Find a Que joint.

Friday, August 30, 2013

FM Smoke House

It's no secret that Texas barbecue is the cat's meow these days. With the renaissance being centered on Austin and Dallas, you can even find the Texas style being replicated at Brisket Town and Hill Country Barbecue and Market located in New York. Riding the coat tail from Daniel Vaughn being the nation's first ever Barbecue Editor for Texas Monthly which corresponded with Texas Monthly’s Top 50 list issue - smoked meat is hot and it doesn't look to be cooling off anytime soon.

We’ve also seen a recent rise in the Dallas/Ft. Worth region of newly opened barbecue restaurants from owner's that have other restaurants. Jack Perkins of Maple & Motor Burger fame chipped in his two cents with The Slow Bone earlier in the spring while Kenny Bower's from the beloved "Kenny's" chains put his hand in the pot with Kenny's Smokehouse opening at the Shops at Legacy in January of this year. It only made sense for the owners of Plano's The Holy Grail Pub to take a swing at the local barbecue scene.

Brian and Christi Rudolph found success at the forefront of local bars celebrating the craft beer movement when they opened The Holy Grail Pub in 2009. Since then, they've done barbecues at the pub ever so often with brisket, ribs, pulled pork and other smoked meat being offered. When the decision was made to take the occasional barbecue to the next level - the corporate-oriented location of Irving was a savvy business move on their behalf since there is minimal barbecue competition within reach.

After reading some decent reviews from local food critics but hearing some dismal reviews from others who enjoy smoked meat, FM Smoke House has been on my local list since their conception. They’ve now been open six months and I reckon this to be enough time for the kinks to be worked out; service wise and more importantly, food wise.

I arrived at this former Bennigan’s location before the lunch crowd with anticipation for freshness sake. After taking a gander at the menu, they, like their sister restaurant The Holy Grail Pub, have a strong craft beer list and even more impressive whiskey selection. As far as the food goes, it’s a healthy compilation of rural southern cuisine. With a refreshing choice of sandwiches and main dishes like chicken fried steak and brisket Frito pie, they never stray from the smoky roots provided by an Ole Hickory gas-assisted smoker.

My decision fell upon the three meat plate with two sides. Unfortunately they do not smoke pork ribs so I settled on the pulled pork option. It appeared as if all meat was served with sauce on top so I requested it on the side. I asked about the cut of brisket that is served with lean being the answer so I had my order amended for moist. The corn-meal fried okra and tri-color coleslaw were the meat companions I ordered from the attractive list of sides.

When served, the brisket was rather lean, dry and trimmed of all crust which my server quickly corrected with bark lined fatty brisket. I took a bite of the brisket and found a delectable mix of a pecan and hickory smoked flavor but the underdone chewy texture was a disappointment. My experience with the pulled pork offered even less smoke and the same dry character. You will often find this poor quality due to fat not being rendered thoroughly in the meat. The highlight of the plate was the house made spicy sausage, although loosely packed with a soft casing. The okra and coleslaw were riding a train of blandness that salt and pepper could’ve easily fixed.

As with any topic, food related or not, there will always been an abundance of personal opinions. Because everyone doesn't always appreciate fatty goodness where the best flavor is, you have customers who prefer lean as opposed to those who recognize the significance of moist meat. Since consistency is the name of the game in barbecue – experiences vary as well just like personal palates.

By the time I left, a steady lunch crowd made up of the white collar type were arriving. With the choice restaurant location, they have it locked in for lunch and with a substantial drink list, they probably capitalize on happy hour crowd as well. With that being said - it's too bad the smoked meat doesn’t take precedence.

Friday, August 16, 2013

DFWBBQ events from Summer to Fall.

Does the summer heat have you down? Catch the barbecue wave with these upcoming events that will help you transition from the sultry summer months into the crisp fall season. Heck, you may even pick up on some cooking tips to impress your friends right in time for college football Saturdays.

* What's better on Labor Day weekend than watching others labor over a smoker? Hit up the Bedford Blues & BBQ Labor Day Weekend Festival. With a $5 General Admission charge, you will get to attend this festival which was recently featured on the Travel Channel's BBQ Crawl. Also included is a musical lineup consisting of Jimmie Vaughn, John Mayall, Josh Weathers, and blues legend Buddy Guy. For $10 more -- you can try 10 samples and have 2 votes. You may even run into Danielle "Diva Q" Dimovski, hostess of BBQ Crawl.

* On Saturday, September 21st -- find the hitch in your giddy-up at the Boots, Beer, and BBQ fundraiser at Eddie Deen's Ranch in downtown Dallas. This is the 15th Annual Auction and Gala benefiting the Easter Seals. For $75 per person, you can bid on items for the silent auction, boot scoot to live country music, and loosen your belt buckle from all the BBQ you just consumed.

