Friday, August 31, 2012

Comeaux's Bar-B-Que

Photo by Nicholas McWhirter

PORT ARTHUR: Comeaux's Bar-B-Que
1848 Bluebonnet Ave.
Port Arthur, TX 77640
(409) 982-3262
Open Tues-Sat 2-10

It was a dark night in Port Arthur and the rain was coming down in sheets. We drove down a long street where it seemed every street lamp was out, so the tiny building with the light on out front was easy to spot off in the distance. Comeaux's is open late, so we ducked our heads and charged through the rain to the front door. Just inside the door wasn't so much a dining room as a waiting area clad in paneling with a window looking into the kitchen. Mr. Comeaux who's been running this place for greater than twenty-five years stood at the window to take our order.

Pork ribs were sold out for the night, but they still had 'pork bones' left. These are basically pig spine with tiny morsels of meat still clinging to the bones. The tiny bit of protein wasn't really worth the trouble.

Brisket slices were certainly more substantial than the pork bones, but there was something odd about them. They had a deep rosy color all the way through, and the flavor was of beef jerky. It struck me that they had been cured in some way before being smoked. The meat was chewy and incredibly salty, and not at all pleasant.

The other menu items were obligatory, since we were really here to try the spicy beef links. They were worth the trip. These all beef links had a great kick from the spice and the garlic and even had a nutty flavor to them. The tough beef casings were somewhat loosely packed to allow for easier extraction of the beefy stuffing. All-in-all these were a great example of this Southeast Texas specialty, and reason enough for me to return for another visit to Mr. Comeaux.

Rating **

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Willy Ray's Bar-B-Que Co.

BEAUMONT: Willy Ray's Bar-B-Que Co.
6685 Eastex Frwy
Beaumont, TX 77706
Open M-Sat 11-9, Sun 11-3 

Update: Thanks to alert FCGBBQ reader @GoBearsGo95 I learned that Willy Ray's is no longer. They haven't so much CLOSED as rebranded when they widened their menu and hours last month to become Jackk's Diner. The same ownership remains.

2012: "Museum" was printed on a small sign above what looked like a closet door at the back of Willy Ray's. After seeing the sign we couldn't resist, but wondered how many hadn't even noticed the unceremonial entry. Inside the door was a long glass case and a narrow walkway along its length. Inside was a series of impressive carvings of important religious buildings in history. Along the front of the case was a series of dioramas telling the stories of the Bible. We learned from the the current owners of Willy Ray's that they all were carved and painted by a former owner of the building, and they've been preserved as the building changed hands. It was without a doubt the oddest display I'd ever seen inside a barbecue joint, but trumped a collection of old hats or license plates any day.

Unfortunatey, the diorama collection was the most memorable thing about the joint. Texas Monthly had put this place in the 2008 Top 50 BBQ Joints issue, but they must have had a different experience. The carrot souffle they loved in their review was still on the menu. It was good, and sweet enough to be considered dessert. Good thing considering the poor quality banana pudding with it's fake yellow hue and artificial banana flavoring that came out at the end of the meal.

The meats were equally inoffensive and boring. Chicken had some smoke but little other flavor. Ribs had a rub that was way too thick that hindered any development of a smoky crust. Lean brisket slices were trimmed of all fat. A good looking crust and smokering was false advertising. The meat was dry with little flavor and barely a hint of smoke. It was nothing more than mediocre roast beef, and not really worth returning for, unless of course that's the price of admission to their museum.

Rating **

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sonny's Bar-B-Q II

BEAUMONT: Sonny's Bar-B-Q II
2197 Washington Blvd.
Beaumont, TX 77705
Open Tues-Sat 10-6

I learned about this joint from the nephew of the owner who directed me here. We met rather ironically in line at Broussard's down the street, but his family should be proud to know that we wouldn't have sought out Sonny's without his endorsement. We pulled up to a renovated house with a Grand Opening sign out front. Orders were taken at a small counter inside, and meat was sliced and plated back in the kitchen. Our small group filled the folding chairs surrounding a plastic-clad table, and our order came out quickly.

