Call it a “meatwave.”
Over the past several months, North Texas has seen a boom in barbecue joints — small ones tucked away in neighborhoods, goliaths towering over busy highways, modest spots hidden in gas stations. So many have opened, a guide seems more than appropriate. Henceforth, our new ’cue revue:
Berry Best BBQ
The old adage about good things coming in small packages definitely applies to Berry Best BBQ. John Berry’s namesake joint, which he opened this year at the crossroads of North Richland Hills and Watauga, is housed in an absurdly small building, only taking up about 400 feet of Rufe Snow Drive. As such, there’s nowhere to sit. Place your order at the tiny counter area, or go through the drive-thru.
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Part of that minuscule square footage is devoted to a custom wood smoker, in which Berry tends to brisket, ribs, bologna, pulled pork, chicken and hot links, all smoked over pecan. Especially within the confines of such a small space, he does an admirable job, particularly with brisket. Lean slices come outlined in red smoke rings and strands of crust. Fattier brisket is even better, its edges lined with well-rendered fat that melts away the second it touches your tongue. All the meats share a common trait: a subtly spicy seven-blend seasoning that Berry says took years to perfect.
Pay close attention to the sides, especially the sweet baked beans, made with ground meat and a brown sugar bourbon seasoning. “The beans are something I’ve been doing at home . . . Lord, I don’t even know how long,” he says. “Some people don’t want to order beans because they think they’re going to be generic, Ranch Style beans. But something I strive for here is, I want the sides to be as good as the main course.”
This barbecue trailer in Argyle resembles something you’d find in that other A-town, Austin. Opened this spring, Bumbershoot occupies a cool vintage trailer in a cool spot: the tree-lined back yard of Earl’s 377 Pizza. It’s within a few paces of Earl’s, a snow cone stand and a hip coffee shop, definitely bringing to mind the outdoor food courts that line the streets of Austin.
The food, too, resembles the kind of ’cue popular in Central Texas: big, messy slabs of brisket, ribs and other meats (here, smoked over hickory and pecan in a rotisserie smoker) and housemade, better-than-average sides, all delivered on metal trays lined with butcher paper.
Skip the pricey novelty items — potato tots topped with brisket and cheddar cheese, and burnt ends that could use more “burnt,” both $10 — and go straight for the short and stocky St. Louis-style pork ribs, whose bones are lined with a hefty amount of fat, pepper and moist rib meat, and the excellent half-chicken, whose crispy skin gives way to meat that is smoky, juicy and flavorful.
Thought is put into the sides. Chunky potato salad is derived from red potatoes, and slivers of apples are dipped into the coleslaw. But pinto beans, spiked with brisket and rib meat, are the real winners.
Smartly, Bumbershoot — which comes from the same restaurant team behind Earl’s and Denton’s LSA Burger and Barley & Board — caters to a certain facet of BBQ lovers that other places sometimes forget: families. Kids can paint Picassos on a fence encircling the outdoor dining area, and they can dance up front when live bands perform on weekends.
Bumbershoot isn’t the only new barbecue spot in the area. Last year, 407 BBQ opened nearby, in a trailer that was recently expanded into a full-blown restaurant.
425 U.S. 377 S., Argyle, 940-595-1782, http://www.bumbershootbbq.com
Tony Brown’s ’cue joint carries on a tradition that spans decades, he says. The charmingly tiny building dates to 1944 and has housed, over the years, many other barbecue restaurants, including the well-known Floyd’s BBQ & Grocery.
Brown’s specialty is a housemade beef sausage. “Here, try it,” he says when you enter his year-old spot, which he runs with his wife, Sumia. You can try anything here — the brisket, the sausage, the bologna, the turkey, all smoked in a custom wood-burning smoker; you can even sample the sides.
In addition to barbecue standards, Brown does a mean burger, topped with brisket, bacon, cheddar cheese, housemade barbecue sauce, lettuce, tomato and sauteed onions. Wash it down with a glass of Kool-Aid and a slice of banana pudding cake.
1900 S. Edgewood Terrace, Fort Worth, 682-552-9995
You’ve seen T-shirts proclaiming “I survived” various roller coasters, colleges, ex-wives and political reigns. Buddy’s offers a similar T-shirt: “I survived the Zeke.”
