Barbecue is a religion in Texas, and a few true believers woke up very early Saturday to worship at the temple of Heim, the beloved food trailer turned sparkling new restaurant on Fort Worth’s Magnolia Avenue.
When Angelo Sotelo and Austin Teague arrived just after 6 a.m., wearing matching Franklin Barbecue hats, they were fairly certain they’d be first in line for the 11 a.m. opening. But they were greeted by Emily McLaughlin and Jeff Knipper, who had been relaxing in lawn chairs by the door for almost three hours.
That’s right: The line for barbecue started forming at 3:15 a.m.
Amen, brothers and sisters.
“We can neither confirm nor deny that we’ve been in line for nearly eight hours,” Emily joked as the magic hour approached. “We were here stupid early. But we are fans of Travis and Emma [Heim], we were fans from the trailer, so our allegiance to them got us up in the middle of night.”
They weren’t the only ones who were on a barbecue quest Saturday. By 10 a.m., as the mercury soared above 90, the line stretched around the block as owners Travis and Emma Heim worked feverishly to put the finishing touches on their “dream come true.”
The young couple burst onto the Fort Worth barbecue scene a couple of years ago with a trailer set up in a parking lot on the near south side Fridays through Sundays. Lines would form early, and Heim’s brisket, ribs and signature bacon burnt ends would run out a few hours later because of such high demand.
In October 2015, the Heims announced they would open a 120-seat restaurant on Magnolia Avenue in the former Mijo’s space. Since then, it has been one of the city’s most anticipated openings.
“It’s insane, but we really love and appreciate them,” Travis Heim says of the barbecue faithful who lined up before morning’s light. “We’re just excited to finally open the doors.”
Bobby Beauchesne woke up at 4 a.m. in Austin, cradle of barbecue greatness, to drive here and be part of the opening day congregation. He was in line by 8 a.m. with his girlfriend Racheal Bynum, a Fort Worth resident and a fallen vegetarian.
“It is true love,” Racheal says of her relationship and her carnivorous conversion.
“True love for meat,” Bobby chimes in.
“This is definitely the best place in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.” adds Bobby, who has led Racheal on a pilgrimage to 49 of Texas Monthly’s Top 50 barbecue joints. Among those are Pecan Lodge in Dallas and Longoria’s in Fort Worth.
On Saturday, two hours before the restaurant opened, he already knew what he was going to order: The BBQ Snob Sandwich ($13.50), a monster featuring brisket, bacon burnt ends and sausage that was inspired by Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn.
“It’s the best sandwich in barbecue,” he said. “It’s awesome.”
When the door to the restaurant finally opened just after 11, patrons were greeted by cheers, and then there were tears.
Travis Heim emerged from the kitchen with a few bites of brisket on butcher paper for Emily McLaughlin, and she got a bit verklempt.
“Just like the old days [at the trailer],” she said. “I feel like I’m gonna cry.”
And then she did, giving Emma Heim a big barbecue hug.
Angelo Sotero may have been second in line, but he and his friends were first when it came to ordering a veritable feast.
Their table looked like a barbecue fever dream, loaded with brisket ($10 per 1/2 pound), ribs ($8.50 per 1/2 pound), burnt ends ($6 per 1/4 pound), sausage ($8.50), banana pudding ($3) and much more.
“The bill came to $201 with tax and tip,” he said. “Totally worth it.”
As he and four friends posed for photos with their ceremonial first bites, the line moved briskly. By 2 p.m., with temperatures in the triple digits, the couple dozen hungry souls waiting were mercifully inside in the air conditioning. Out back, members of the Heim staff were hard at work loading one of the three state-of-the-art smokers with briskets for Sunday’s service.
“It’s kind of a visceral thing,” Jeff Knipper says of Texans and their connection to barbecue. “You know it on a real basic level. The first time we went to the trailer, they would give you a little sample, a little morsel, and being rookies we didn’t know what to expect.
“I think our knees buckled when we had that first bite. We were sold.”
Heim Craft BBQ, 1109 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth. (817) 882-6970. heimbbq.com