Monday, November 16, 2015

On The Side: 2015 Houston BBQ Throwdown

The first annual Houston BBQ Throwdown went down last Sunday at St. Arnold’s brewery.  The challenge to local pitmasters was to fuse the flavors of Houston with the tradition of Texas Barbecue, all in one bite.  Fourteen area pitmasters took the challenge and showed up to a sold out crowd on Sunday.

This was a different take on the traditional Barbecue Festival and was a departure that I wholeheartedly welcomed.  It is quite possible to get brisket fatigue at most barbecue events.  But at the Throwdown, there were spreads of dishes that deviated from the norm in every direction.  Each dish was exciting and different.  And most impressively, there were absolutely no duds at the event.

The BBQ Throwdown was framed as a competition with awards going to the People’s Choice and to the Judge’s Choice as selected by a lineup of all-star judges (Alison Cook, Patricia Sharpe, Wayne Mueller, Greg Gatlin, and Robert J. Lerma).  Winners were named, but in all honesty, there were no losers.

Houston-area pimasters in general seem open to experimenting with their proteins.  This kind of event was perfect in capturing the cultures of Houston along with the playful nature of our barbecue proprietors.  Fusing Texas barbecue with flavors of other cultures is exactly what garnered acclaim for Blood Bros. BBQ pop-up events.  We have seen that Pappa Charlies’ Wesley Jurena isn’t afraid of melding flavors in unique ways as evidenced by a masala rubbed brisket he debuted on my recent visit.  This event also introduced me to Chopped N Smoked and their team that brought Lebanese flavors to Texas Barbecue, something I had never encountered.

There were also the more obvious, but entirely appropriate booths that drew from a Mexican influence with tamales and tacos and those that brought some Texas soul food.  The Brisket House made the Texas State Dish even more Texas-ier with a Beef Rib and Brisket chili.

The pitmasters needed little prompting to take the concept of the Throwdown and run with it, but an award, prestige and cooler full of briskets provided a little extra motivation.

A stipulation of the contest was that entries be something that they could feasibly put on the menu of their business.  So there is some hope that these dishes wind up as a daily special at a few of these joints.  And some of the entries, like BBQ Godfather’s godfather sandwich and Feges’ pig wings, already appear on the menu from time to time.


As for the flavors, here is the list of attendees and their dishes (alphabetically):

Blood Bros. BBQ – Pork Belly and Pig Ears on a Roti
The abundance of flavors worked well together on this bite. The flavors were unique as was the variety of textures from the crispy pig ear and soft pork belly
   
BBQ Godfather – The Godfather Sandwich
This sandwich featured Smoked Beef Rib with Candied Pork Belly and Sauteed Mushrooms.  It was the most “gourmet” item on the menu as the preparation went well beyond the smoking. Smoke, earthiness, sweetness and a garlic herb-iness provided a symphony of flavor on a picturesque bite.

Brooks' Place – Smoked Oxtails and Cabbage - Judge's Winner
The cabbage was well prepared, but the oxtails were clearly the focus of this Southern dish.  I’d never encountered oxtail like that. The perfectly tender meat sat on a bone that dripped with perfectly rendered fat.

Chopped N Smoked BBQ – Brisket Kibbeh
These guys were an unknown to me and served a dish unfamiliar to me.  I love trying new dishes and meeting new people, so this was the best of both worlds.  This Lebanese meatball came with a sauce that was completely different than you would expect at a barbecue competition and it absolutely worked.

Corkscrew BBQ – Prime Brisket Taco with Texas Caviar and Green Chili Ranch – People’s Choice Winner
If Corkscrew is serving brisket tacos, count me in.  Their exemplary brisket was topped with Texas Caviar, a mixture of corn, peas, tomato, onions and cilantro, then dressed with a jalapeño ranch sauce.  What’s not to like?

Feges BBQ – Smoked “Pig Wings” – My (Other) Favorite
This pork shank was meaty and well smoked. A healthy dose of black pepper combined with a delicious jalapeño mustard glaze to provide huge flavor with a nice bite.  It was near perfection for Feges.

Jackson Street BBQ – Cheddar Kolache (Klobasniky) with Smoked Brisket
As a nod to my Czech roots, I refuse to refer to a meat pastry as a “kolach,” but I will by all means partake in eating them.  This buttery and cheesy bread held a great bite of brisket.

Pappa Charlies Barbecue – Masala Rubbed Short Rib Burnt End with Cider Sriracha Slaw served on a Ritz
A very good burnt end benefited even more from the intriguing flavor of masala. He crowned the bite with some sriracha slaw, giving us two good bites in one.

Pit Room – Smoked Brisket Tamalito – My Favorite
Along with being my favorite item of the day, John Avila served up one of the best presented dishes at the event.  The smokiness of the meat permeated through the masa in this slice of tamal.  It sat in a house roasted chile colorado sauce that beats most I’ve had in authentic Mexican restaurants.  It was topped with fresh crema and burnt end bits and specs of habanero and salsa verde. This was a wealth of flavors all in one bite.

Pizzitola’s Barbecue – Brisket “Burnt Ends" Tamale in a Hickory Smoked Masa with Pork Sparerib Spiked Queso
Pizzitola’s was handing out whole tamales which I appreciated. I also loved the concept of smoked masa though it didn’t hold together as well as you would hope.  The sparerib spiked queso was an absolute winner as well.

