2202 Inwood Rd
Dallas, TX 75235
Open M-Fri 10-4, Sat 10-3
Update: It's been a while since my last visit to this oft-suggested barbecue stop in Dallas. They recovered from a small fire a few months back and were still glowing from their recent Man vs. Food publicity, so I wanted to stop by and see if anything had changed in the past couple of years. One noticeable change are the new doors after the old ones had been hammered open by the fire department. The sign still says they close when the meat runs out, but the fact is that they're open from 10:00 to 8:00 every day.
"Rogge's Dunn Deal" on the menu gets you two ribs, a sandwich, a side and a drink for $9.49. As I waited for my order I enjoyed reading over the cruelly ironic article framed on the wall from December 22, 1974 where Sonny tells the Dallas Morning News "If I ever did anything smart is was not going into the franchise business." This, he felt, would cause the quality of his product to suffer.
With the fire damaging just the kitchen area, the small dining room hasn't changed a bit. I sat with my tray balanced on the tiny desk trying not to spill it every time I reached for a bite.
Pulled pork had little going for it. No crust, no fat, no smoke and little flavor existed between the cold white buns. Sauce is on the side here making it technically optional, but the lack of flavor in the meat made the sauce mandatory. The atrocity of the rib preparation made it obvious that sauce was not an option. For this lunch service, cold and pre-smoked ribs were sliced and resting in a tub where they had been presauced. When an order was received, the appropriate number of ribs were fished from the tub and placed on a charbroiler. Once heated through, there's little hope that these poor bones would have any moisture left, and they didn't. Not only was the meat dry, but the grilling method replaced any smoky flavor with a charred flavor similar to that from burnt sugary sauce on an amateur's home gas grill. I was sad for those ribs. The famous onion rings were famously huge and crispy, but needed some salt (and why not some sauce?) to bring them to life.
At the end of the meal I ordered a sliced beef sandwich, sans sauce, to go. Unwrapping it in the car, it quickly became obvious that this meat would also lack that smokiness I was so hoping for. This unappetizing mass of monochromatic gray meat sat on an unwarmed bun. Every shred of bark, fat and flavor had been scraped away before I ever saw it. With ten franchise locations as far away as Utah, Sonny's words from that article seem more prophetic, even for the "Original".
2009: Let's face it Dallas...we continue to bow to this shell of a formerly renowned BBQ joint because it's really all we've got to point to in Big D that can be considered a historic 'cue icon. I know every time I enter through that screen door, I hope that this trip is sure to provide more gastronomical rewards than the last, but this joint has long since slid past protein mediocrity, and it now lies in a smokeless grave shrouded by those quaint school desks. No matter how many rave reviews are written by critics who allow their tastebuds to be deceived by the history oozing from these walls, the fact that this 'cue is not worthy to be considered amongst Dallas's best remains unchanged.
When I lament to laymen about the lack of stellar BBQ in our fair city, the general retort is something along the lines of "Well, I've heard that the original Sonny Bryan's is great". My usual response is "As long as you order a chopped beef sandwich and some onion rings, you're set." It had been a while since my last trip, so I decided to put my long held assumption to the test. A coworker and I traveled to SB's, and each ordered chopped beef sandwiches. Alongside, came a beautiful mountain of thick golden onion rings. These things would be more fitting as jewelry on the hands of the mighty Thor.
The sandwich was less impressive. Instead of smoky chunks of meat on a hot buttered bun, I received gray morsels of meat barely passable as roast beef sitting between an unbuttered luke warm bun. A layer of their excellent barbecue sauce provided some much needed flavor, and yet another layer made it taste almost like barbecue. The onion rings were better, but the floury taste of the thick crust also needed to be tamed a bit by more of the sauce. I'm positive that I consumed more tomatoes during my meal than meat. Yes folks, it used to be great, but these days it seems they don't even think they need to try anymore. Let's demand better.
2008: Sonny Bryan's is a Dallas institution...that has gone downhill fast. The original location has always been hailed as the Dallas mecca of BBQ, but on a visit a few months ago, the brisket was decent, and the ribs were edible. While the ribs remained edible on a trip last weekend, the brisket was not worth my gastronomic real estate. It was, in short, terrible. I gave my food to a homeless man instead of finishing the dry, gray brisket.