A spicy beef link made in house was similar to another in town at Patillo's, and was equally successful. The loose filling was loaded with spice and garlic and had some good smoke. The only qualm was the too-sweet sauce that didn't add much to the whole.

Brisket was well cooked, but had grown soft and a bit mushy from either wrapping during cooking or being held too long. The smoke was still there, and the little bit of fat remaining was soft, but it needed some improvement beyond more of that sauce.

The menu featured 'regulars' which are rib tips, but they were already sold out. We settled for the standard pork ribs. Good smoky pork would have been quite a bit better after another hour on the smoker. The meat was tough and the unrendered fat chewy. That sauce I didn't love at least complemented the pork, but they provided more potential than satisfaction. Regardless of the ribs and brisket, those homemade links alone are worth a special trip, just leave off the sauce.

Rating **

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Larkin's Bar-B-Que

JASPER: Larkin's Bar-B-Que
568 Gibson St.
Jasper, TX 75951
Open Tues-F 10-7, Sat 11-6

I hadn't heard much good feedback on the barbecue in Jasper, so we had planned to just pass through town on our way south. A fancy looking joint with fake Austin stone on the exterior proudly displayed stainless steel gasser pits on a busy corner. We passed it by, but then a red trailer tucked off the road caught my eye. The trailer along with a big steel smoker was sitting on a concrete pad under a large metal structure, and a couple of picnic tables sat outside. We ordered a combo plate of brisket, ribs and a hot link, but it's what we didn't order that was most surprising.

Photo by Nicholas McWhirter

Owner Michael Larkin sat with us as we ate, which is a pleasant proposition if you like it all. We suffered through a few slices of spongy and overcooked brisket and a thick rib in need of salt and smoke. The pork was chewy with a thick layer of unrendered fat and the gummy exterior from a thick rub didn't help it go down any easier. What was tougher was having the owner look on as we choked down his favorite item, the ribs. Luckily the smoked beans were there to provide something worth gushing about. They were sweet, spicy and fantastic. A hot link from Zummo's in Beaumont was a good version, but nothing special.

Just as we were finishing up, Michael asked if we wanted some of the homemade sausage. Of course we would. I could hear the ding of the microwave before he came out with a balloon inside a paper boat. It was just the sausage, but the loose casing had expanded quite impressively while the filling was steaming away in the microwave. The finishing touch was a splash of straight-from-the-bottle Italian dressing. This barely looked like food at this point, but it was actually pretty good once I popped the inflated casing. The filling resembled Mexican chorizo in both texture and flavor. What tasted like smoked paprika brought in the flavors of Spanish chorizo as well and the vinegar from the dressing helped cut through the fatty filling. Is was a series of unexpected flavors in a not-so-handsome package, but it was an inventive sausage recipe that was pretty good stuff. Pair it with the beans and don't bother with the rest.

Rating **

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Monday, August 27, 2012


5750 U.S. 90 Business
Orange, TX 77630
Open Tues-Sat 11-7

It was the middle of a weekday afternoon and JB's was empty. Four of us walked in and order far less food than the folks manning the counter were hoping for. Brisket, ribs and sausage were piled on real china, and before I could get the words out, a ladle of sauced drowned the plate. I guess they noticed my dismay, so when I asked for a plate of the fatty end pieces of brisket without sauce, they gave it to me for no charge. Free meat is often the best, and this was no exception.

In the back dining room we were left alone to judge the meat without an audience. Slices of a peppery sausage were fine, but could have used more smoke. Large spare ribs were a bit tough but their strong smokiness made its way through the sauce. The pink cross-section of meat had good flavor, but just needed more time to cook. The gray slices of brisket at the bottom of the pile didn't have so much staying power, and we quickly descended on the pile of fatty and crispy edges of brisket on the other plate. A bit on the dry side, these burnt ends were still enjoyable with well rendered fat and the concentrated flavors of the smoker.