Ray’s BBQ Shack – Smoked Oxtails
Ray’s was the 2nd booth offering up oxtails.  These were a little less smoky and a bit more sweet than Brooks’ offering but provided another nice take on the classic dish.

Roegel’s Barbecue – Smoked Lamb and Collard Greens
The smoked lamb was a generous portion and was lightly seasoned, allowing the natural flavors to shine through.  Lamb is a protein that not a lot of pitmasters try their hand at, but I wish they would.  Results like this are delectable.

The Brisket House – Beef Rib and Brisket Chili
Chili was one of the dishes I was looking for.  It begged to be featured at this event and The Brisket House did the Texas classic justice by injecting beef rib and brisket into a chunky chili base.

Tin Roof BBQ – Brisket Stuffed Shrimp Brochette and Dirty Rice with Beef Rib
This was a perfect concept for the Throwdown. This dish naturally combined jalapeño, cheese, brisket and shrimp into a perfect portion and had people raving.


Overall, I was very pleased with the event and the selected winners.  I wavered between about six places before performing my civic duty and casting a vote for the people’s choice award.  I was very pleased to see Brooks’ Place and Corkscrew take home the hardware.  They are two of the best places in the Houston area and served two of the best bites today.  I am glad their hard work continues to pay off.

As I mentioned before, there was not a bad bite at the event and I was satisfied by the end of the day.  This was a nicer feeling than the gluttonous misery that follows most BBQ Festivals.  The plates were well portioned and the manageable attendance allowed for quick queues.  This was not the kind of event where you spend most of your time waiting in line.  Instead, I had plenty of time to focus on the meat and leisurely talk to other attendees.  The people to food ratio was spot on.

St. Arnold provided a great backdrop for the day as a Houston institution in its own rite.  St. Arnold also provided free drinks for all of the attendees.  By all accounts, this will be an event that happens again (and again).  It will be interesting to see if St. Arnold is the permanent home or if it will make stops at other Houston institutions/breweries.

The Houston BBQ Throwdown reinforced the fact that Houston’s barbecue scene is here and demands to be respected.  There is no stopping the growth of Houston-area barbecue as it weaves into the culture that makes the Bayou City a diverse and unique city.


Houston BBQ Throwdown 2015
Lines moved quickly and efficiently through the event.
Pizzitola's tamales at Houston BBQ Throwdown 2015
Pizzitola's was handing out whole tamales to attendees
A spread of selections from Houston BBQ Throwdown 2015
Clockwise from top left: Brooks Place, Jackson Street, Pizzitola's, Feges, Brisket House, Roegel's
Pit Room at Houston BBQ Throwdown 2015
Pit Room offered up delicious flavors as well as a picturesque presentation
Beautiful food from Houston BBQ Throwdown 2015
The food at the Throwdown was a delight to all senses
BBQ Godfather's booth at Houston BBQ Throwdown 2015
BBQ Godfather served up their Godfather sandwich
Houston BBQ Throwdown 2015
Houston BBQ Throwdown was all you can eat and drink thanks to St. Arnold
Houston BBQ Throwdown 2015
Clockwise from top left: Chopped N Smoked; Pit Room; Pappa Charlies; BBQ Godfather
Ray's BBQ Shack at Houston BBQ Throwdown 2015
Ray's BBQ Shack serving up smoked oxtails
Corkscrew BBQ at Houston BBQ Throwdown 2015
The Corkscrew Crew preparing their popular brisket tacos.
Houston BBQ Throwdown 2015
Clockwise from top left: Blood Bros; Ray's BBQ Shack; Corkscrew
Saint Arnold was the backdrop for Houston BBQ Throwdown 2015
Saint Arnold provided the backdrop for the Houston BBQ Throwdown
Corkscrew BBQ won the People's Choice award for Houston BBQ Throwdown 2015
The Buckmans of Corkscrew BBQ celebrate their People's Choice award
Brooks Place was the judge's winner of Houston BBQ Throwdown 2015
Trent Brooks was awarded the Judge's Choice for the best bite of the day

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Snow's BBQ - Lexington

For many, College Football season brings with it “Tailgating Season.”  Snow’s Barbecue has become another popular Saturday tradition for folks in this region of Texas.  And with its 8:00AM opening and proximity to Austin, College Station, Houston and Waco, a visit to Snow’s is doable even before an early 11AM kickoff.  Year round, you will see lines of barbecue enthusiasts at Snow’s, but this time of the year, these fans are adorned in school colors.     

Snow’s has only been in business since 2003, but has become so ingrained in the Texas barbecue culture that it seems like it has been around forever.  Miss Tootsie Tomanetz has become a celebrity pitmaster and is as recognizable in this male-driven industry as Aaron Franklin and Roy Perez.  She turned 80 in April and brings nearly 50 years of experience to the pits of Snow’s Barbecue. Miss Tootsie is as experienced in breaking down a beef carcass as she is in smoking a perfect brisket.  She and owner/fellow pitmaster Kerry Bexley are responsible for the tremendous meats at Snow’s but the surge in popularity is easily traced to the 2008 Texas Monthly nod to Snow’s as the best barbecue in the state.

