Jameson's Smokehouse
509 Hillsboro Rd
Franklin, TN 37064
Friday, February 5, 2016
Rollin' Smoke Barbeque (Las Vegas, NV)
Even though the primary goal of my Vegas trip was to find a black bear hunt at the Safari Club International convention, I also couldn't resist hunting down some delicious barbecue while I was in town. When we visited last year's convention, we ventured far into North Las Vegas on a barbecue expedition, but this year I decided that something a little closer to the Strip would be more logical. At a mere mile away from our hotel, Rollin' Smoke made perfect sense. It also had the highest ratings of any Vegas barbecue joint I researched, which was just icing on the cake.
This joint opens its doors bright and early at 10:00am, although I'd suspect that most of the usual tourists are still in bed at that hour. Vegas is a town built on hospitality, and the guys and gals over at Rollin' Smoke are some of the friendliest you'll find. When you combine that with their Arkansas roots, it's impossible not to feel welcomed here. The pitmaster, who I understood to have had some Le Cordon Bleu training, invited us to tour their smoking operation. If we'd had a little more time to kill, we definitely would have taken him up on that.
In true Las Vegas fashion, Rollin' Smoke offers an all-you-can-eat meal option which encompasses their entire menu! Tempted as I was, my stomach didn't feel quite up to the challenge (partially due to the prior night's "festivities"). I set my sights a little lower and ordered their Pit Special: brisket, pulled pork, burnt ends (instead of the advertised quarter-chicken), spare ribs, and hot links with bacon potato salad, cheesy mac n cheese, and kick'n bbq beans on the side.
The potato salad was, in a word, magnificent. Bacon and green onions give this side a great crunchy texture that brilliantly compliments the creamy mayo base. I'm going to have to steal this recipe and make it at home. The beans were nice and sweet, with a great spicy kick on the black end. They certainly weren't lacking for black pepper, that's for sure. There was also a good amount of shredded meat mixed right in. Large-size pasta noodles allowed the gooey cheese to get embedded in each nook and cranny of the macaroni. The extra layer of cheddar on top was just what it needed, too, adding another degree of cheesiness.
Rollin' Smoke's brisket comes chopped unless otherwise requested. Ordinarily I would have asked for slices, but today I decided to live dangerously and sample my beef the way that the pitmaster intended. Chopped or not, there was a ton of bark to go around. I also found a great smoke level in each bite of the incredibly tender brisket. There was just a hint of sauce drizzled on top, which allowed me to taste both it and the delicious meat at the same time.
The rosy smoke-kissed pulled pork looked exceptionally inviting. Upon closer inspection, it came with a smokiness that mirrored its appearance. The meat was also really juicy, with very flavorful chunks of bark throughout. As a Texan it pains me to say this, but I think that I enjoyed their pork more than the brisket. Shocking, I know.
I'm not sure what the source of their sausage is, but the hotlinks were damn good. They had a great snap to the casing, with a char that added to the crispness as well. The heat of these links catches you a little off guard. It also masks any potential smokiness (at least for those of us with more delicate palates), but that's to be expected.
Burnt ends aren't something that I get to enjoy all too often, so I was happy to find them on Rollin' Smoke's menu today. These were worth every bit of the $3.00 upcharge, and then some. Melt-in-your-mouth tender doesn't quite do them justice as a descriptor, but it's the best that I can muster. Essentially, these are barbecue's answer to pork belly. There was a great smoky flavor, coupled with a somewhat spicy glaze. I could have easily eaten a whole plate of them.
The ribs were cooked perfectly, with only a slight tug needed on each bite. Rollin' Smoke managed to produce tender and juicy ribs without cooking them into "falling off the bone" oblivion, which in my opinion is nothing more than a euphemism for overcooked meat. The crust had a great blend of spices that combined both heat and sweet. Each bite of rib meat also contained a good smoke level that kept bringing me back for more.
In a town known for celebrity chefs and Michelin-star restaurants, Rollin' Smoke offers a blue-collar alternative so indulgent that you'll forget all about the glitz and glamour of the Strip.
Rollin' Smoke Barbeque
3185 S. Highland Dr
Las Vegas, NV 89109
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