Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cattleman’s Steakhouse

FABENS: Cattleman's Steakhouse
3450 S Fabens Carlsbad Rd.
Fabens, TX 79838
Open M-F 5-10, Sat 12:30-10, Sun 12:30-9

The sun was just setting as we made our way along the secluded road that leads away from the interstate and into the desert. I knew that Cattleman's Steakhouse was out this way from the online maps and the billboards, but my uncertainty still grew the longer we drove. Finally, we saw a cluster of buildings up ahead. Just driving up and around the grounds to get to the parking lot seemed like an adventure. Once inside this palace of meat, you quickly realize just how enormous it is. Just to get to the host’s stand it seems like you must pass a hundred or so folks waiting patiently for a table. Even with the crowds, the three of us were quickly seated in a table oddly placed within a three-quarter circle in a far corner of the dining room. Given the shape of the area and our elementary knowledge of acoustics, we weren’t sure if our conversations could be heard on the other end of the room, but we did know that we had our own light switch.

While Cattleman’s functions mainly as a steakhouse, there are a few well known options for mesquite smoked meats on the menu with beef ribs being the most popular. A large combo plate of beef ribs and sliced brisket was available as were BBQ beef cubes. Large beef back ribs needed more time on the smoker for any hope at getting tender, and thick bland slices of brisket were dry as a board. Not even a dip into the ketchup-like sauce could save them. I was beginning to think this adventure would be fruitless.

Then I took a bite from the tiny metal pail that held the house beans. These ranch beans were bathed in a thick, rich broth that was both smoky and spicy. I know they were just beans, but man were they good.

When I questioned the waiter about the beef cubes and how they differed from the sliced brisket, he said there was no difference other than where the beef was cut from the brisket. The beef cubes were cut from the edges of the fatty end. They weren't sauced or smoked to make burnt ends, but were just simple chunks of smoked beef brisket. They didn't taste at all like the sad and dry brisket slices. The smoky and crusty bits of lusciously fatty beef went down with ease even after a full day of eating, and in true West Texas style, simple roasted chiles came alongside to round out the meal.

On our visit I was hard pressed to find a table with barbecue on it other than ours. This is a steakhouse that I visited based on the reputation of their beef ribs, but it was the beans and the brisket ends that left an impression.

Rating **

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Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.