Snow’s is cooking more meat than they were prior to that article, but even at the height of their popularity, they have never strayed from their signature once-a-week business hours - they open at 8AM on Saturdays and sell until they run out of meat – and that is part of their charm.

Charm is something that Snow’s is not short on.  If you have been to Snow’s before, each return trip feels like a homecoming.  You see the friendly, familiar faces cutting meat inside and manning the pits outside.  Local churches might be selling raffle tickets at a table outside.  Snow’s is the pride of Lexington and everything about Snow’s is local.  Well, except for the crowds they draw.

I typically time my arrival for about 7:45AM which might not put me at the front of the line, but ensures I will be in the door fairly soon. People usually do not camp out at Snow’s because, come on, 8AM is early enough.  While you observe the busyness of the staff preparing to open, you will also hear the Saturday morning cattle auction down the street.  The lowing of cattle provides an interesting soundtrack for your barbecue pilgrimage.  You can, of course, come later in the morning, but be aware that the ribs are usually the first to go and sometimes disappear before 10:00AM.
THE MEATS

Once you are inside Snow’s, you will order by the pound.  There aren't "meal deals" here, folks.  If you aren’t adept at ordering by weight, just tell them how many slices you want and the staff will work with you.  All meats are cut with an electric knife, which is rare in a joint this revered, but it’s done well and ensures the brisket holds together when plated.  This weekend, as usual, our order included several pounds of select brisket, pork ribs, sausage and pork steak.


My choice of meats sat on the tray picturesquely.  This was a beautiful rainbow of brown and pink hues.

A spread of Snow's finest meats

The brisket is Snow’s most famous meat and in my opinion, they do the sacred cut as well as anyone in the state.  Today was no exception.  The slices each display a thin, uniform crust.  The fattier slices are well-rendered and juicy and the lean cuts carry a sliver of moist fat themselves.  The slices are soft and fragile and the bites almost dissolve in your mouth, bringing smoke and meat together in perfect harmony.  It is just after 8AM in Lexington, Texas and I have some of the best bites of anything that can be found anywhere.  Much has been made about the price of the brisket as well.  The meat is $14.95/pound which is an absolute value when compared to prices around the state, especially the joints in this echelon.

The pork ribs are the one item at Snow’s that seem to waiver in quality.  Even on their worse days, the ribs aren’t bad. But when they hit on a good day, the ribs are truly elite.  It’s interesting that even on a single visit, you can find ribs at these two extremes.  Today was a good example of this phenomenon.  The first rack of ribs I tasted were a bit dry and the crust, though gorgeous, was tough.  They still had a good flavor with notes of black pepper on the crust and a noticeable saltiness, but the texture hindered the meat.  Pulling from another rack, we were treated with meaty and juicy ribs that epitomize the Central Texas pork rib.

A pile of Snow's pork ribs.

There are two types of sausage available at Snow’s: regular and jalapeño.  Both are a beef/pork mix and are produced locally for Snow’s.  The jalapeño version gets the slight edge in my opinion.  The jalapeño is evident without providing too much heat.  Both sausage styles feature a course grind housed in a thin, but snappy skin. Today’s well prepared link had some nice, smokey evidence of its time on the pit.

The pork steaks are another of Snow’s specialties.  These steaks are simple but delicious. They feature the same type of thin, brown crust as the brisket and are cut into similarly thick slices.  This pork is obviously more firm than the other cuts of meat.  With well rendered fat throughout the slices, the pork still has some nice juiciness along with the simple flavors of smoke, salt and pepper.  These are satisfying cuts of meat that can make up a meal on their own.

Chicken is on the menu at Snow’s and is a solid rendition of the meat.  However, it gets overshadowed by the heights of the other meats and did not find its way onto my tray this week.

THE REST

Snow’s now has two varieties of sauce but both are wholly unnecessary. The standard sauce is a bit sweet with a citrusy tang.  It’s a good sauce and not overwhelming in flavor, but save it for the bread.  The spicy version adds quite a bit of heat to their traditional sauce palate.

Snow’s has sides available for purchase, including potato salad and cole slaw, but I don’t believe I have ever even thought about ordering them.  However, I do regularly sample the beans for one big reason: they’re free.  Snow’s beans sit in a crockpot waiting for patrons to serve themselves.  They are good beans and are an option if you’re looking for even more protein.

The outdoor dining area with a view of the pits.

I described Snow’s setting as charming and homey and it certainly is.  There’s no pretense at all with Snow’s and all of the ambiance is genuine.  Picnic tables are available inside and outside, typically filled with the large groups that are enjoying their meat breakfast.  Sitting outside, you will sacrifice the A/C but have a comfortable spot to enjoy the dance of the pitmasters as meat is pulled or moved from the pits.  The staff is happy to show you the pits and take photos. Kerry makes a point of visiting tables inside and out and always provides good conversation.

Miss Tootsie monitors the sausage on the direct heat pit.

It is also of note that while Snow’s is only open on Saturday’s, they are at work earlier in the week shipping orders placed through their online store.  So even if a trip to Lexington isn’t in the cards for you, you can still have Snow’s meats delivered directly to your door.

The brisket at Snow's is smoked in an offset smoker.