Conquering the Zeke would certainly be cause for celebration. The signature sandwich at Buddy Haga’s year-old spot in Hurst, hidden in a gas station, is a five-meat monster, composed of layers of sliced brisket, chopped brisket, pulled pork, sausage, bologna and ribs, plus jalapeños, pickles and onions.
Impossible to eat as a sandwich, it comes tumbling down almost immediately after it hits your table, and there you have a trough of food, enough for at least three people. Zero in on the moist chopped brisket and thick-cut bologna.
For a side, forgo the potato salad and coleslaw for the “crazy corn,” crunchy kernels of corn drowned in a ridiculously rich melted cream cheese.
Barbecue is served in many ways in North Texas. It’s stuffed into Styrofoam containers, tossed on butcher paper, and, in the case of Smoky Rose, carefully placed onto nice china.
New in east Dallas, Smoky Rose takes a fine-dining approach to barbecue. You sit in a gorgeous dining room, at rustic-industrial tables accented with Windsor-style chairs, or out on the attractive patio, and order from an actual menu, not a chalkboard.
Chef David “Spoon” Gauthier’s menu encompasses BBQ standards: ribs, moist and lean brisket, chicken, pulled pork, turkey and sausage, all served in sandwiches, plates and by the pound. There are also dishes beyond BBQ, such as a rotating fish, salmon dip and a burger.
Consistency was an issue until the recent arrival of a new smoker. Moist brisket now comes in a cape of luscious black crust, and pork ribs are as juicy as they are smoky. Housemade sausage — a mix of pork and beef — may be the best of the meats, with its slightly fiery bite and rich, complex flavor.
For sides, Gouda mac and cheese is appropriately — and deliciously — gooey, and the sweet-potato banana mash offers a sweet contrast to the barbecue.
Lest you think you weaseled out of standing in yet another barbecue line, think again: the place is so popular, there’s often a wait for a table.
The Lady and the Pit
Last fall, Natasha Smith moved her popular barbecue and soul food restaurant from Port Isabel, at the southeast tip of Texas, to Fort Worth’s east side. Word of good food travels fast, and soon, strangers became regulars. The Lady and the Pit is now one of the most popular restaurants on the east side and is easily one of the best.
From the zesty barbecue sauce to the square of crusty cornbread that accompanies entrees to the sweet tea, Smith makes everything from scratch, using her own recipes and those handed down from her family. “The basic recipes were passed down but I’ve put my own little twist on things,” she says. (In addition to barbecue, the restaurant also serves chicken-fried steak, beef tips, meatloaf and other Southern food staples).
The spacious restaurant has been given a nice makeover, with lacquered wood tables and chairs and various Texana decorations. A super-friendly server takes your order and minutes later your food arrives, piping hot, on real plates, not Styrofoam.
You’ll need good timing skills to land a plate of ribs, which often sell out. A good alternative is the fantastic pulled pork, silky in texture with a wonderfully smoky flavor.
Brisket is served one way — lean, in small pieces outlined in a red smoke ring and trimmed of fat.
“I tell people, my brisket is for people who like meat, not people who like fat,” she says. “To me there’s no point in serving meat covered in fat.”
All the meats are cooked — by co-kitchen cohort Kenneth Barton — in a custom oven/smoker, using what Smith calls a “direct heat” method.
“I make the home-cooking dishes, he handles the barbecue,” she says. “I’m the lady, he’s the pit.”
Smokey Mae’s Pit BBQ
Similar to Cooper’s and Hard Eight, this new barn-size ’cue spot in Mansfield is set up cafeteria-style. You begin in the pit area, where a pitmaster slices and serves brisket, sausage, ribs and other meats, plopping your selections on a scale (meat here is sold by weight) and then butcher paper.
Step inside for sides: mac and cheese, green beans, coleslaw, potato salad and complimentary pinto beans. Those who choose to douse their ’cue in sauce are in luck: There are nine different sauces.
Despite closing for three weeks to retrain staff, consistency is still this restaurant’s biggest challenge, as it is with most ’cue joints of this size. Brisket can be dry, ribs can be tough.
Barbecue fans should still give it a shot. Three pitmasters tend to the meat by working eight-hour shifts 24 hours a day, and that attention to their craft often comes through. Take special note of the beef rib, a monolithic slab of meat and fat big enough to feed three, and feed them well.
Malcolm Mayhew is a Fort Worth-based free-lance writer. Follow him on Twitter at @FoodFortWorth