Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ten 50 BBQ - Richardson

Ten 50 BBQ opened with much fanfare and lengthy lines last August.  Owner Larry Levine already proved he knows how to go from concept to hit restaurant when he founded Chili’s in 1975.  Levine poured enough time and money into his latest concept, Ten 50, to create quite a buzz before the restaurant even opened.

Now that we are several months in, the daily lines may have shortened a bit, but there is still a lot of talk about Ten 50 around the Metroplex.

The restaurant does two turns each day, smoking meat for the lunch crowds then pulling fresh meat out at dinnertime.  I showed up for dinner to see what the fuss was about.

THE MEATS

Meats are selected straight from the pit outside (think Cooper’s or Hard Eight) where they are sliced and weighed.  Just like a visit to the pet store, it is hard to say “No” when the meats are right in front of you and your heart is tempted to take them all home.  I ended up with a spread of Brisket, Pork Ribs, Sausage and Pulled Pork.  I also added a side of beans inside the building, where orders are completed.

Spread of smoked meats at Ten 50 BBQ

The moist slices of brisket presented a very well defined crust outlining the thin deep-red smoke ring.  I like a nice crust on my brisket and they certainly hit the mark with this one.  The flavor, however, was a bit heavy on the salt.  The fat throughout the slices was well rendered and the meat held a delicious smokiness.  Altogether, it came together as a pretty tasty brisket.

The pulled pork was of the straightforward variety and presented a natural flavor along with good smoke and just a slight sweetness.  The hand pulled product was wonderfully moist.  In Texas, this is all that pulled pork needs to be.

The ribs were St. Louis style and displayed a relatively simple rub crowned with specks of black pepper.  The rub had some sweetness to it but its contribution to the meat was rather unsubstantial.  There was not much flavor offered in the way of smoke either.  The ribs held appropriately firm to the bone with each bite.  However, they were a bit too dry.

Ten 50 is up front about the fact that they farm out their sausage.  I like the fact that they tell you exactly where both types of sausage come from.  I took a standard link of their Meyer’s sausage and knew exactly what I was getting.  This sausage was perfectly prepared to deliver its mild black pepper spice.

THE REST

Two varieties of sauce are offered at Ten 50.  The Memphis sauce only requires two descriptors: "sweet" and "vinegary". The vinegar emerges as the more dominant flavor.  I thought the other sauce, Ten 50’s “House Sauce” was a pretty good blend with some spiciness.  Neither option was necessary for my meats.

My side of beans was fine.  The beans were thick and featured a heft of onion.  An option that I skipped, but has come to be a specialty of Ten 50 was the Torpedoes: chicken or brisket filled jalapenos.

Ordering your meats from Ten 50's pit

Ten 50 BBQ sits alongside Highway 75 and actually takes its name from its location at 1050 N. Central Expressway.  The layout of the restaurant is well thought out and enhances the character of the restaurant.  You enter a covered area next to the smokehouse, passing piles of well labelled wood on your way to the warming pits to choose your meats.  The inside features a large dining area with options for single tables or communal dining.  It’s a large area that has enough room for a mass of patrons with plenty of space to move about comfortably.

THE VERDICT

It’s evident that a lot of thought went into every aspect of Ten 50 and they have done a fine job of hitting their marks.  As far as the meats go, the brisket and the pulled pork are quite good.  The ribs though, have the most room for improvement.  The investment of both time and money have set Ten 50 up for success.  If they can continue refining their meats, Ten 50 will be another feather in Levine’s cap.



Address: 1050 N Central Expy, Richardson, TX 75080
Phone: 972-234-1050
Hours: Wednesday: 11AM - 830PM; Thursday - Friday: 11AM - 9PM; Saturday: 11AM - 930PM

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Manny's BBQ & Grill - Conroe

You can learn to manage your expectations about a barbecue joint by simply visiting their website (link).  If the restaurant name features BBQ “& Grill,” it may be cause for concern.  Even more reason for apprehension arises if the site prominently features their chopped beef over the other products.  If the joint does not offer meat by the pound or advertises their plates “topped with BBQ Sauce”, it raises more red flags.  And now the trump card to watch out for: the spot is located in Conroe, Texas.

Obviously, this is not an exact science, but Manny’s BBQ & Grill seemed to check enough of those boxes to cause me to be uneasy on my Tuesday afternoon visit.

THE MEATS

This joint does not sell meats by the pound, so I opted for their “Sampler Plate” which offers the selection of three meats (excluding chicken) along with two sides.  I selected the Texas trio of sliced brisket, pork spare ribs and their homemade spicy beef sausage.

The order was delivered to my table with remarkable speed.  The spread was not an attractive one.