THE VERDICT

With each visit, Snow’s manages to meet the hype and high expectations that they have been earned.  This meat is absolutely worth the trip to Lexington.  It is even worth the waking up early on Saturday.  There is no place better than this iconic setting for meeting some buddies for a Saturday meat-lover’s breakfast.  Enjoy the full spread of meats but be aware that you can never order too much of their brisket.  And believe me, after you make that first trip, you will look forward to returning again soon.



Address: 516 Main Street, Lexington , TX 78947
Phone: 979-773-4640
Hours: Saturdays Only - 8:00AM - Sold Out
http://www.snowsbbq.com/index.html

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hoegemeyer's Barbeque Barn - Corpus Christi

Hoegemeyer’s BBQ Barn (pronounced “Hay-guh-my-er”) opened in 2013 and landed on my radar immediately.  Since they are only open to the public on weekdays, it takes a bit of planning to schedule my visits to Hoegemeyer’s.  The hours are not ideal for out-of-towners and the location can also be a bit of an inconvenience (if you aren’t familiar with the area, have Google Maps handy).  But if you can manage a trip, you will be rewarded with what some say is the best barbecue in the Coastal Bend.

THE MEATS

Hoegemeyer’s serves a variety of meats with a menu featuring brisket, pork spare ribs, baby backs, pulled pork, sausage and chicken.  Beef ribs are the latest addition to the menu and along with chicken, are the only items I have not had the opportunity to sample.

A spread of Hoegemeyer's meats

Hoegemeyer's has a "Brisket 101" sign near the service counter to tutor newcomers on how to identify the specific cut of brisket they want. No matter the choice, the brisket is served in hefty slices.  The heavy pepper rub makes a nice crust on the cuts of beef.  The meat itself is typically rather soft and the fatty slices tend to fall to pieces.  The brisket is tasty with moist, well-rendered fat, but the mesquite smoke is somewhat subdued on the meat.

The two styles of pork ribs are very close in quality and my favorite of the two seems to change with each visit.  The spare ribs are meaty and feature a simple rub contrasting the tangy glaze of the baby backs.  My complaint from earlier visits was that the sauce overwhelmed the flavor of the baby backs, but the amount of sauce was reigned in on my latest visit, offering a better balance of flavor.  Like the brisket, neither of the rib styles feature a tremendous amount of smoke.  The texture of both options is pretty spot on, a bit firm to hold to the bone and provide a nice chew, but not tough or the least bit dry.  On any given day, either style could be called the best pork ribs in Corpus Christi.

The sausage is a typical, but good link from V&V.  The all-beef sausage is a dense, peppery standard in the area.  It’s consistent and well prepared at Hoegemeyer’s.

The pulled pork is a simple menu option.  The pork looks almost orange from the sauce it’s sopped in, but it still features a very straight-forward flavor.  The tanginess of the sauce does not stand out, but is there to provide plenty of moisture in the pork.  There is nothing to dislike about this offering.

THE REST

The house sauce is thin in consistency and mild in flavor with just a bit of sweetness, tang and spice.  The sauce does not make much of an impact on the meat, but thankfully, the meat doesn’t need it.

When you order one of Hoegemeyer’s plates, you are offered accompaniments from a selection of all-you-can-eat sides.  The sides are typical with choices like pinto beans, green beans, corn and cole slaw.  All of the selections I’ve sampled are pretty traditional but my favorite is the baked potato salad which is a bit chunkier than your typical potato salad with a bold sour cream flavor.

The only item that stands out as much as the meat is the delicious peach cobbler.  If you have read my previous entries, you may have gathered that I am perfectly happy taking another helping of meat in lieu of dessert.  However, this cobbler begs to be ordered.  It is bready and buttery and the flavors melt together in the warm dish of happiness.  It’s like cake and cobbler produced a delicious love child.

Hoegemeyer's Barbeque Barn is actually an old train station barn.

Hoegemeyer’s Barbecue Barn is actually an old train station barn.  The interior feels like a Texas dance hall.  The large space features a mixture of booths, tables and high tops.  There is also a bar area in the back of the building, opposite the ordering line.  The decoration is knickknacks of “Texas Americana” and the ambiance is completed with a lively selection of music and lights strung across the ceiling.  Hoegemeyer’s is a big enough venue to host large parties and they do exactly that during the hours in which they are closed to the public.  On nights and weekends, they offer the venue free of charge if you have them cater your party.  It is one of the best deals you can ever find.

The interior of Hoegemeyer's reminds me of a Texas dance hall

THE VERDICT

Hoegemeyer’s has brought some life to Corpus Christi’s rather dismal barbecue scene.  They have set the area standard with their meats, especially with their standout pork ribs.  With lovingly prepared sides and superlative cobbler for dessert, Hoegemeyer’s has put together a well-rounded meal for visitors. If you are in the area and can make it over for lunch, Hoegemeyer’s is a must visit. For everyone else, well, we can always wish for them to extend hours through Saturday.



Address: 711 Concrete St., Corpus Christi, Texas 78401
Phone: 361-884-4227
Hours: Monday - Friday: 11AM - 3PM
http://hoegemeyers.com

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Heim Barbecue - Fort Worth


This Review Is For Their Previous Location. Heim has now moved into their Brick & Mortar Location on Magnolia.

