Monday, January 23, 2012

Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse

DALLAS: Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse
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".

Rating *

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.
Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse on Urbanspoon


PM Summer said...

When Sonny sold SBBBQ, the City left 'em alone. A couple of days after Sonny's funeral, the Health Department came in and shut 'em down, making them scrape off 30 years of smoky grease clinging to all the surfaces.

Never been the same.

Anonymous said...

As the "Coworker" who went with you...I have to say, I *WANTED* it to be good. I really did.
It was not.
The potato salad was some of the worst i've ever had (honestly, much better from a bin at Albertsons)
And the chopped beef was just bland, so i resolved to adding more and more sauce (also helped with moisture)
I have to admit, i was disappointed.
The FEEL of the place is much better than the food of the place...

Anonymous said...

Amen. This place has become a bit of a joke among locals. I've complained to them about their food but they really don't seem to care. They acted as if I had a problem. Arrogance can only take you so far.

It's sad that so many out-of-towners are lured into this clip joint.

Anonymous said...

I was in Dallas for a hockey game (I know!) this past spring. I was craving Texas BBQ and after some research I thought that Sonny's would be the one to try. Well I ordered a pulled pork sandwich and was quite disappointed. My own pulled pork is 100x better. Now I see that a change in ownership/management may have had something to the downward spiral of the joint.

Just found your blog and will be reading often for my next trip to Texas.

Hope you all have a great long weekend.

Unknown said...

First I'd like to apologize to Daniel for not checking the review of SB's before venturing there, but I got what was coming to me: one terrible meal.

One rainy Saturday afternoon, being lazy from Friday night and having watched a two-hour special about BBQ on the Travel Channel, my boyfriend and I decided we needed some cue, ASAP. Since we live near Inwood, we decided to give Sonny Bryan's a try, mostly out of laziness to go somewhere farther away. I ordered the ribs and no sides (we had to get mashed potatoes and corn from Popeye's). I've honestly had jerky that was juicer and with more flavor than those dried out dog treats. Even with the sauce, that I'll admit was tasty, I still couldn't make it through a whole one. And I am NOT a picky eater by any means. They were so bad, I went hungry instead of trying to gnaw my way through them. We will never go back!

To make matters worse, I didn't go inside, so I apparently missed the only good thing about the place - the interior!

Anonymous said...

I agree this location isn't worth bothering with, but I'm curious about the other outposts. I've eaten at the downtown location several times because it's near work, and it's better than Inwood. Still mediocre, but not bad enough to rule out an occasional visit. Stay away from the smokeless pulled pork. I think the ribs are the best bet there, though I do use a lot of sauce. I tried downtown before Inwood, and I couldn't even believe Inwood was the same chain.

Anonymous said...

You know, the people who are slamming this place probably actually LIKE Dickeys so can we really trust their judgement? I still completely enjoy their food and it is hard to find a restaurant that gives you that little extra in customer service too. All of their places give superb service along with a full history and wonderful food. I will always continue to eat here and try to squeeze myself into a desk before I give up and sit in my truck. What no one ever said eating there once a week was good for your waist line.

Anonymous said...

Let me began by saying that I strongly disagree with you. I have been going there for 34 years with my son when he was young and continue to do so with my grandson .They continue to have Alberto cooking who worked directly with Sonny as his cook and he has shared with me in the past that nothing has changed. The food is incredible and the service and staff is outstanding. Their reputation is well deserved.I know of a neighbor here in town who I hear loves the place as her favorite BBQ place by the name of Mrs. Bush. I say she has great taste! Long live Sonny Bryan’s BBQ !

Anonymous said...

20 years ago SB was the best and not it is not even as good as soulmans which sucks.

BBQJEDI said...

I think other locations are better. The Richardson locale is not bad. Brisket is decent when you're not the first in the door that day. Friday special can be a fun one. Pig out platter of pulled pork, sausage, and ribs is good food. I don't think its 5 star but certainly not 1. Again, better than Inwood.

Anonymous said...

Ate there today, for the first time. AND last time. Awful. The onion rings were WAY overcooked, and tasted as though they'd been cooked in sewing machine oil. Ribs were tough and burnt. Never again.

Twinwillow said...

Yep, nothing good lasts forever. It's a real shame, too because I'd been a loyal SB customer since the middle 60's. I stopped going after Sonny died and the quality took a nosedive.

Anonymous said...

Here is a secret - DALLAS BBQ IS BAD. Period. No flavor. If SBBBQ is as good as it gets in Dallas, skip it and run down to Llano or Austin and get something worth eating. I moved here from Amarillo and am so so so so disappointed in ALL Dallas BBQ.

BBQ Snob said...

Anonymous - Where else have you tried in Dallas? Sonny Bryan's is no longer a good example. What are your thoughts on Meshack's, Pecan Lodge, Mac's, Lockhart Smokehouse?

The Barbecue Fiend said...

In terms of flavor, Sonny Bryan's has become fast food barbecue.

Anonymous said...

You need to go back - the original location has the BEST brisket! This place is 4 stars.

BBQ Snob said...

Anonymous - I have given this joint too many chances already. It's just not good. Not in the West End, not on Lovers and not even the Original.

GMDGeek said...

I'm some what of a BBQ snob - I love good BBQ and hate bad BBQ with a passion. Folks this is bad BBQ!!! Dry, no fats, no flavor profile. Nothing I've come to expect from Good BBQ. If you have to dip the pork or the brisket in the not so great sauce (tastes like its out of a bottle) just to get a little moisture something is wrong. 5 times we've been and not once have I seen a smoke ring.

Do not waste your time or your money!


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.