* If you partied at Jimmy Buffet's concert this year then you may find a similar party Friday night, September 27th at Camp Craig Allen's 7th Annual Amateur BBQ cook-off benefit. Happening at Bass Pro Shop in Grapevine, a $25 ticket will get you into the kick off party full of margaritas from the Dallas Margarita Society, casino tents, live music and a BBQ buffet. The following Saturday is the family friendly BBQ cook-off with 45 teams competing. Tickets are $10 donations per person at the door. Sample food from the team sites while delighting in a cash bar, eating contests, kid's area, live music and wheelchair sports! All donations benefit disabled youth, adults, and veterans!

* Oak Cliff dwellers and Dallasites alike -- the Blues, Bandits, and BBQ shindig is conveniently located for you in Davis Park. The competition's name is derived from famous past residents of Oak Cliff. Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughn and of course Bonnie and Clyde to be exact. Dates have yet be released but this will be the 4th Annual event. Previous years have included local craft beer tents, cooking demonstrations, kid's area, live music and of course BBQ. Stay tuned!

* Have you ever wanted to watch Dallas' top chefs go head-to-head in an all BBQ cook-off? Then Meat Fight may tickle your fancy. Last year's 1st annual event at Sons of Hermann Hall helped rake in a whopping $20,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. This year's Meat Fight occuring at Four Corners Brewery, plans on exceeding that amount given the bigger event space allowing more tickets for sale. Mark your calendars for November 17th and I promise you'll have one hell of a good time. Tickets go on sale soon.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A meat lover's experience at The Fan's Inaugural Sausage Fest.

When one hears the title Sausage Fest, connotations and innuendos instantly flood our small human minds. When I heard about a food themed Sausage Fest sponsored by 105.3 the Fan being held in downtown Dallas - I started salivating. Then immature one liners flooded my small human mind.

Imagine walking through a Willy Wonka's sausage version of his Chocolate Factory full of brats, knacks, Andouille, and jalapeno sausage. This is what barbecue enthusiasts like me get thrilled about. The potential to learn about the craft and try new meats. The fact there would be a sausage race where meat is held strategically between one's legs, bobbing for sausages and the crowning of Miss Sausage Fest, a mature crowd of 21 years old and up was the rule. My very own Sausage Factory.

While it's publicly known that 105.3 the Fan is a sports radio station steadily declining in ratings, throwing an event like this could shore up attention for them. Also the fact that they were utilizing Dallas' downtown for an event is commendable. While their intentions may have been to cheer on BBQ, sports, and all things men, the event itself may have been a bit flaccid.

On the surface it seemed promising and full of entertainment. I was plugging it left and right on Twitter and after convincing friends it had nothing to do with Oak Lawn, I managed to assemble a group of average meat lovers to attend. Think about it - Main Street garden with live music, food and can't find too many people who would disagree that this wouldn't be good times. Even Chicago, Vancouver and of course Elgin, Texas all have their own respective celebratory gatherings in honor of our spicy, greasy, oblong shaped pals.

What I expected and what I experienced are two completely different stories. Were there scantily clad women, beer, and music? Well of course. Was there sausage? Yep. But the shortcoming was the amount of sausage one would expect from a "Sausage Fest." A total of five vendors were on site with one of the vendor's products purchasable at Wal-Mart.

Even my companions, who again are far less interested in sausage than I, were slightly finicky about the event - or lack thereof. Forget the sun beating down upon us - we wanted meat. Forget the $6 12 oz. cans of beer - we came hungry and carnivorous in every sense of the word.

The major disappointing factor was the infamous Dallas legend, Jimmy's Food Store, not in attendance. How about the delicious handmade sausage from Texas Monthly Top 4 Pecan Lodge or the legendary Kreuz sausage imported from Lockhart, Texas to Bishop Arts District's own Lockhart Smokehouse? Did anyone invite them to the event? Or the many other local meat purveyors such as Kuby's Sausage House and Rudolph's, what about them?

3 Stacks Smoke and Tap House and Hard 8 BBQ were the only notable barbecue joints in attendance which both served pretty admirable protein. The Texas Andouille from Hard 8 BBQ was exceptionally spicy and issued a great snap to it. The thing is, I could've gone to each one of these establishments and spent the amount I did on a full meal and their in-house sausage any day of the week.