There was a time in their infancy that eating at places like Pecan Lodge and even Franklin BBQ, did not require a significant time investment.  They drew buzz from the locals in those early days but the crowds did not explode until the mainstream media picked up on it and drew hordes of outsiders in.  For a while, these places were delightful neighborhood secrets.  But secrets this juicy will always get out.

Heim Barbecue opened at the end of February and they already have the community buzzing.  Their lines have steadily grown each week since setting their trailer up outside of Republic Street Bar.  I think Heim could very well be reaching their tipping point and when that publicity bubble pops, you can expect that line to grow exponentially.

Travis and Emma Heim own and operate the Heim Barbecue trailer.  Currently they offer service just twice a week, opening for lunch on Saturday at 11:00AM and serving dinner Wednesday nights starting at 5:00PM.  I managed to make a visit for both sessions this week.  (Note: Their hours have now changed to a more traditional schedule of Friday-Sunday; 11:00AM - 3:00PM)

I arrived last Saturday morning at 10:15, which I thought would be unnecessarily early for the 11:00AM opening, but I was admittedly excited about this visit.  Our early arrival had us sixth in line and we were soon surrounded by locals who have made visits to Heim their Saturday tradition.  I was told by multiple people that the line, which stretched to 30 people at opening, was the longest they’d seen yet.  They were more proud than annoyed by the growing lines and I was encouraged to write a Yelp review for the local business because “it’s shameful that they’re listed as the seventh best BBQ place in Fort Worth”.  After taking a second visit to confirm, I can agree wholeheartedly.  So let me let you in on their secret.

THE MEATS

I made my selections from the menu, which was hand-written on butcher paper and taped to the side of the trailer.  I loaded up with brisket, baby back ribs, pulled pork, sausage and Heim’s signature item: bacon burnt ends.  The Heims use the central Texas standard of post oak on all of their meats.  You are not going to find that type of wood in the area so they have to source their wood from a few hours away.
 
A collection of meats from Heim Barbecue in Fort Worth

My order of brisket included lean and moist cuts and both were picturesque.  The deep hued smoke ring was thick underneath the hefty black bark. A thin layer of perfectly rendered fat flanked the bottom of the lean slices.  The slices were just a bit thicker than a width of a pencil and held together well in hand.  The meat then yielded entirely to my teeth upon first bite.  And what a bite that was.  Flavor from the hefty oak smoke melted into the heavy black pepper seasoning resulting in meaty bliss.  The fat was buttery and rich and just further elevated the meat.  The brisket in its flavor and texture drew as near to perfection as almost any I have found in this quest for the perfect meat.

The bacon burnt ends are more than just a novelty on the menu. These cubed bites of pork belly are cured before they are smoked, resulting in some great, easy-to-eat hors d’oeuvres. The cubes are firm on the outside but provide a nice, meaty chew. The flavor is a combination of black pepper with a tangy sweetness from the syrupy glaze. It's an interesting but beautiful combination of taste. These are priced by the quarter pound (rather than by the half pound like the other meats) and that is how the Heims suggest you order them. You could probably go through more than a quarter pound on accident, so this suggestion is probably more of a medical disclaimer.

Beautiful "Bacon Burnt Ends" at Heim Barbecue

The ribs drop off a bit from the previous meats - which is to say they fall somewhere below perfect. The baby backs are small, but meaty, showcasing a deep maroon and slightly sticky crust. The meat holds well to the bone but releases with a slight tug, appropriately leaving the shape of your bite in the meat. On my first visit, the ribs were a bit sweeter and less smoky than I typically prefer, but I found a better balance on my second visit. Either way, the ribs were good but just had less character than the two previous meats.

The pulled pork missed the mark for me. Its flavor was rather subdued with minimal smoke. It looked good with pieces of pink meat and dark crust evident in the pile of shredded pork.  But overall, it was rather dry and unremarkable.

Meats from my second trip to Heim Barbecue

The sausage is a jalapeno and cheddar link sourced locally.  Heim Barbecue does not make their own sausage, but said they went through many different links before selecting this one as their sole sausage option.  It is a good sausage and is spicier than most.  It was well prepared, providing a nice crisp snap to the casing.

THE REST

The two sides on the menu were coleslaw and a potato salad. Neither were the traditional picnic fair. The slaw was a simple serving of slightly creamy red cabbage. It was a crispy, straightforward slaw that was refreshing on this hot day.  The “twice baked potato salad” had all the notes of a baked potato. The two large scoops held plenty of sour cream, bacon and cheese. And if that sounds good, it was.

Potato Salad and Slaw from Heim Barbecue in Fort Worth

The sauce was interesting but remained untouched on most plates. It's entirely evident that the base is apple cider vinegar as every taste strikes apple. It has an apple-y sweetness and actually plays well with the pork (the only meat that could benefit from the stuff).

The setting is humble as the trailer sits on the gravelly patio of Republic Street Bar. Meats can be eaten on the multiple picnic tables orderly assembled outside or taken inside to enjoy alongside air conditioning. The bar provides all necessary beverages, including a good selection of local craft beer and cocktails.

