Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Babb Bros. BBQ

DALLAS: Babb Bros. BBQ
330 Bedford Ave
Dallas, TX 75212
Open Sun-Thur 11-9, F-Sat 11-10

Less than a month after the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge opened in March of last year the PR machine was already in full force on Phil Romano's newest venture in West Dallas. It was announced that Trinity Groves would kick-off their unique restaurant incubator concept with a barbecue joint called Babb Bros. BBQ. If you're unfamiliar with Trinity Groves, the idea is for aspiring restaurateurs and chefs to audition for a spot in the incubator. If accepted the team led by Phil Romano (of Macaroni Grill and Fuddruckers fame) would get partial ownership of the business in exchange for providing the resources, most importantly capital, to get the new concept off the ground. One stipulation is that the concept must be geared towards expansion. The investment group isn't just interested in the single location at Trinity Groves, they want it to become the next big chain restaurant. (For a more detailed look at the Trinity Groves development see this excellent D Magazine article by Peter Simek).

Before moving to Texas in 2003, the Babb brothers had honed their barbecue skills in Kansas (which explains an early press release that touted "Midwestern Style BBQ"). Mike, Bob and Davy Babb were behind the Arlington based "The Rib Man" catering business which was popular at tailgates at Cowboys' Stadium. They were the perfect concept to help Phil Romano realize his barbecue dreams after he sold the rights of the now ubiquitous Rudy's barbecue chain and closed two unsuccessful Dallas locations back in 1997. Rudy's became famous across the state soon after. Phil is now hoping to strike smoked meat gold once again with this new project, and its obvious that some choices have been made to allow for the future growth of this potential chain restaurant that's still in its infancy. Unlike those early Rudy's locations that used all wood-fired Oyler pits, Babb Bros. is using a pair of gas-fired Southern Pride smokers. This not only allows for ease of smoking at this location, but also allows for a similar product to be accomplished at other locations without the oversight of a seasoned pitmaster.

Visit #1 - Brisket, Ribs and Pulled Pork

My first visit here was a few weeks after its late November 2012 opening. The customers were sparse at 6:00 which is admittedly early for dinner, so I grabbed an order to go and went to my car to get a taste. The most unique item on their menu is a smoked meatloaf. The mixture is heavily spiced with chili powder and has a lingering flavor of blue cheese. The mixture has a mild smoke, and the meat stayed good and moist. It makes for a great sandwich, and would prove to be the best item on their wide menu. The other meats weren't as successful. I requested moist brisket (you can get lean or moist, just like Rudy's) which had a decent crust, but the brisket slices just didn't have any smoke flavor and the fat was poorly rendered. The ribs were overcooked so the texture was already suffering before being stored in plastic wrap. The meat could no longer cling to the bones. The resulting flavor had a bit more smoke than the brisket, but was missing seasoning and tasted washed out. Pulled pork wasn't much better, and the meat was incredibly dry. The side of collard greens was the savior of the meal. Cooked down with smoked pork and just the right amount of acid, they were some very good greens. A too-thick and underseasoned creamed corn was a disappointment.

Visit #1 - Meatloaf Sandwich
I waited a couple of weeks for another visit hoping they might settle in a bit. This time I picked up a late dinner at 8:00 where the crowds were again sparse. I watched closely as my order was assembled. A woman took my order then repeated it to the meat cutter. He retrieved a brisket and a turkey breast covered in plastic wrap and a paper boat that was filled with meatloaf and covered in more plastic wrap. All of the meats here are not wanting for humidity. I requested some lean and moist brisket.

Visit #2 - Meatloaf, Turkey and Brisket
The lean slices had some promising bark and a good smokering, but again the smoke flavor was fleeting. It's expected that lean slices be a bit drier, but these were unacceptably dry. The moist brisket tasted like nothing more than poorly seasoned pot roast. The turkey breast was admirably sliced from a whole breast rather than using deli turkey, but the meat had dried badly after slicing and the only flavor coming through was salt. A dip into their thick, tomato based sauce provided some oomph from the chili powder and the mild sweetness. Again, the meal was saved by more great meatloaf and some great sides of cheesy potatoes and pinto beans.

Visit #2 - Moist Brisket Looks Better than it Tasted
A dessert of banana pudding showed that Babb Bros. knows how to not screw up a simple and humble dessert. Instant pudding is thankfully not used for the base, and the chunks of bananas were generous.

Visit #3 - Brisket, Ribs and Wings
For the third visit I waited until after the New Year and went by for lunch to see the place in the daylight. Every one of the semi-communal six-top tables in the large dining room had a couple of occupants and the place was humming. I wanted to try the ribs and brisket again. Having a good barbecue option just five minutes from my office would be a good thing, so I was hoping that they'd improve. It didn't happen. The brisket was the worst of the three visits with all of the crust and fat removed leaving behind a poor imitator for post roast. The ribs had a better texture at this earlier hour but the lack of smokiness and seasoning still plagued the meat. Wings and onion strings had caught my eye on the menu since they aren't normally on Dallas barbecue menus, but I knew something was up when a fryer basket didn't drop after my order. Instead, a few soggy wings (which weren't smoked) and some already chilly 'onion straws' were scooped from a large bowl behind the line where the pre-fried items were being held. Both iems were probably good straight from the fryer, so it was sad to see how they'd created a quality issue by insisting on precooking these items for the lunch rush. At least I had a full serving of those excellent greens to get through.

I had been looking forward to the opening of this new joint for a good part of the year hoping that someone with the restaurant savvy of Phil Romano would be able to coax the best out of the Babb brothers. Seeing new businesses in West Dallas is a welcome sight, and seeing them flourish would be even better, but sometimes a shiny new place like Babb Bros. BBQ acts as little more than a reminder that great barbecue does exist in West Dallas. Just a mile down Singleton Avenue from Trinity Groves is a wood-fired brick pit in an old neighborhood stalwart called Odom's. It's been around long before a new bridge connected this forgotten neighborhood to North Dallas investors.

Rating **


PM Summer said...

Can't say I'm surprised, just disappointed.

On another issue, may I just say two words: color correction.

Keep up the great work in 2013!

Stephan Dueboay said...

An old Navy buddy and I went to Babb's on the day of the BBQ event at Four Corners. We split the large Chopped BBQ sandwich. The flavor was good, but very, very mild, with just a hint of smoke. The bread it was on was out of this world though.

After we ate, we were going to go to the BBQ Even at Four Corners, but our plans were cut short by unexpected circumstances and we had to leave.

We didn't get to meet you, but the day was sort of salvaged when we ran up on Tim Love in his tricked out truck, headed west on 820. But one of these days, we'll shake your hand...

BTW, congrats on the Texas Monthly gig...what a deal.

Stephan Marc Dubois
Cleburne, by golly, Texas


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.