In Texas barbecue circles, brisket is often regarded as a ’cue joint’s defining dish, followed by ribs and sausage, typically in that order.
Many barbecue joints simply don’t put much stock in sausage. They smoke and serve commercial links. Others will go the extra half-mile and buy from good sausage-makers.
As any North Texas barbecue connoisseur knows, only a handful of local restaurants devote the time and care to make their own sausage — the ultimate way to realize its potential.
One of the few is Sausage Shoppe, which for 23 years offered house-made sausage to a small, in-the-know crowd on Fort Worth’s south side. Before Pecan Lodge and Longoria’s helped popularize DIY sausage in North Texas, the Chambers family stuffed, smoked and sold their own beef and pork sausage out of a humble space on Seminary Drive, quietly, without sensation.
This year marked two significant changes for Sausage Shoppe that could raise the restaurant’s profile considerably: Owner Alandres Chambers and his wife, Angela, moved it to a bigger space on Sycamore School Road at McCart Avenue, and along with the bigger space, the family unveiled a revamped menu.
In addition to sausage, brisket and other barbecue staples, the restaurant now serves Southern and soul-food dishes: pork chops, turkey legs, oxtails and chicken-fried steak, along with sides and mom Mary Chambers’ scratch-made desserts.
Smoked on an outdoor, wood-burning unit that pitmaster Alandres feeds mesquite, the sausage, brisket, ribs and chicken are served by the pound, plate or sandwich; there are no half- or quarter-pounds. Best way to sample the ’cue without ordering several plates or pounds is to load up on sandwiches; each contains between a quarter- and half-pound of meat.
A brisket sandwich ($6.49) consisted of a generous pile of beef, thinly sliced, plus a sweet sauce ladled on economically. Edges were stiff, almost jerky-like. It had a good, smoky flavor, but for moisture, it relied heavily on the sauce. The best parts were patches of fat that melted away, at tongue’s touch, like cotton candy.
Pork spare ribs ($9.99 a pound) were packed with meat and juice. Much of the fat had been trimmed away in favor of lean and clean presentation. Faint traces of bark were embroidered here and there, and they offered a welcome bite of pepper. Focus was clearly on the meat, and it showed in the tender texture and rich flavor. It was also cooked well, requiring a tug to come undone from the bone.
For the sausage, we ordered a pound of beef ($7.99) and a pork sandwich ($4.99). Beef came in the form of a large, U-shaped link, plus a sizable half link. The sandwich contained about a quarter-pound of a link, sliced in two and served on white bread, drenched in sauce.
Both were plump and admirably juicy and had great snaps to the skins. When we bit into them, they cracked like knuckles and sent tiny showers of juice across our table.
Differences in their flavors were slight. Beef was robust, while the pork was a tad richer. Both were staggeringly good, about as far from commercial sausage as you can get. It was obvious how these links have kept Sausage Shoppe going all these years.
Sausage is the restaurant’s calling card, but not the only thing it does well. Among the new dishes, try the smothered pork chops ($10.99), consisting of a pair of large, deep-fried chops covered in onion gravy. This was a good gravy, light in weight but strong in flavor. Surprisingly, the batter remained crisp even under the gravy; meat was fork-tender.
Some of the dishes sell out early. One of the first to go is chicken-fried steak ($10.99), coated in the same batter as the pork chops. We got a better taste of the pleasantly salty and crisp batter, though, as we raced the white pepper gravy to areas where it had not yet oozed over. Underneath, we found an easy-to-slice cutlet, not the least bit stringy or chewy.
Plates come with three sides, from a list of about a dozen. Many are kept warm in chafing dishes, which meant their quality hinged on how long they’d been out. Mac and cheese was freshly made — creamy and perky. Mashed potatoes were good, too, chunky and seasoned with a pinch of pepper. Green beans were slightly wrinkled and devoid of flavor. Best was the steamed cabbage, soft and slightly spicy.
Sandwiches are made with plain white bread, and pounds of barbecue come with at least four slices, so you can make your own sandwiches. Plates, however, come with a nice little bonus: springy blocks of cornbread.
For dessert, we had a big slice of sock-it-to-me cake ($2.50), one of three kinds of cake available. It was similar to pound cake in texture, soft, spongy and moist, and was dotted with pecans, sprinkled with cinnamon and topped with a vanilla buttercream frosting. It was mercilessly sweet.
Opened in June, the restaurant is set up like a cafeteria. You move through a line, picking your meat first, veggies second, dessert, then drinks. The food servers are generally friendly, although one showed zero sympathy when I asked him if I could do just a half-pound of the beef sausage. “Nope,” he said dryly, knowing good and well I’d order the pound, and of course eat every last bit of it.
3515 Sycamore School Road, Fort Worth
Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday (closed Monday)