Heim Barbecue sits outside of Republic Street Bar

The ordering process is simple: you order at the window that Travis mans so that he can cut the meat to your specifications and while he cuts, you pay Emma who also dishes out sides.  It’s only a two person operation, which makes this process slower than most. Expanding their hours will require another employee, which is something that they are looking into.  Additional help will certainly make the line move faster, however if Heim’s popularity explodes as I expect, they will also be seeing more patrons, making more pit space another priority.  The Heims are very hospitable and friendly, recognizing their customers and welcoming them to their establishment.  They conversed with patrons as the meat was cut and ensured that each customer has been satisfied.  It turns out that the meat is not the only thing that is keeping their customers loyal.


THE VERDICT

Heim Barbecue is just too good to stay a secret.  The brisket is absolutely the best I have found in the Metroplex; it is phenomenal.  The bacon burnt ends are also very good and worth a trip in themselves.  The pork ribs round out a good supporting cast of meats that are overshadowed by the magic of the brisket and bacon.  Put Heim at the top of your to do list because you will want to visit before the popularity swells even more.  And also because it’s really, REALLY good barbecue.


Address: 1109 W. Magnolia Ave, Fort Worth, Texas
Phone: 817-876-2741
Hours: Wednesday - Monday: 11AM - Sell Out
http://heimbbq.com/

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Gerard's Barbecue Diner - Beaumont

Beaumont is home to some unique and long- enduring barbecue traditions, making it an interesting destination for barbecue seekers.  Gerard’s Barbecue Diner is one of the big names in the city with a history spanning back to 1970.
THE MEATS

I swung through the drive thru at Gerard’s thinking about the juicy beef links the region is known for.  I added a second unique item to my order: pork neck bones.  This is a meat that you do not frequently see in Texas barbecue but also has a presence here in Jefferson County.  Unfortunately the ribs were not ready for my 11AM visit, so my plate was boxed up with two meats along with Gerard’s standard fixings.

Pork Bones and the Beef Link at Gerard's Barbecue Diner
 
Pork Bones have long been a staple on Gerard’s menu.  It is not just Gerard’s strong tradition that keeps this uncommon item on the menu, it is also due to their commitment to the customers that consistently order this piece of meat.  Pork Bones, which are more prevalent in the Deep South, are made from trimmed pork necks and hold less meat than the more popular rib bones.  A further contrast from ribs is that the neck bones are not as readymade for eating by hand and require effort to find all of the meat on the bone. This soft, flaky meat pulled cleanly from the bone.  It had a spicy flavor and did not reveal much smoke.  There was not any bark on the delicate exterior of the meat. It reminded me somewhat of pork roast in texture and flavor.  The Pork Bones did not quite satisfy my desire for good smoked barbecue and served more as a novelty on my tray.

The filling of the all beef link at Gerard's Barbecue Diner

The housemade link is typical of this region.  It is an all-beef link with a tough skin that is generally eaten by squeezing the meat from the casing.  Forcing the meat out of the skin dripped more grease into a growing puddle in the bottom of my Styrofoam tray.  The recipe is a longstanding family tradition.  It is a simple link that showcases the beef itself.  There is clearly garlic in the recipe but not an overwhelming amount.  Gerard’s link also comes with a bit of spice and is a terrific option in this genre.  The dedication to tradition is as commendable as the execution of this specific beef link.

THE REST

Like everything else Gerard’s serves, the sides are homemade.  The rice dressing was my favorite side item with its peppery flavor and flecks of meat.  The potato salad was strong with its mustard base and the beans carried a slight spice.

The barbecue sauce is a watery mixture that does little more than simply deliver chili powder to the meat.  

There's nothing pretentious about Gerard's Barbecue Diner

In everything, Gerard’s is simple and unpretentious.  This idea is further evident in their humble building.  It’s a small space mimics the appearance of the modest homes that surround it in the mixed zoned neighborhood.  I opted for the covered drive thru as I was not certain if they were open for my early visit, though the brightly lit “OPEN” sign at the window clearly signaled they were.

THE VERDICT

It’s refreshing that in an industry as hip as Texas barbecue has become, Gerard’s is rooted firmly in years of tradition.  It is simple barbecue without a hint of pretense that has made Gerard’s a staple in the Beaumont community.

Gerard’s Barbecue Diner is worth checking out when in the area specifically to enjoy the notable beef link and to appreciate the tradition Gerard’s adheres to.



Address: 3730 Fannett Rd, Beaumont, TX 77705
Phone: 409-842-5069
Hours: Monday - Saturday: 10AM - 11PM

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Granary 'Cue & Brew - San Antonio

San Antonio’s Pearl Brewery District has been revitalized and re-imagined since the brewery ceased production in 2001.  In addition to being a cultural and shopping destination, the district boasts a rather proud culinary pedigree.

The Granary ‘Cue & Brew brings two traditions together by offering the high quality meals the area is now known for alongside hand-crafted house beers.

The Granary offers two different experiences depending on the time of your visit.  At lunchtime, The Granary offers standard Texas barbecue through counter service.  For dinner, the restaurant transforms to table service and the menu gets kicked up a notch with eclectic options and interesting takes on traditional meats.  This dinner list is a great example of what we sometimes label “fancy barbecue.”

After a short wait for dinner, we were seated on the patio.  I had studied the menu before this trip to San Antonio, but I still mulled over the interesting options.  The plates range from small to moderately sized portions and the menu appropriately encourages the diner to order 2-3 per person.

