Saturday, September 30, 2017

On The Side: 2017 Houston BBQ Throwdown

Last weekend marked the 3rd Annual Houston Barbecue Throwdown at Saint Arnold Brewery.  As always, the intent of the Throwdown is for local competitors to create unique Houston-style barbecue dishes. Houston is so diverse, the definition of “Houston-style barbecue” can have any number of interpretations. And the event always displays a variety of really well executed plays on this idea.

For three consecutive years now, I have babbled about this being my favorite event of all, so I’ll skip the flowery language and simply discuss the event.

The big story of the day was Tin Roof BBQ suffering a fire early the morning of the Throwdown and yet, still participating – and WINNING the People’s Choice Award for their outstanding Beef Rib. Their first award at the event made for a really inspiring moment.

Another first occurred when we saw the first ever tie for the Judges’ Choice award. The judges’ panel was a prestigious one featuring Ronnie Killen, Alison Cook, Robert Lerma, Wayne Mueller and D’Artagnan Bebel.  The judges’ decision was split on the dishes of two of the event’s newcomers: El Burro & The Bull with their pozole and the tacos from Beaver’s Westheimer.

Speaking of newcomers, six of the fourteen competitors were first-timers to the event. This included Beaver’s, El Burro and the Bull, Gatlin’s BBQ, Harlem Road Texas BBQ, Pinkerton’s Barbecue and My Yard Reaction BBQ (which was a new name on the lips of many, including mine).
These entries are typical of the beautiful dishes offered at the Houston BBQ Throwdown
Every entry was terrific, but the bites from Feges, Pit Room and Blood Brothers were among my unheralded favorites. For the second year in a row, my personal vote went to Feges’ entry. I am apparently prepared to be customer #1 when Patrick finally finds himself a permanent location.

During the event, the folks at the Throwdown also announced an exciting Houston Vs. Austin event scheduled for this December. If you’ve never been to a Houston BBQ Throwdown, that should be a great opportunity to see the most creative (and tasty) event yet.

This Year’s Attendees and Their Entries (In Alphabetical Order):

Beaver’s [2017 Judge’s Choice (Tie)] –  44Farms Beef Short Rib and Brisket Tacos with Homemade Tortillas (made with brisket fat), Pico de Gallo, Pickled Onion, Queso Fresco, Yellow Bird Crema and Cilantro

Beaver's Award Winning Taco
Blood Bros BBQ – Brisket Fried Rice with Pork Jowl Char Siu

Blood Bros' delicious Asian fusion
El Burro And The Bull [2017 Judge’s Choice (Tie)] – Smoky Pozole Topped With Smoked Pork Shoulder and Housemade Tostadas

El Burro's pozole presepnted in a molcajete
Feges BBQ [My Pick] – Peachwood smoked Pork Belly Pastrami with housemade kraut, comeback sauce, provolone & rye

It was close, but I think Feges' entry was the best of the day
Gatlin’s BBQ – Smoked Rabbit on Cheddar-Chive Biscuit with Raspberry-Chipotle Sauce, Topped with Quail Egg
Gatlin's put together a unique and pretty dish
Harlem Road Texas BBQ – Bone-in Pork Chop with Black Cherry Balsamic and Creamy Polenta

I believe Harlem Road brought us the first polenta sighting of the 3-year event
My Yard Reaction BBQ – “Wagyu Brisket Bento” – Marble Ranch Wagyu Beef Brisket Smoked with Post Oak and Pecan Wood, Beef Tendon Puff Dusted in House Smoked Shrimp Salt and Sesame Seaweed Salad

There was a lot going on with these new timers, but My Yard Reaction's Wagyu was impossibly tender
Pappa Charlies BBQ – Go Chu Jang Chicken with Pickled Broccoli Slaw and Fresh Jalapeno

I believe this event was created for Pappa Charlies as Wes Jurena is ALWAYS innovating
Pinkerton’s Barbecue – Smoked Flank Steak on a Toasted Crostini with Fire Roasted Tomato Puree, Goat Cheese and Chimichurri Sauce

