Friday, September 26, 2014

Opie's BBQ - Spicewood

It may surprise some to hear that Opie’s BBQ has appeared on Texas Monthly’s Top 50 List twice (2008, 2013).  Perhaps because of their location in Spicewood, just outside the traditional Texas BBQ footprint, Opie’s does not seem to garner the statewide name recognition or respect that a two-time Top 50 joint should have.  Even so, it is evident that Opie’s has won the hearts of those that travel down this stretch of Highway 71 as the joint was packed during my Wednesday lunchtime visit.

THE MEATS

Opie’s offers a bridge from Central Texas BBQ to West Texas BBQ.  Typical of West Texas joints, the wood of choice at Opie’s is mesquite and the spread of meats are presented on a large warming pit.  Despite the presence of the direct heat pit, these meats are smoked indirectly in the Central Texas style.  The briskets specifically are smoked overnight in a couple of Oyler smokers.  I enjoy the presentation that warming pits provide and at Opie’s, that is your first stop.  I made my selection of brisket, pork spare ribs and regular sausage from the pit then settled in for lunch.

The spread of meats in Opie's pit

Opie's BBQ: Brisket, Pork Ribs, Sausage

My moist cut of brisket benefitted from a decent amount of smoke.  The lightly seasoned crust revealed a prevailing flavor of mesquite smokiness.  The tender meat had great moisture throughout.  This is a good brisket but not quite great.

The thin spare ribs featured a coarse, flavorful crust highlighted by black pepper.  The meat itself held tons of smoke and each juicy bite carried plenty of moisture.  The meat pulled easily from the bone.

The house link of sausage carried a ton of pepper with a good bit of spice.  There was a nice snap to the casing.  It was a pretty typical but very enjoyable link.
  
I was very tempted to order a half rack of the Sweet and Spicy Baby Back Ribs but my plate was already full.  The sticky looking ribs were very attractive but they would have to wait for another visit.  The chicken, pork chops and pork loin were the other meats on the menu absent from my plate.  Opie's also offers pulled pork Friday through Sunday.

THE REST

In addition to the meats, Opie’s features plenty of popular side dishes including spicy corn and the always free Pinto Beans.  The desserts, including multiple cobblers and a “Coca Cola Cake” are also wildly popular.

Scattered tables fill the open dining area.  It is large enough to accommodate a crowd, which is appropriate because they seem to draw quite a crowd.  At the center of the dining area is the self-serve bar with the standard dressing of pickles, onions, jalapenos, sauce and bread along with those free pinto beans.  The sauce is a thin and tangy concoction with a little heat on the back end.

Opie’s has posted closing times but that does not mean that they’ll have their full menu available until closing and it is quite possible they sell out completely before close.  A couple of months ago, I took a gamble and swung by Opie’s at 7:00PM to see what would be available.  Proprietor Todd Ashmore met me in the parking lot to break the news that they had sold out earlier and were closed for the day.

Opie's BBQ in Spicewood, Texas

THE VERDICT

It is evident that those at Opie’s take great pride in their product.  The staff patrols the dining area to ensure that you are satisfied.  I was certainly satisfied on this visit.  Opie’s is serving some solid BBQ across the board.

The brisket is probably the high point and while the pork ribs that I tried were good, I coveted those baby backs.  There is plenty of reason to return to Opie’s, but the possibility of sampling the Sweet and Spicy Baby Back Ribs is at the top of my list.



Address: 9504 Texas 71, Spicewood, TX 78669
Phone: 830-693-8660
Hours: Monday – Tuesday: 11AM – 4PM; Wednesday Thursday: 11AM 7PM; Friday – Saturday: 11AM – 8PM; Sunday: 11AM 7PM

Saturday, September 20, 2014

On The Side: 2014 TMBBQ Fest

On Sunday, Texas Monthly held their 5th annual TMBBQ Fest.  There were 25 top BBQ Joints in attendance from all over this great state.  It was truly a Who’s Who of Pitmasters.

VIP Ticketholders gain admission an hour early to the festival.  This is called the “Golden Hour,” a time in which you are blessed with shorter lines, more talkative pitmasters and plenty of room to move around.  The VIP Ticket is worth the price just for this early entry.  The advised strategy for the Golden Hour is to maximize your stops by hitting as many places as you can without waiting in line.  This battle plan is definitely effective.  I prioritized the list of vendors in attendance and allowed plenty of wiggle room in my day (conversely my pants did not have much wiggle room at the end of the day).

A view of the lower level of TMBBQ Fest 2014
A view of the lower level, featuring 8 of the joints.  The area filled up once General Admission was allowed in.
I had previously visited 23 of the 25 joints in attendance so this event was like a meat mixtape.  I was familiar with the other two, The Granary and Buzzie’s, but had not had the chance to visit their locations.  I prioritized them high on my list and was excited to try them. 