Photo by Nicholas McWhirter
On the way out we noticed them slicing a ham. They cure and smoke them in house which in this world of deli hams finding their way into smokers was a welcome sight. More free meat made its way into my gut after they sliced off a few paper thin morsels of pork. The fat was nearly half the slice, but it melted away before it hit the back of my tongue. A splash of soy sauce at the suggestion of the staff was unnecessary. This was great ham and a real treat in this corner of Texas.

Rating **

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Hemphill Bar-B-Q

HEMPHILL: Hemphill Bar-B-Q
3285 South Bayou Rd.
Hemphill, TX 75948
Open M 11-3, Tues-Thur 11-8, F-Sat 11-9

Boudin, for the uninitiated, is a product of Louisiana Cajun cooking that takes hog casings and fills them with pork, rice, green onion and other seasonings. The links can be boiled or grilled, but when they cross the border into Texas they sometimes find their way onto a smoker. When boiled, the casings usually toughen up and aren't cooked long enough to make them comfortably edible, so the links are usually cut open or the fillings squeezed out to be eaten directly from the source making it a great road food. Here at Hemphill Bar-B-Q they smoke the boudin rendering the casings crisp. The addition of jalapeno for a clean kick made this some of the best smoked boudin to be had in East Texas.

Crispy slaw and spicy beans were great accompaniments to the boudin as well as the smoky brisket. At least the brisket crust was smoky. The slices dried out almost immediately after being sliced, but it was decent as beef goes in East Texas. Ribs were well smoked, with just a bit of chew remaining. The interior fat was rendered adequately, but the whole thing was marred by a thick rub replete with white sugar and cumin which together overpowered the meat and smoke. Thankfully, I saved a few slices of boudin to finish off the meal and get the overwhelming burnt cumin flavor out of my mouth. Stop for the boudin and get some brisket if you must, but steer clear of the ribs.

Rating ***

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Chris Lilly at Fearing's

Last Sunday I was dining on barbecue from a television star. Chris Lilly came in from Alabama where he runs the famous Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur. The barbecue competition champion, reality television star and cookbook author had come to help Dean Fearing celebrate the fifth anniversary of Fearing's restaurant. My wife an I were able to attend as a guest of the generous and congenial host, Fearing's GM Michael Gluckman.

Lilly was tending the pits all night on Saturday, but he had a little help from local barbecue cook, Marshall Cooper who offered the use of his Jambo pit. Marshall also convinced local barbecue champion Johnny Trigg to give up his shiny blue Jambo for the evening. They needed the smoker real estate to feed the nearly two hundred guests. 

Pork shoulders were wrapped and resting in the kitchen while a few dozen spatchcocked chickens were stacked in the smoker as wisps of hickory smoke filled the air. The final step for the chickens was a dip into Chris Lilly's famous white barbecue sauce. It gave the smoky chicken a nice tangy flavor heavier on the vinegar than I was expecting.

The dining room was too dark to get any good photos of the rest of our meal, but the barbecue was phenomenal. A chunk of ultra tender and still moist pulled pork needed no sauce and thankfully received none. Corn on the cob, beans and pickled cauliflower were all great as well, but the item I couldn't get enough of were the grilled oysters on the half shell. Doused in butter, parmesan and some shredded spinach, these suckers were incredible. I had a least a half dozen and asked Chris for the recipe. He reminded me that his book ( Big Bob Gibson's BBQ Book ) has all the recipes from the evening including the oysters. Now I've got to buy it and an oyster shucking knife.

- BBQ Snob

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Foodways Texas at Joe T. Garcia's

Joe T. Garcia's, Fort Worth's Tex-Mex institution, originally opened as a barbecue joint back in 1935. Foodways Texas organized an event there earlier this summer where the Garcia family offered a menu showing four generations of their cooking, including way back when the pit was still smoking. The event was two months ago, but my tardiness doesn't mean these photos shouldn't be shared.

