Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Old Sutphens BBQ

BORGER: Old Sutphens BBQ
303 North Cedar

Borger, TX 79007


Open Tues-Thur 11-9, F-Sat 11-9:30, Sun 11-2

Not thirty minutes earlier the server at Dyer's in Pampa said she believed Dyer's was the only place around serving apricot puree with their barbecue. Within minutes of being seated at Sutphen's a plate of nearly identical ribs, cole slaw, potato salad, onion rings and, you guessed it, apricot puree was plopped down on our table. The three meat combos here are so large that they need three plates and a bowl just to contain all the food, and those plates made quite the racket in the dead quiet dining room. It was visibly uncomfortable for nearly every table to talk except the two kids jawing at each other about who would have more fun at Six Flags in their upcoming vacation.

Sutphen's began up the road in Phillips in 1950 before moving to this location in downtown Borger in 1963. It was run by Joey Sutphen into the late nineties where the joint received a place in Texas Monthly's Top 50 BBQ joints issue in 1997. The business was purchased in 2000 by the current owners, but they say they're sticking with tradition when it comes to the recipes. One of those recipes they should reconsider is the god-awful brisket. When it arrived chunked and sauced on the table I thought I'd get an unsauced version to go. When I unwrapped it at the car I realized this meat had been stewing in sauce and enjoying it naked was not an option. This brisket is little more than pot roast stewed in something like Woody's Cookin' Sauce, and it doesn't meet my definition of barbecue.

To my great relief, everything else on the plate was excellent. Ultra fresh and crisp slaw, well seasoned potato salad with chunks of dill pickle and perfectly crunchy golden onion rings came alongside some subtle pinto beans. Texas toast was grilled and buttery, and a dip into that apricot puree took it to another level. Chunks of pork had a hint of smoke and plenty of sweet rub and sauce. The meat was nicely tender and moist. The meaty St. Louis cut ribs were the best of the Panhandle trip. Good smoke wasn't overpowered by the sweet glaze, and the black pepper seasoning was the perfect counterpoint. The tenderness could have won some competitions, and there wasn't an uncleaned bone at the end of the meal. Now if only there were other joints around these parts that served this kind of food!

Rating ***
Sutphen's BBQ on Urbanspoon


casey said...

I've been going there since I was a toddler but haven't really been back since I really discovered real BBQ a few years ago. I'll have to make it a point to go back next time I'm visiting the folks. I do have awesome memories about the ribs, onion rings, and texas toast with apricot preserves!

Anonymous said...

You need to know the "story" of Amarillo Q.

IN the beginning . . . there was Etta's White Way Bar-Be-Que in Borger, Texas. I was a kid in the early 60's when my parents would make a long-distance phone call to make sure that Etta still had some food. Then, we would jump in my dad's Bonneville and we would drive from Amarillo to Borger to make a Mecca-like trip to the heart of BBQ.

Etta's White Way Bar-Be-Que was in a dive downtown. You walked inside and found the two oldest black women on the planet, Etta and her daughter. When the door opened a glorious waft of smoke, Pinto bean steam, and Pine-Sol hit you square in the face. Etta's daughter would set down a fresh loaf of Mead's Fine Bread. Then came the food.

The meat was chunks in a sauce, not brisket. Bright red Pinckney Packing "hot links". And then ribs. Smoky "five pound and down" ribs, with a perfect smoke ring deep into the juicy pork perfection. The ribs were actually the only reason to eat at Etta's, but it was still worth an hour's drive. And that was the birthplace of Texas Panhandle BBQ.

From that birthplace, Sutphen opened his barbeque in Borger. He made his ribs, beef, and hot links just like Etta, with requisite cole slaw, potato salad, a plate of pickles, and a new addition - onion rings. The evidence is pretty clear that these are perhaps the first really good onion rings ever on the planet.

Sutphen saw the writing on the walls, and opened a restaurant in Amarillo. Sutphen's Pit Bar-B-Que was an "eat-til-you-win" family style sit-down restaurant with sticky booths, clown paintings, and Etta's fabulous ribs. Besides old-man Sutphen, his wife and sons, Scott and Joey, worked in the restaurant. This was really good food, lots of it, and it became an Amarillo landmark.

The old man died and his wife and sons ran the restaurant for years. Scott did a great job running it, and Joey pretty much hung around. Then, one day, Scott went to the doctor for a stress test. The sawbones just stressed Scott to death right there on the treadmill. That left Joey to run it, and he ran it right into the ground.

From Sutphens came some really great BBQ cooks, and one opened a new restaurant called "Cattle Call". The recipes were Sutphens, which were really Etta's. But, they were done well, a lot better than had been the case with the left over smoldering remains of Sutphen's with Joey running it. And Cattle Call added real brisket, smoked in the same manner as the great ribs, sliced with a nice bark, pink smoke ring, and juicy meaty flavor.

Sutphens finally died, mostly bad food and alcohol. Plus an upstart from Pampa, called Dyer's B-B-Q opened up. It was Etta's recipe of smoky ribs, chunked meat in sauce rather than brisket, and sausage, Dyer's also added a delicious new meat, which is the barbequed flap off the ribs, which they called "rib tips".

So, now Sutphen's is gone in Amarillo, and there is a resurgent restaurant back in Borger which still serves the original Etta's formula, but not as tasty, and without the run down location. Cattle Call is open in two locations, and Dyer's is a local destination. All of these come from the original Etta's White Way in the dirty oil town of Borger.

BBQ Snob said...

Thanks for the excellent history lesson. I really appreciate the insight.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous,
Thanks for your remembrance of Etta White. I grew up in Phillips, graduated form PHS in 1959, went away to college and have lived in California since 1967. I started going to White Way BBQ in the late 40s. The last time i ate there was in August 1967 when my brother and I stopped and got take out on our way from California to KC.
Etta's barbecue remains the best have ever had, and I've had the best from KC, Memphis, Carolina and so forth. By the way, there is no credible BBQ in California
i went to high school with Joe Sutphen. His mother should get the credit for starting the restaurant and making it a success, which it was long before Joe graduated from high school. The BBQ, however, while quite good quality, never compared very favorably to Etta White's.

Jodi said...

My Grandparents had a store in the 30's in Borger called KC Men's store. My mom and aunt have told me stories for years about Etta's ribs. I'm so happy to see that her legacy lives on.


Texan2LA said...

Sutphens BBQ started in Phillips not in Borger. Joe Sutphen did not start the restaurant. He was in grade school when his mother started the restaurant. I assume that it moved to Borger when Phillips declined and ceased to exist.
The food at Sutphens was good, including the barbecue, but there was nothing to compare with Etta's ribs in the world of barbecue. It remains the best I have ever had.

Unknown said...

never had Ettas BBQ however I grew up in Phillips and my family was neighbors to Margie Sutphens. The main thing I remeber of Sutphens is the onion rings. I haven't been there in awhile. I still live in Borger so will stop by tomorrow

RMR said...

In the mid-seventies my mother was Scott Sutphen’s secretary in Amarillo. We ate a lot of their BBQ and my favorite was the “pork strips”, I think the Country Barn later served the same thing. Anyone know what cut “pork strips” were made from?


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.