THE MEATS

Our main courses included the barbecue board which contained a fatty cut of brisket and some pulled pork along with beans and potato salad.  We also chose the beef clod which had some interesting descriptors attached to it on the menu.  A couple of small plates featuring smoked cauliflower and grit fritters were ordered as appetizers.

Each dish came out on a carefully chosen plate and the presentation was outstanding.  The barbecue board was served on an actual board as if I’d ordered cheese or charcuterie.

The Granary's Barbecue Board comes on a literal board

The brisket was a hefty slice with plenty of fat.  Some fat was not rendered as well as I liked which resulted in a couple of somewhat spongy bites.  The meat was still easy to chew through and this did not inhibit the flavor.  The meat had plenty of smoke and tasted good, though the salt was a bit excessive in my opinion.

The pork sat in a polite pile next to the brisket on the board.  Like the brisket, the pork featured some good smoke and was also heavy on the salt.  Smoky crust was distributed well in the meat, which was overly moist, to the extent that it nearly dissolved in my mouth.  There was no vinegary tang on this pork, leaving salt as the prevailing flavor.

The Clod is beautifully presented at The Granary

The large chunk of clod sat in a shallow puddle of caramel influenced sauce and was sprinkled with “coffee quinoa crunch.”  It was an interesting presentation for the cut of beef.  The meat was clearly well prepared with a great texture.  However, I could not get past the overwhelming sweetness from the sauce.  I did not care for the caramel flavor on the beef.  Instead of working in harmony, the caramelly sweetness wrestled the beef for attention.  It was evident that this was good meat and it would have done well with a more subtle sauce.  The crunchy quinoa was more subdued in its coffee flavor.  My complaint about this topping is that it was so crunchy it distracted from the tender cut of clod.

Additional menu options like Brisket Ramen and Smoked Pork Belly with Sweet Tea Glaze are intriguing enough to warrant return trips.

THE REST

The housemade sauce was very good and paired well with the meat.  It’s a very thick sauce which retains the shape of any meat dipped into it.  It is a very tangy and vinegar forward mixture.

The barbecue board came with sweet pickles, beans, German-style potato salad and dense homemade bread.  The sides were quite good but the baked beans were the standout for me.  The standard pinto beans were supplemented with black beans and chunks of beef.  The tomato and onion present in the mixture greatly influenced the flavor.  Our small plate appetizers of grit fritters and cauliflower were interesting on the menu but did not blow us away.  I take partial blame for this in combining two plates which typically aren’t very flavorful on their own.

The dessert list includes a “Beer & Pretzel ice cream swirl” which was certainly intriguing, but we settled for a buttermilk chess pie which hit all of the marks a chess pie can.

The Granary sits in the former Pearl Brewmaster's home

The Granary is housed in the former Pearl brewmaster’s home, making their dedication to beer even more appropriate.  They currently offer three in-house fixtures on draft in the form of an IPA, a Rye Saison and a Brown Ale along with a rotating beer, currently a Barleywine.  These brews can be ordered by the pint or in the form of a flight sampler, which will complement the sampling of meat you’re sure to order.  The Granary carries additional local craft beer on tap and has a bottle list.  And if you aren’t into beer, you can enjoy a root beer straight from The Granary’s brewery or dive into their wine list.

Brewing equipment sets a great backdrop for The Granary's bar.

The venue still retains its identity as a house.  The Granary has embraced the atmosphere a home provides with comfortable seating inside as well as on the porch.  We sat on the patio, which was dressed with five tables with bench seating and covered by a roof holding a few ceiling fans.  The bar area is a tiny but cool space that uses the brew kettles and tanks as a backdrop.  It sits adjacent to the kitchen, which also gives patrons a glimpse at dish preparation.  Inside or out, this is a great venue at which to enjoy a dinner.

The Granary in San Antonio

THE VERDICT

Dinner at The Granary comes with higher prices than traditional Texas barbecue joints.  However, it comes with an experience and menu which diverges from the norm.   Though it is not a textbook example of Texas Barbecue, there is some good food to be had.  I love The Granary’s dinner menu and the ambiance of the place.  Lunch offers the typical Texas barbecue without the offbeat flavor additions.    Dinner at The Granary is not a place to introduce someone to Texas barbecue, but a person familiar with the craft will definitely appreciate what they are doing at The Granary.




Address: 602 Avenue A, San Antonio, TX 78215
Phone: 210-228-0124
Hours: Tuesday – Thursday: 11AM – 10PM; Friday - Saturday: 11AM - 11PM
thegranarysa.com

Sunday, May 3, 2015

On The Side: 3rd Annual Houston BBQ Festival

The 3rd Annual Houston BBQ Festival went down this past weekend with 23 (mostly) local BBQ joints represented.  It was a great lineup; both in the list of vendors and in the variety of meats offered at each booth.  There were a number of spots on my “To Do” List present on Sunday.  In fact, there were 10 places that I had not yet tried in attendance compared to just 2 at the most recent TMBBQ Fest. It was a nice cross section of the Houston BBQ scene and I was excited to get started on Sunday.  I do not think events like this offer a fair representation of a given joint for a number of reasons.  However, the spots on my “To Do” List like Roegels Barbecue Co. more than justified their being on my list.