One course was from Lanny Lancarte II, the great-grandson of Joe T. It included a lamb chop, wrapped sole and some sauteed gnocchi. This was the latest dish in the family timeline.

Another plate had what you might expect if walking into Joe T. Garcia's. A cheese enchilada, chimichanga, chicken flauta with rice and beans and a healthy dose of fresh guacamole was a plate of great Tex-Mex.

A third plate inspired by Esperanza's Restaurant was more Mex-Mex with a gordita, a ceviche tostada and a thick mole among other items.

Adobo-rubbed ribs and a chile sauce over sliced brisket most certainly wasn't on that original menu at Joe. T's, but as Lanny said, they didn't write down those recipes. Lanny did his own riff, and it turned out better than I expected. The beef was tender and well smoked. The sauce wasn't sweet and worked better with the brisket than sauces I've had at many barbecue joints. The ribs weren't as successful, but the outstanding smoked corn on the cob was enough to make up for a multitude of sins. Along with a lamb chop, it was the only item I got when they called for seconds.

When dinner was over, we got a tour of the restaurant by Lanny who showed us much of the old equipment in the museum of a kitchen. The item that got my attention was the old brick and concrete smoker. It was sadly being used for storage, but the chimney had long ago been cut off and roofed over. When it was built it was outside, but it now sits right in the middle of the kitchen area. It was out of commission for good, but it was great to see what they were smoking with back in the thirties.

- BBQ Snob

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Samar Bengali BBQ Dinner

Jon Thompson is the current chef at Stephan Pyles' Samar and will be moving over to Stampede 66 when it opens later this year. Perhaps as part of their research of Stampede's upcoming modern Texas menu, they offered a Bengali BBQ dinner at Samar, and I got a seat a last minute seat at the bar. I'm a couple months late in describing the meal, but it was an inventive menu for the most part.

The first course was potato salad, fried chicken, shrimp, greens and cornbread, only in a much different version than you'd expect. On the plate were simple fried strips of moist chicken and well spiced shrimp along with mustard greens done like a spinach saag. Potato salad was made up of chilled potatoes and chick peas mixed with mint chutney and a cornbread version of naan was flecked with jalapeno. Pickled mango was served in the second course in place of the standard dill spears or chips. All items were inventive and proof that having more barbecue side items with an ethnic twist would be just fine by me.

The second course was all about the meat. A goat meat chili slider was well spiced and with a dollop of yogurt was the best sloppy joe I've ever had. Lamb ribs had good spice and a sweet glaze that countered the meat's gaminess well. They had only been baked without any smoke, and the meat needed a bit longer to tenderize, but the flavor itself was great. A few slices of buffalo brisket exhibited the challenge of doing honest barbecue in a fine dining setting. To be at their best, meats need to be smoked fresh and sliced to order, but getting as much accomplished in the prep kitchen helps things move more swiftly on the line. These briskets had been pre-smoked and I watched as half briskets were warmed through on a skillet over a gas burner. The texture had noticeably suffered as had the moisture level, and only the heavy masala sauce saved it. They're going to have to tweak that brisket recipe if it ever shows up down the street at Stampede 66, but I still had a great meal that challenged some of my preconceptions about the boundaries of barbecue fusion.

- BBQ Snob

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Dziuk's Meat Market

Castroville is a little Alsatian town just west of San Antonio. This tiny town filled with historical makers galore is just 25 miles from the Alamo, but its small town quaintness makes it seem much further. Settlers from Alsace (on the border of France and Germany) came here in 1844 to found the town. Along with them they brought Alsatian sausage which is a raw pork sausage seasoned with coriander. Locals make it in their homes for the Christmas holiday and the whole town gets together in the town square on St. Louis Day in August for a grand public sausage making festival. Dziuk's Meat Market right along Highway 90 has a fresh version in their case every day, but none available for on-site consumption.