You know you're at a high-brow culinary event when Pinkertons is producing beautiful dishes like these
Pit Room – “A1 Thick & Smoky” – Beef Cheeseburger Link with House Cured Bacon, Grilled Onions and A1 Thick & Hearty Sauce

Pit Room's Whataburger parody was delicious and hilarious
Roegels Barbecue Co – Pastrami Tacos

This was my first ever pastrami taco, but it was a brilliant idea by Roegels
Tejas Chocolate Craftory – Pork Belly Cue with Poblano and Oaxaca Mac, Mango and Micro Cilantro

Delicious formula by Tejas: Pork Belly + Poblano Mac & Cheese
The Brisket House – Pulled Beef Rib Taco with Homemade Tortilla, Salsa de Molcajete, Mexican Slaw, Queso Fresco and Avocado

The Brisket House stuffed their taco to the rafters with flavor
Tin Roof BBQ [2017 People’s Choice] – Beef Ribs with Hot Bread & Butter Pickles

Tin Roof offered a simple concept, but nailed the execution to earn the People's Choice

Tin Roof took home the People's Choice Award

We saw a tie between El Burro & the Bull and Beaver's for the prestigious Judges' Choice Award

Sunday, April 16, 2017

5th Annual Houston Barbecue Festival

If you’ve spoken to me on the topic, then you know that the Houston Barbecue Throwdown is my favorite barbecue event of all.  Instead of doling out the usual brisket, participants assemble unique offerings for attendees. The creativity displayed at the Throwdown pushes the thought of “brisket fatigue” far from anyone’s mind.

This year’s Houston Barbecue festival took a page from that event as many participants shied away from the common brisket offering.  At times, the 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival really felt like a giant Houston Barbecue Throwdown.  Offerings like Feges’ whole hog (though this is kind of a tradition now) and The Pit Room’s Iberico suckling pigs made for good pictures on social media, but many other participants bucked the beef trend and put together other entries that had people talking.

These events represent a large cost investment for the participating restaurants and there are two thoughts into how to get value from such an event.  We had a few participants that used the event as an opportunity to build their brand and show Houston what they could do. Tejas Chocolate Craftory, for example put together an entire bite sized spread for attendees, showcasing their meats, sides and desserts.  Other participants used the event for R&D and experimented on the hungry masses in the NRG parking lot.  Names like Gatlin’s, Corkscrew, and Killen, for example, are well known commodities, so all three had the opportunity to try something new and get feedback from patrons as well as those on the local food beat. Perhaps, we’ll see some of the items from the weekend pop up on the menu of your favorite joint (Pinkerton's Bacon Wrapped Duck Sausage anyone?).

My main mission this year was to sample the offerings from all 25 attendees.  That mission was a success, however, as usual, some of the joints had different items available for VIP than for the general admission tickets. Pinkerton’s even had a rotating menu throughout the day with a new item available at the top of each hour.  At times, I was chasing down one item and I’d miss out on another, like Gatlin’s smoked red snapper. So, while I sampled all 25 venues, I did miss out on some of their offerings through the day.

With that said, I did snap a few pictures on Sunday, so here’s a bit of the action:


Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
5th Annual Houston Barbecue Festival
Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
The line for VIP Entry at 11:45

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Clockwise from Top Left:
Harlem Road Texas Barbecue: Pork Belly Topped With Gourmet Pickle and Brisket on Sourdough Baguette.
The Pit Room: Iberico Suckling Pig with Coffee Bourbon Sauce
Pappa Charlies (2 plates): Beef Sausage w/ Pimento Cheese and Street Taco w/ Flank Steak & Pineapple/Black Bean Pico
Feges BBQ: Carolina Style Whole Hog w/ Slaw and Patrick's Famous Turducken Sausage
Pinkerton's Barbecue: Bacon Wrapped Duck Poppers (From Rotating Menu)
Roegels Barbecue Co: Beef Rib Pastrami