At the bottom of my prioritized list was Snow’s.  Snow’s is one of my favorites but I am basically a regular there, I know exactly what to expect and honestly, I will probably be eating there again within the next few weeks.  I also expected them to have one of the longest lines at the festival and I was spot on.

The longest line of the festival was no surprise: Franklin BBQ.  It was evident that a lot of thought went into positioning the vendors to maximize space and traffic flow.  Wisely, Franklin was positioned to allow a lengthy queue to form without blocking entry to any other festival booths.  A line formed immediately at Franklin and lengthened through the day.  Impressively, Aaron was still reportedly cutting meat when the festival ended at 4PM.

Aaron Franklin cutting meat at TMBBQ Fest
Aaron Franklin was still cutting past closing time
John Lewis of La BBQ at TMBBQ Fest
John Lewis of LA BBQ stayed busy throughout the day
The booths that drew the longest of lines were (in descending order): Franklin, Snow’s, LA BBQ, Black’s and Louie Mueller.  I was surprised that Pecan Lodge and Killen’s did not have consistently longer lines.

We succeeded in hitting 22 joints in the first hour.  We managed to get to Louie Mueller early, before the line exploded, and skipped all of the other lengthy waits before finally circling back around to Franklin to cap off our day just before the first hour expired.  The wait for Franklin was about 20 minutes, but that was much shorter than it would be once General Admission was allowed in.  And even the General Admission wait was a better deal than you’d get on any given day at Franklin BBQ. 

Two Bros and Lambert's at TMBBQ Fest
The festival was laid out well, allowing lines to form without blocking other vendors
 Though we strategically missed 3 of my favorites in Snow’s, LA BBQ and Black’s, I counted it as a successful day.  Honestly, we could have invested the last 3 hours and definitely finished the list off, but by that time we were miserably full of meat.  If it was a struggle to eat Franklin’s brisket, nothing else stood a chance.

At most stops, you were given the standard Texas Trinity with a healthy cut of brisket, a selection of sausage and a pork rib.  There were stops that piled up the brisket with cuts from both the point and the flat and those that offered entire sausage links. 

Miller's Smokehouse at TMBBQ Fest
Miller's Smokehouse had some of the finest brisket of the day
Hutchins BBQ at TMBBQ Fest
A trio of quality meats offered by Hutchins BBQ 

Franklin BBQ at TMBBQ Fest
Franklin BBQ's spread included brisket, pulled pork and turkey
There was also a variety of other featured meats at certain stops, including pulled pork, turkey, and beef ribs.  Some of the more unique items being distributed were Smoked Pork Belly from The Granary and “Lamb Lollipops” from Louie Mueller.

Louie Mueller's offerings at 2014 TMBBQ Fest
Louie Mueller had Lamb Lollipops alongside their other meats.
Meats and Corn Pudding from Stiles Switch
Stiles Switch brought along some of their fantastic corn pudding
I say all of that to convey the point that there was A LOT OF MEAT.  I made the mistake early of trying to eat everything that was handed to me at each of the stations we visited.  You are not going to be able to keep up that pace and visit many spots.  After learning that lesson, I began splitting food at each stop with my fellow adventurers.  By the end of the day, I was still miserably stuffed but I made it to all of the spots I had wanted to visit.

Tyler's BBQ at TMBBQ Fest
The entire state was represented as joints like Tyler's and Pody's travelled from afar
 The most genius thing I observed (and filed away for future reference) were people that had trays ranging from large Tupperware lids to pizza boxes.  They collected each meat, labelled the joint it came from and had space for notes on the container.  After a wave of stops, they could return to a table to enjoy their spoils and discuss the selection of meats.

Overall, the joints met expectations with very few surprises.  The only wildcards were the two joints I had not had the pleasure of visiting “in the wild.”  Both Buzzie’s and The Granary were well respected and had lofty enough quality to be invited to this meat hall of fame, so there was no doubt they would be good.

Buzzie’s was intentionally my first stop of the day.  They offered the standard fare of brisket, sausage and ribs.  Unfortunately the brisket was underdone and was shockingly the only joint I encountered that served their meat smothered in sauce.  This is not a fair venue to rate their meat so Buzzie’s remains at the top of my “To Do” List.

Buzzie's BBQ at TMBBQ Fest
Buzzie's offered two types of sausage along with ribs and brisket.


Admittedly, this festival is not the ideal setting for what The Granary offers.  It’s notable that The Granary brought one of the more unique dishes as they served Smoked Pork Belly with Jicama Slaw.  I’ve had better pork belly at Killen’s, but I have admired The Granary’s menu for a while and look forward to my visit to their location in San Antonio. 