Of all meats, I think Houston’s strongest tradition is in the pork rib.  However, Sunday’s efforts were clearly focused on the other meats as I found just seven pork ribs on the roster at the festival.  Pizzitola's Bar-B-Cue's legendary ribs were among my favorites of the day.  Pork was on display in several different ways, but the buzz of the festival was about Feges BBQ's extraordinary effort in building a burn barrel and hog cooker for their whole hog.  Pork was pulled directly from the hog at their booth and was served with Carolina mustard and vinegar.  It was most impressive.  Pulled pork was on display at the Tennessee influenced Fainmous BBQ along with The Wooden Spoke and Gatlin's BBQGerardo’s and El Burro & The Bull both chose tacos as their method of delivering some delicious smoked carnitas.  Corkscrew BBQ went a bit off script with their pork belly and boudin stuffed pork loin.  I was surprised that Corkscrew did not bring any of their more renowned meats, but you can’t argue with the delicious choices they brought.

There was plenty of good brisket to go around and I think Brooks’ Place, Blood Bros. BBQ and Pinkerton’s BBQ were among my favorites.  Five spots were serving up some tasty beef ribs with Killen’s Barbecue handing out whole beef ribs at one point.  Killen’s burnt ends may have been the best thing I tasted all day.  Gerardo’s had a second taco at their booth featuring barbacoa.  Tin Roof BBQ boldly served chopped beef from their prime spot near the entrance.

Sausage was widely available.  Southside Market & Barbecue brought their famed sausage and offered three different varieties at their booth.  Ray’s BBQ Shack had a nice combo of their interesting sausage along with some boudin.  The Wooden Spoke also brought boudin and I thought it was their best meat.  My favorite sausage of the day may have been courtesy of newcomer, Pinkerton’s Barbecue.

Lamb was another barnyard friend that was served at the Houston BBQ Fest.  Pappa Charlies Barbeque had a well crafted lamb slider option and Louie Mueller Barbecue brought their fan favorite lamb lollipops.

A variety of birds rounded out the field.  Fainmous BBQ had their pulled chicken, Oak Leaf Smokehouse featured smoked duck, and Pappa Charlies served up some smoky turkey.

Even the sides were well represented.  El Burro & the Bull’s attempt to healthy us up with a kale salad with pear cider vinaigrette was appreciated and delicious.  Spring Creek Barbeque passed around jalapeno poppers; I appreciated the food coming to me for a change.  Pinkerton’s jalapeno rice was a treat.  Ray’s offered deep fried corn on the cob.  My favorite sides came from Oak Leaf Smokehouse who provided fried Mac N’ Cheese Brisket Balls along with some tasty corn pudding.

It is no surprise that Killen’s and Louie Mueller consistently drew the longest lines of the day.  Louie Mueller’s claims to have gone through 2000 servings of brisket, 2000 servings of beef ribs and 1500 lamb lollipops.  Corkscrew and Gatlin’s were the other two spots with noticeably lengthy lines.

The Houston BBQ Fest spoke loud and clear about the barbecue scene in the Bayou City.  Like the city itself, Houston barbecue pulls from many different cultures.  Houston showed that they could do just about any meat you can think of and they did it all well.

The other story of Houston BBQ Fest was the respect that this city’s pitmasters have for each other.  The stories that came out of the days and night leading up to the festival were those of camaraderie and appreciation.  They are all on the same mission to bring good barbecue to the city and together they’ve forged quite the barbecue scene in Houston.

My hat goes off to all of those involved in this year’s Houston BBQ Fest.  It was a well planned and well executed event.  It was a thrill to celebrate Houston’s barbecue culture with fellow Houstonians and with the top pit masters representing our city.  It’s even more exciting to know that the barbecue scene in Houston is still growing.

A look at the 2015 Houston BBQ Festival
It was a great day to celebrate Houston BBQ at the 2015 Hou BBQ Fest
Feges BBQ pulled from a whole hog at the Houston BBQ Festival
The Whole Hog at Feges BBQ
Nine separate sampled of meat from the 2015 Houston BBQ Festival
A sampling of barbecue at HOU BBQ Fest
The crew from Blood Bros. BBQ at Houston BBQ Festival
The crew from Blood Bros. BBQ
Pinkerton's booth at Houston BBQ Festival
Grant Pinkerton repping Screwston with the DJ Screw shirt
A trayful of meat at Houston BBQ Festival
Another sampling of Houston's finest meats.
Slicing meats at the Corkscrew BBQ booth.
Will & Nichole slicing up their unique selections at the Corkscrew booth
Killen's Barbecue at the 2015 Houston BBQ Festival
Ronnie and the crew from Killen's Barbecue
Gatlin's BBQ at the Houston BBQ Festival
Ribs and Sausage on the cutting board at Gatlin's
Blood Bros BBQ represents at the 2015 Houston BBQ Festival
Representing Alief at the Houston BBQ Festival
Another serving of meats at Houston BBQ Fest
Another serving of meats at the 2015 Houston BBQ Festival
The Brisket House booth at Houston BBQ Festival
Prepping the selections at The Brisket House
Music from the Houston BBQ Festival
Music from the Saint Arnold Stage set the vibe for a lively event



*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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