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Clockwise from Top Left:
Blood Brothers: Togarashi Pulled Beef Sliders w/ Carmelized Onions & SWAT Sauce and Mashed Potatoes
Tejas Chocolate Craftory: Carrot Souffle, Brisket, Pork Belly, Chocolate Panna Cotta
Southern Q (Two Plates): Brisket, Sausage, Boudin & Spicy Cracker and Chocolate Cake
Ray's BBQ Shack: Brisket, Ribs, Fried Corn
Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Fainmous Barbecue: Brisket, Rib, Chicken and Corn

Clockwise from Top Left:
Tin Roof: Beef Shank Barbacoa Tacos
Blake's BBQ & Burgers: Brisket and Sausage
Southside Market: Sausage and Brisket
Brooks' Place: Brisket and Smoked Brown Sugar Bacon
Lenox Barbecue: Brisket, Ribs, Sausage, Potato Salad
Corkscrew Barbecue: Smoked Prime Rib
Brisket House: Brisket and Chipotle Citrus Glazed Baby Back Ribs
El Burro & The Bull: Brisket, Sausage, and Boudin
Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
From Left:
Louie Mueller Barbecue (Two Plates): Lamb Lollipop and Beef Rib in Croissant
Gerardo's: Barbacoa Tacos

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
From Left:
Spring Creek Barbecue: Pork Rib
Killen's Barbecue: Rib and Pork Belly Burnt End

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
From Top:
Gatlin's BBQ: Whole Hog Pulled Pork
Pizzitola's Bar-B-Cue: Brisket, Turkey, Rib
Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Hog Heads set the table at The Pit Room

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Blood Brother's sandwich along with their popular SWAT Sauce

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Pinkerton's Ambitious Rotating Lineup

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Louie Mueller's traditional Lamb Lollipops

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Ronnie Killen manning the pits

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Pinkerton's Barbecue crew

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
The crew from Tejas Chocolate Craftory

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Slicing the DELICIOUS smoked pastrami at Roegel's

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Setting the plate for Roegel's pastrami

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
All of that famous sausage from Southside Market

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Wayne Mueller once again serves the Houston crowds

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Corkscrew's Will Buckman representing his Houston brothers with a Blood Bros t shirt
Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
2017 Houston Barbecue Festival at NRG Stadium 
Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
General Admission Crowds at the 5th Annual Houston Barbecue Festival



Thursday, March 30, 2017

Stanley's Famous Pit Bar-B-Q - Tyler

Stanley’s Famous Pit BBQ proclaims that they are the “Oldest Mom & Pop Joint in Tyler.”  JD Stanley originally opened this joint in 1958 and the barbecue tradition continues today through the efforts of owner Nick Pencis.  Over the past 60 years, Stanley’s barbecue has indeed become famous throughout the state, but they bring even more to the table than just dependable barbecue.

I have been first in line at Stanley’s a few times. This did not take any planning or much of a time investment as I showed up between 10:30 and 10:45 and happily found no one else in line.  However, if you show up after the 11AM lunchtime opening, you are guaranteed to see a line quickly swell and begin to wrap around the building.  My adage that waiting for the doors to open is better than waiting in line seems even more applicable at Stanley’s.

THE MEATS

Stanley’s makes it easy if you are a sampler like me.  The menu features the typical one-meat and two-meat meals, but also offers a brilliant “Four Meat Sampler Plate” that delivers all meat and no sides.


Meats at Stanley's Famous in Tyler
When the Four Meat Sampler isn't enough, go on and throw some sausage on too.

Any order should begin with the brisket, which is the best meat of the bunch.  A sign at the walk-up counter encourages customers to be specific with what kind of brisket they would like, citing options as lean, fatty, end cut, extra bark, or no bark. If you order "no bark", you’re crazy. Stanley’s standard cut offers a substantial crust with a bit of crispiness. The meat itself is perfectly moist with noticeable smoke. The simple rub emphasizes the magic of smoke on meat.  The moist cuts are well rendered and the lean cuts feature a nice sliver of rendered fat for an extra injection of flavor.