For a road snack, you can't get much better than Dziuk's chunk style jerky. It looks daunting in the case, but they'll be happy to slice it for you at any thickness you'd prefer. The thick peppery crust wakes the tastebuds early in the morning, and the meat sliced against the grain is as tender as filet mignon. The dried sausage is also a house specialty. It's great, but doesn't hold a candle to the jerky. On the other end of the case in a mound of raw meat that looks something like meat loaf mix, but it goes by the name of parisa.

Parisa is a hyper-regional specialty of cheese, black pepper, onion, jalapeno and freshly ground raw beef. It is eaten raw by itself or on crackers, and is a heck of a lot better than you're thinking right now. The texture is tough to get used to, but is no different than the leap from grilled salmon to sushi. The meat is ground fresh every morning, and it has an obviously short shelf life. Nick and I shared a quarter pound on some crackers and it was gone in a few minutes. I've talked to a native in the area that had a pile of it at her wedding reception to separate the men from the boys. 

I initially thought parisa must have been a traditional Alsatian (or possibly French or German) creation, but I wasn't able to track down any reference to it anywhere by Texas' Medina County. Locals can point to only two remaining meat markets that carry it, one of them being Dziuk's, and a few seem to agree that the dish was born in Medina County. If anyone out there knows of a different origin, I'd love to hear it.

- BBQ Snob

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Watts & Watts Bar-B-Que

SAN AUGUSTINE: Watts & Watts Bar-B-Que
200 N US Highway 96
San Augustine, TX 75972
Open M-Thur 11-9, F-Sat 11-11, Sun 11-6

If a barbecue joint is going to get just one menu item right, it's more common to see a decent rib than worthwhile brisket. At this East Texas joint they found a way to harness the hickory smoke to create some respectable beef, but the pork didn't fare so well.

A single thick slice from the brisket was included on the combo plate. Alone, it probably would have tipped the scales at a quarter pound. Too bad that the point and the flat were sliced together. Since the grain in the two muscles is perpendicular, half of the slice will be cut with the grain instead of against it if they aren't separated. The portion here from the flat was tender and smoky, if a bit dry. The fat was nicely rendered, but the slice through the point took some chewing to get through the grain. A link of boudin was well cooked, but it lacked the good smoke of the beef. Thick pork ribs were poorly undercooked. Layers of tough meat and unrendered fat made for some unpleasant bites, so I just moved on to the potato salad and dirty rice. Both were fine, but the brisket proved most memorable.

Rating **

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bo-Bo's BBQ

US Highway 96 south of 21
San Augustine, TX 75972
Open ?

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

2012: Just south of San Augustine the road rises and atop the hill sits this red trailer. Even on this perch, the dirt driveway had captured plenty of the recent rains and we had to trudge through the mud just to get to the ordering window. The owner obliged with a request for a taste of the three meats and soon we had a plate of ribs, brisket and hot links on the hood of my car.

A dusting of dry rub that was mostly sugar graced the entire plate in Memphis style fashion. The hot links were the same cheap version served just down the road at San Augustine's other barbecue food truck, Cowboy Chuck Wagon (How is it that Dallas doesn't even have one?). Tender brisket was drowning in sauce, but it needed the flavor assistance. A thick spare rib had a heavy rub still clinging to half of it, the rest presumably slipping off. The meat still had some chew to it, but was white from edge to edge. There wasn't really a hint of smoke, and it tasted more like a pork chop than a rib. None of it was worth a wade through the mud.