The Granary's booth at TMBBQ Fest
The Granary only offered Cue, no Brew.
There was an immeasurable amount of BBQ knowledge in attendance but the real purpose of the festival is to chow down on the smoked handiwork of these artists.  It is as much of a cultural experience as it is a celebration of gastronomy.

Overall TMBBQ Fest is a great time and should certainly be a Bucket List type of experience for Texans.  For other enthusiasts, it is an annual pilgrimage.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Petty’s BBQ - Killeen

The folks at Petty’s BBQ call themselves “Smoke Masters.”  I was anxious to see what the masters of smoke had to offer me at lunchtime.

THE MEATS

I ordered a three meat plate and made myself at home while the meat was cut and the plate was assembled behind the counter.

A good lookin' three meat plate at Petty's BBQ


The meats were simply seasoned with salt and pepper, with a heavy emphasis on the pepper.  The brisket had plenty of good smoke contributing to a nice flavor but it was very dry.  There was a layer of well rendered fat that tried its best to cling on to the dry meat.  The meat crumbled as I tried to pick the slices up.  This meat had good flavor, but it was just too dry and would not hold together.  I ended up shoveling it in my mouth by the handful.

The ribs were very good.  They too carried plenty of smoke but did not suffer from the dryness of the brisket.  This meat held plenty of moisture and carried a nice tug.  The black pepper played a role alongside the smoke to bring this meat to life.

I selected the spicy variety of sausage and it was just fine.  These were pretty standard links cut methodically on my plate.  The links carried a hint of spice and a nice snap.

THE REST

There was not much to the interior of Petty’s.  There were a handful of tableclothed picnic tables in the narrow dining area.  The atmosphere was set by a noisy episode of "Family Guy" playing on the TV mounted on the wall by the entrance.

Petty’s had an oddly diverse selection of sauces spread about the dining area.  The sauces carried names such as “Mustard”, “Regular”, “Spicy”, “Dr. Pepper” and “Root Beer”.  I sampled a few to satisfy my curiosity and I found them to be very thin and lacking in flavor.

The green beans carried some pleasant spice and were good enough to warrant a mention.  Cornbread is always a nice alternative to white bread at a BBQ Joint.  Unfortunately the flat corn muffin on my plate was disappointing.

THE VERDICT

Today’s ribs were on point and were the absolute highlight of the stop.  I would really like to try the brisket on a better day because it contained the deep smoky quality you want in the meat, but was regrettably dry.  Still, Petty’s is doing some great stuff with their smoke and is a worthy stop as one of the best joints in this area. 



Address: 1104 Kathey Dr, Killeen, TX 76542
Phone: 254-432-7388
Hours: Tuesday – Thursday: 11AM – 8PM; Friday – Saturday: 11AM – 9PM

Friday, September 5, 2014

King's Kitchen - Conroe

I understand that you should certainly manage your expectations when sampling BBQ in certain settings.  You are not going to find A+ meats at the marching band fund raiser in the high school parking lot.  Those are also certainly not going to be the types of places that I am going to review.  
However, like New Zion in Huntsville, West Tabernacle Church operates a full functioning restaurant during the week, and therefore, I am going to treat it as such.

I have driven by this church for years, noticing the attention-grabbing “BBQ” flags flying out front along with the signs advertising lunch.  I have heard good reviews of their catfish (and their unbeatable prices) but I could not find anyone that had ever actually tried the BBQ.  After several years, I finally took it upon myself to sample the 'cue.

THE MEATS

The buffet line inside includes home-cooked entrees along with vegetables.  The BBQ is ordered separately at the counter, then assembled in the kitchen by the busy volunteers.  I ordered the two options they had for BBQ seekers: pork ribs and brisket.

Not for the squeamish: The worst BBQ I have ever encountered.

I received some of the most un-natural looking meats I have ever encountered.  Additionally, these meats were smothered in a thick layer of warmed Kraft Hickory BBQ Sauce.

The undercooked brisket was the worst I have ever seen and it tasted even worse.  This was not just bad according to my lofty Texas BBQ scale, it would be offensive to anyone with tastebuds.  The meat went gray on the edge to pink in the center, signalling that this meat in no way had been prepared properly.  The rubbery meat was cold and dry from sitting on the cutting board.  There obviously was not a lick of smoke on the meat.

The pork ribs were also terrible. Like the brisket, the rib had not encountered any smoke in its lifetime.  The meat itself fell from of the bone as the thin black skin flaked away.  


The meats swam in the Kraft Hickory sauce and oddly, as repulsive as I find that sauce, it was by far the best thing on the plate.  It was obvious that these people thought that covering a meat in sauce made it "barbecue."