A sampling of meats from Manny's BBQ

My curiosity demanded I begin with the pork.  The so-called spare ribs were served off the bone in irregularly shaped chunks.  The pork had a greasy film on it resulting in the sensation that my tongue was wearing a sweater.  The pork was so delicate that it seemed barbaric to use my teeth on something that could be gummed into submission.  There was absolutely no crust, no smoke and no flavor.  Because of the consistency, I found it hard to picture this dubious meat ever being attached to a bone.  The closest comparison I could draw to this meat is from the time my mother-in-law introduced me to a “turkey loaf.”  I could imagine this being the MRE form of Texas Barbecue.  And if that was the case, our troops certainly deserve better.
  
I moved on to the grim looking sausage next.  I am a glutton for many things and that certainly includes punishment.  As expected, the sausage was dry.  Actually, it was the driest sausage I have ever ingested.  The meat ripped apart like a brittle sponge.  There was some chipotle flavor in this meat, but it had all of the charm of a dried summer sausage that had then taken a few tours of the microwave.

I intentionally saved the brisket for last, thinking it had the best shot of surprising me.  The slices were not overly dry and they carried the flavor you might expect from a gasser.  The shabby crust had no discernible seasoning.  If I had to compliment the brisket, I would say “it’s not too bad.”  "Subpar" might be a better label though.  However, it absolutely blew the other two Grade F meats away.

THE REST

Though the menu offers all meats “topped with BBQ Sauce,” I asked them to hold it for me on the side.  The sauce was not appetizing to me.  Brown sugar seemed to be the main note in this thick mixture.

The vegetables served on the side were pretty basic.  In an effort to provide some sunshine to this entry, I will commend Manny’s on having the option of mashed potatoes on the menu along with the opulent choice of TWO types of gravy.


Manny's is housed in a wooden building with a tin room that stands out from the strip malls on 105.  The wooden motif continues from the outside into the dining area.  The atmosphere hits the country steakhouse vibe that you would find at a Texas Roadhouse or K-Bobs.  Much of this building remains unchanged from its previous life as Bruno’s BBQ (and Luther's before that).

Though it is not apparent from the menu or website, this location is actually an offshoot of Splendora Café & BBQ, an establishment local to Splendora which sits 20 miles southeast of Conroe.  Unlike here at Manny’s, the barbecue seems to have been added as an afterthought to the menu of the popular Splendora location.

THE VERDICT

There are plenty of reasons to keep you away from this joint if you’re looking for good barbecue.  Most notably is the fact that the sausage and pork are among the worst I have ever encountered.  But if you find yourself desperate enough, the brisket here is tolerable.  Still, the safer option at Manny’s is probably going to be from the “& Grill” side of the menu.  Or safer still: Don't ever stop in Conroe for barbecue.



Address: 1101 West Dallas St Conroe, Texas 77301
Phone: 936-494-3510
Hours: Tuesday - Friday: 10:30AM - 9PM; Saturday: 11AM - 9PM; Sunday: 11AM - 8PM

Monday, March 2, 2015

Florida's Kitchen - Livingston

I would call Florida’s Kitchen a hidden gem if it weren’t for the building’s loud blue and yellow facade that makes this place completely conspicuous.  And though Florida’s is not on the most well-traveled path, Hitch N Post Cafe sits just down the road, putting this stretch of Highway 350 on the barbecue lover’s map.
THE MEATS

Florida's catfish comes highly regarded but I was here on barbecue business and therefore selected the pork ribs and sliced brisket from the menu.


The ribs and brisket arrived together on the plate and stood in stark contrast.  The ribs stood out with their red bark and the pink smoke-kissed meat beneath it.  The brisket on the other hand looked limp and lifeless like it had been cut quite a while before I had even placed my order.

The ribs with their beautiful exterior did not disappoint.  The sticky glaze provided sweet character to the already smoky crust. The meat was wonderfully moist while holding a terrific chew.  These ribs are some of the best you’ll find anywhere and could win a pageant with their combination of looks and charming sweetness.

The brisket on the other hand was a complete disappointment.  Like the ribs, the brisket unfortunately tasted exactly like it looked.  The slices were slightly dry and hindered by some poorly rendered and still gooey veins of fat.  The flavor was poor and smoke evaded this cut of meat.

THE REST

The sides aren’t much to speak of either.  The beans and potato salad tasted like it came straight out of a tub.  The sauce was very thin and slightly smoky.


Florida’s embraces its country setting with an equally country style of décor.  The interior is not much to look at with mismatched tables and chairs.  The regulars don’t seem to mind as they show up for lunch day after day.  The restaurant is full-service so your experience will depend on your server and the crowd that day but I would not bank on having a quick meal at Florida’s. 

THE VERDICT

Florida’s Kitchen is, without a doubt, worth a visit specifically for the ribs.  Pork ribs of this quality are hard to find and tend to hook you once you’ve found them.  I’ll stick to the ribs on my next visit and satisfy my brisket craving down the road at Hitch N Post.




Address: 796 Fm 350 S, Livingston, TX 77351
Phone: 936-967-4216
Hours: Wednesday: 11AM - 830PM; Thursday - Friday: 11AM - 9PM; Saturday: 11AM - 930PM



*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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