Rating *

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Outlaw's Bar-B-Que

DAINGERFIELD: Outlaw's Bar-B-Que
1404 Linda Dr.
Daingerfield, TX 75638
Open M-Sat 10:30-8

It was late and we had been suffering through some bad barbecue for most of the day. I'm always willing to try one more, so when the light was on at Outlaw's there was no question we'd be stopping. It was obvious they were ready to start stacking chairs on the tables and get the hell out, but the service was friendly with a helpful attitude. The meat carver pointed to the wood-fired Bewley pit behind him when I inquired about the smoking equipment. I was impressed and soon a plate of fatty brisket and ribs sat in front of me.

A sheen covered the well developed crust on the thick St. Louis ribs. The rub was sweet without being candy-like and a pink hue went deep into the pork signifying a well smoked rib. They were tender and still moist even at this late hour. They were simply great ribs. The soggy brisket needed some work. It was really showing its age (probably coming off the smoker earlier that morning), but it was quite late. The crusty end bits held plenty of concentrated flavor and smoke, but the overdone texture was hard to savor. Still, this was far more preferable to tough dry meat. As we were finishing, one of the guys brought over a plate of turkey saying it was by far his favorite. I was thankful for the gift, but wondered how someone working at a barbecue joint could gush about processed, precooked deli turkey that is just warmed by the smoker. Stick with the ribs here, and maybe even the brisket if you get there closer to lunch.

Rating ***

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Cowboy Chuck Wagon BBQ

SAN AUGUSTINE: Cowboy Chuck Wagon BBQ
NE Corner of 96 and 21
San Augustine, TX 75972
No Phone
Open ?

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

2012: Food trucks are all the rage these days, and I usually have high hopes for roadside barbecue stands. Standing in a damp parking area on the corner of two state highways in San Augustine, I was wishing for the best. There hadn't been much in this part of East Texas to get excited about, but Cowboy Chuck Wagon looked like it might ease my pain. Not so much.

Luckily there was a decent link of steamed boudin (there wasn't a hint of smoke) and a nice mashed potato salad, because the rest was pretty awful. Chewy strips of undercooked beef may not have even been brisket. Several slices of bright red hot links again had no smoke and the muddy flavor of the gamey filling made us all stop eating after just a slice. This food truck needs some work.

Rating *

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bar H Country Store

FANNETT: Bar H Country Store
Interstate 10 at Hwy 365
Fannett, Texas 77705
Open Daily 6am-10pm

It was pouring down rain and we were on our way to the coast. A bevy of seafood awaited, but we'd heard some promising things about this joint in the middle of our morning route from Port Arthur to Bolivar Peninsula. The interior had most of the product shelves removed that you'd expect to see inside a convenience store to make way for a dining area. Orders are given at the cashier's counter, but the meat is carved and plated in the back.

When the plate arrived it was nice to see that my request for no sauce was honored until I noticed they had pooled it on the bottom of the plate. I was able to save a rib and a slice of pork from the sauce, but all of the lean slices of brisket had been dunked. Those slices were thin and dry with no fat and little crust. Smoke flavor was hard to detect making it little more than roast beef. Ribs were better with a hefty rub and some decent smoke. The meat was tender and moist and the best meat on the plate. Dried out slices of pork had a washed out flavor and not much going for it. I was excited for the dirty rice on the side, but it was the spicy beans that were more memorable. Not a whole lot else was.

Rating **

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Mr. Will's Restaurant

NACOGDOCHES: Mr. Will's Restaurant 
3406 Center Hwy 
Nacogdoches, TX 75961 
Open M-F 10-8, Sat 8-8, Sun 8-3

Maybe the addition of the fresh baked biscuit in the container of barbecue was because we were visiting in the in-between meal hour of 10:00am, or maybe they just felt bad for the inattentive service. I walked around the front counter whistling and stomping as loud as I could while peeking into the kitchen doors hoping for someone to catch a glimpse of a potential customer. A full ten minutes and time for a bathroom break elapsed before someone came out to take our order.