The ribs at Stanley’s are baby backs and rely more on the seasoning than the brisket does. These ribs are rubbed, glazed and sticky. The meat is soft and offers a perfectly enjoyable texture. However, much of the flavor is derived from the sweet glaze and while they are well prepared, the final product is just too sweet for my taste.


Brisket and Ribs at Stanley's BBQ
A standard two meat plate at Stanley's

Stanley’s turkey is high quality. The cuts are thick and juicy. The flavor balances a smokiness with plenty of black pepper. This bird is done just about as well as you can do it.

The sausage is a solid entry on Stanley’s menu. It features a bit of familiar peppery spice. The links are well prepared with snappy casing. The sausage is typically sliced (unless otherwise specified) before it’s plated for your enjoyment.


Stanley's Famous Pit BBQ
The Texas Trinity at Stanley's
As is the case in many other Texas barbecue joints, the pulled pork here is unremarkable. There is a bit of bark in the moist pile, but there is not much smoke to be found. The notes are appropriately of the vinegary variety, but this is really just your standard take on the meat.


THE REST


There are a variety of meaty sandwiches which the locals adore. Though I typically overlook this section of most barbecue menus, Stanley’s list is so extensive, it begs for attention. 

And since the praises of “The Mother Clucker” sandwich have so frequently rung in my ears, I finally had to try it. And, oh, am I glad I did.  The Mother Clucker is a beautiful monstrosity that features smoked chicken, cheddar cheese, a fried egg, and spicy mayonnaise served on jalapeƱo cheese sourdough bread (guacamole and candied bacon can be added if you really want to endulge).  A peppery spiciness provides the heft of the flavor on the chicken which meets the spiciness of mayonnaise and melts all together with the oozy egg. The sourdough bread is pillow soft and provides a perfect palette for one of the best sandwiches you will ever have.


The Mother Clucker at Stanley's BBQ
The "Mother Clucker" is a cluckin' good sandwich
Along with sandwiches, you will also find tacos the menu.  This includes breakfast tacos, which along with breakfast sandwiches and breakfast bowls fill the morning menu which is served from 7AM – 10AM.

The sides at Stanley’s are classics. You can choose from beans, a mustard based potato salad, and cole slaw. They are traditional takes on the classics, but are far better than the Sysco products so many barbecue restaurants rely on.

Though the sauce at Stanley’s is unnecessary, they offer two solid varieties. I’m a big fan of the spicy version, even if I only use it on my bread. The spicy sauce has a satisfying peppery bite similar to Rudy’s famous sauce.


Stanley's Famous Pit BBQ in Tyler, Texas
Stanley's unassuming building has a great patio connected to it.

Breakfast, lunch, or dinner – there is not a bad time to go to Stanley’s Famous. But it’s more fun at night.  Six nights a week, the enclosed patio is home to live music and the coolest nightlife in Tyler.  The back patio also features a full bar featuring craft beer (including Tyler’s own True Vine) and the biggest selection of whiskeys, bourbons, and ryes in East Texas. Stanley's also offers whiskey tasting flights if you are so inclined. What better way to complement the "meat flight" a Sampler Plate delivers?

THE VERDICT

Stanley’s Famous Pit Barbecue is well deserving of the praise that is heaped upon it. These guys are setting the standard for barbecue in East Texas – the brisket is especially wonderful and you should not overlook “The Mother Clucker” as a lunchtime option.  Owner Nick Pencis has not rested on the fact that Stanley’s is considered the benchmark for good barbecue in East Texas, he has also seen to it that Stanley’s sets the standard for good times in East Texas.




Address: 525 S Beckham Ave, Tyler, TX 75702
Phone:  903-539-0311
Hours: Monday – Saturday: 11AM – 10PM (Breakfast: Monday – Friday: 7AM – 10AM)



*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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