THE REST

The dining area is a large room attached to a kitchen overfilled with big, round tables.  The church calls this operation "King's Kitchen."  The buffet is the popular option and is self-serve.  The spread of pork chops, catfish and vegetables looks pretty appetizing and is reminiscent of an old fashioned church lunch.  The diverse selection of local diners all seemed to be enjoying their selections from the buffet much more than I enjoyed my meal.  The prices were hard to beat as well, with each meal totaling about $6.00.
THE VERDICT

Though advertised as barbecue, the meats offered here had no similarity to actual barbecue.  Beyond that fact, this meat was some of the worst food I have ever tasted.  Most of it went in the trash along with the Styrofoam plate it was served on.

Years ago, Franklin BBQ made me re-evaluate my BBQ rating scale.  It set a new standard for how amazingly good Texas BBQ can be.  I am afraid that this meal had the same effect on me, making me realize how nauseatingly bad these cuts of meat could get.

It is important to note that as a church, West Tabernacle does deliver a powerful sermon with their BBQ. This meat alone proves we live in a fallen and sinful world.





Address: 1900 W. FM 2854, Conroe, TX 77304
Phone:  936-441-8688
Hours: Tuesday – Wednesday: 11AM – 3PM; Thursday – Friday: 11AM – 7PM

Monday, September 1, 2014

Schmidt Family Barbecue - Bee Cave

Schmidt Family Barbecue is aptly name as the family involvement is just as notable as the barbecue.  This joint is a collaboration between Kreuz and Smitty's, both from the legendary Lockhart BBQ family.  The intention here is to bring the taste of Lockhart to the west side of Austin.  They have had to make certain concessions for the suburban patrons.  Shoulder Clod is no longer on the menu, Sauce is readily available and they serve up plenty of requested lean cuts of brisket.

THE MEATS

The smell from the parking lot was intoxicating and I was ready to sample all of the meat I could.  I opted for a fatty cut of brisket, the pork ribs, sausage, and a beef rib that is only available on the weekend.

The spread of meats at Schmidt Family Barbecue

The brisket featured a great looking, very well formed crust that carried a simple rub. Each slice featured a nice amount of well rendered fat.  The meat had decent moisture and good flavor, though not as much smoke as I expected.  Each bite had a bit more tug than I would like but this was pretty good brisket.

The pork ribs were simply terrific.  The ribs had a nice bark and the rub held a bit of spiciness.  Each bite featured some spice and I liked that.  The meat held a ton of delicious juiciness.  These ribs had plenty of smoke and were fantastic.  If I had to complain, I would note that the meat held onto the bone a bit too much.  But honestly, I really, really liked these ribs.

The beef rib weighed in at about .75 pound.  Much of the rib was pretty dry, though the well rendered fat did hide some good moist pieces of meat.  The rib had a simple rub but there was just too much salt on this meat.  Each bite was overly salty and that taste overwhelmed most of the other flavor.  Overall this rib was not bad, but was honestly a bit disappointing.

Schmidt features that famous Kreuz sausage so you know exactly what to expect.  The beef links held flecks of pepper inside.  The links were well prepared and had a nice snap.

THE REST

The cold sauce was a concoction of contrasting flavors and was just too busy for my tastebuds to appreciate.  I did not care for the sauce, but these meats are strong enough to stand on their own.

Schmidt carries an expanded menu Friday through Sunday which includes Boneless Prime Rib, Beef Ribs, Bone-In Pork Chop and Smoked Ham.  I opted for the Beef Rib on this trip, but fully intend to try some of the other enticing offerings. Schmidt is also open early serving various breakfast tacos for the morning commute.

Schmidt Family Barbecue sits in a modern building.  It might look out of place in Lockhart but it fits in perfectly in this Bee Cave shopping center.  The Schmidt dining area is large and rather plain.  There is plenty of room to dine in, however they also features a separate entrance for Call In orders.  Both areas were busy during this Sunday visit and Schmidt is certainly moving a lot of product.


Schmidt Barbecue sits in a brand new building

THE VERDICT

Schmidt Family Barbecue is a very good spot for those separated from Lockhart by the Austin sprawl.  Schmidt offers some fantastic pork ribs along with solid brisket and the always ever-pleasing Kreuz links.

Grade: B++


Address: 12532 FM 244
Phone: 512-263-4060
Hours: Sunday: 11AM - 8PM; Monday - Saturday: 11AM - 9PM
http://www.schmidtfamilybarbecue.com/



*All Grades Are Based Solely on the Quality of Texas BBQ Offered at the Joint. We Aren't Looking for Burgers or Catfish!

My Grading Scale:


A = This is some of the finest BBQ you'll find anywhere. It is worth a roadtrip in itself along with any required wait.
B = This is very good BBQ, even if it is over an hour away, consider making the drive.
C = This is just average BBQ but it's worth a stop in a pinch.
D = This is a poor example of Texas BBQ. Even if it's the only place around, skip it. Apologize to any non-Texans that have eaten here.
F = This is not only a bad Texas BBQ, it is probably not suitable for human consumption.

 
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