We took the combo plate of brisket and ribs to the car trunk where we learned the beauty of a brisket and biscuit sandwich in the morning. Without the help of the buttery bun, the brisket didn't hold up as well. In fact it didn't really hold together at all. It was smoked the day previous, and because of the well rendered fat left on the meat you could still taste that smoke. The meat itself fell into small bits that would have made for fine saucy chopped beef, but weren't great on their own. The day-old ribs didn't fare well either. The meat had decent flavor, but was dried out and still quite chewy with a poorly formed crust from a powdery rub applied too heavily. Both beef and pork may have even been good if fresh, so I'd advise coming later in the day. It may have been a filling breakfast, but that biscuit did most of the work.

Rating **

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Bob's Bar-B-Que

HENDERSON: Bob's Bar-B-Que 
1205 Pope St. 
Henderson, TX 75652 
Open Tues-Sat 11-7 

This joint is a family affair run by the tight-lipped Bob Allen, his wife and son. A steel wood-fired pit was hidden by a fence, and they weren’t willing to give us a tour. Bob assured us that “there’s no gas up on this hill.” It’s all hickory that runs these pits. I took my order to the far end of the dining room to see just what these mystery pits might produce.

Ribs were thin and on the dry side, but not too much so. The subtle seasoning did little to hide the smoky flavor of the tender meat. The hot boudain lived up to its name with plenty of spice and good snappy casing. The last cut I tried was the brisket. It was sad uniform rectangles of gray beef with all of the fat and crust cut away. When I bit into it I was surprised by the moist meat and the hint of smoke that remained. Maybe they were holding out on me. I walked back to the counter and asked for some dark and crusty end cuts. They were happy to oblige and what I got was much improved. The fat had melted into the subtle salt rub like meat candy, and the deep black crust was smoky and crackled a bit in my teeth. I had to ask Bob why he wasn't serving this stuff to begin with, and he said the customers expect ultra-lean beef, so he gives it to him. The difference between these two briskets was incredible, and I was sad to know that the majority of people prefer the first version. Now that I knew how to order the brisket here, I grabbed a couple of pounds to go. Some friends in Nacogdoches were going to be very happy.

Rating ***

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Wagon Wheel Smokehouse

EAGLE PASS: Wagon Wheel Smokehouse
3283 Del Rio Blvd.
Eagle Pass, TX 78852

Sitting right on the Texas/Mexico border about and hour south of Del Rio is the small town of Eagle Pass. There isn't another major stop along the border until Laredo a couple more hours to the southeast. If we were going to get a decent lunch, it was going to have to be here in Eagle Pass. A promising sight on the north side of town was a tall sign advertising the Wagon Wheel Smokehouse and an impressive mobile smoker out front. When we got out of the car there wasn't a wisp of smoke in the air and the smoker was cold.

Despite the three different "open" signs, there wasn't anyone at the ordering window outside. We strolled inside to the empty restaurant lined with mounted animal heads and dollar bills stapled to the plywood walls. A man standing near the abandoned register was waiting around for someone to come pay the beer delivery bill. I stood by the counter trying to make enough noise to stir up some service. In a few minutes a lady came from the back looking flustereded that someone was there so early (11:30) looking for barbecue, which wasn't that surprising since the joint looked like most of its action happened around midnight at the bar. She quickly took our order and went back into the kitchen for a painfully long time. Through the thin metal doors of the kitchen I could hear the hum of an electric knife and the sound of the microwave door opening and closing several times. When she finally brought out the order, it was missing the ribs. At this point the owner arrived through the front door, completed our order, and paid the beer man.

On a picnic table outside we opened  a container of tepid and bone-dry brisket. Any of its other attributes were lost in the cotton-mouth it provided. It was awful.

Just one bite of the ribs showed that they had gotten the full blast of the microwave. They were searingly hot, and there wasn't much to taste beyond the sauce covering the meat. I was hoping the beans flecked with onions, tomato and cilantro would at least provide a little filler for my now hungry stomach, but they were ice cold, straight from the fridge.

Rating: No Stars

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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.