Yes - I get it, there was innuendo visibly present and the novelty wasn't lost on me. The fest actually drew an evenly mixed male and female crowd despite it being geared towards the male population. My point is you can have all the PG-13 humor you want and still hit the mark celebrating the festival's namesake. Beside not having local Dallas businesses, missed were the opportunities to taste sausage from different cultures. Do a quick search and you will quickly find different German and Italian sausage, central Texas pork and beef sausage, East Texas hot links, Louisiana Andouille, and a variety of other styles. Another opportunity missed was an exhibit showing the hard work which goes into hand making sausage.

Did they deliver what they intended? Depends on who you ask. Food obviously wasn't The Fan's number one priority for this and I recognize that in hindsight. However they could've given the general public of North Texas a genuine look at what you would normally drive hours to experience. Many of whom eat the product but have never learned of it's origin.

To me, there's a certain nostalgia about maneuvering a bun and brat into your mouth at a baseball game. As a lover of sausage - next year, beef up the festival some more. If you're going to throw a party for sausage in Dallas - toss in some nostalgia and give the local meat markets a chance! Authentic meat markets are a rarity these days and their attendance wouldn't go unappreciated. This event could've uniquely stood out more but at least it has something to build upon. Hopefully The Fan will still be around to have a 2nd Annual. By the way, fair warning - don't type "Sausage Fest" into your preferred search engine.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Metzler's Food & Beverage

2 Stars

Hanging in front of this established Denton convenience store is a faded navy blue banner reading "Voted Best in Denton 2008". What you'll also notice is the advertisement of alcohol and furthermore that they serve smoked meat with sausage from Fischer's Market in Muenster, TX.

They've been around since 1947 and have been serving the "finest bar-b-q" since then as their drinking cup states. Noticeably on their menu is a heavy German influence and using Fischer's sausages, I wanted this place to be something worth telling people about. Other than the broad alcohol selection, my hopes would soon be dashed.     - - - - - -

First thing I noticed when I arrived before noon was an absolute lack of smoke outside and inside, where the smoker was actually located. By now I know what this entails. Day old meat. From a small shop like this, I'd expect it could go either way. On one hand with their history, I would've thought fresh BBQ daily if they were popular at lunch. On the other hand, if they don't sell a comparable volume of BBQ, they probably won't trash leftovers as this isn't cost effective. Neither is serving current and potential customers lackluster quality because they will eventually stop coming.

I ordered the three meat plate with German potato salad and slaw. Thinking to myself that sauce may be used as a mask, I luckily caught the waitress in enough time for her to scurry back to the kitchen to relay my request of no sauce. I went for the rib first which had a faint smoky flavor, came off the bone too easy and was absent of rub. The brisket was dry and I thought I hit hints of Mesquite in the taste but my taste buds were mostly sensitive to a pot roast flavor. Even the fatty piece was underdeveloped from the previous days smoking.

Fischer's smoked sausage is some of my favorite. Growing up with frequent trips to the meat market - it brings back childhood memories of enjoying sliced sausage and smoked cheddar cheese held together by saltine crackers. Sadly enough they did no justice to this pleasant memory by throwing it on the stove top. My childhood innocence has now been robbed. By a stove top. 

Before leaving I spoke to the gentlemen at the counter who confirmed that all they use is Mesquite because it's easy to get around here. They thought about and briefly tried Hickory but that's very difficult to come by he said. I can think of a few places that use Hickory with no supply or demand issues.

Like a father who still displays dusty state champion trophies from high school or a former pageant queen desperately clinging to that tiara, sometimes you just have to let go of who you use to be and recognize who you presently are. After that moment, you may have acquired an ability to initiate change. At some point Metzler's may have served remarkable BBQ but with utmost certainty, the old pitmaster isn't overlooking the process which kept them in business for 66 years. There is opportunity here but if they enjoy living in the past while disservicing customers - maybe it's time to take down the misleading faded navy blue banner. Besides, Rudy's is right around the corner.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Cafe Momentum and the Pitmaster's Picnic.

What is an "at-risk youth"? Have you ever wondered what puts a pre-teen or young teenager in the "at-risk" category? The adjective form of at-risk reads of "being endangered, as from exposure to disease or from a lack of parental or familial guidance and proper health care," from one source. Merriam-Webster defines the word risk as the "possibility of loss or injury."

Youth is defined as "the time of life when one is young; especially : the period between childhood and maturity".

The period between childhood and maturity. The period where innocence is most fragile resulting in a higher chance of becoming lost. The period where without positive leadership in a desperate environment - a child can become labeled as at-risk.

Most think of at-risk youth as being from a crime-ridden urban dwelling. This is not always so. We rarely view a child living in an upper class neighborhood from far North Dallas as being at-risk. However, they too may lack certain guidance and healthy leadership thus resulting in damaged morals and standards. The painfully lonely and confusing period between childhood and maturity for them does not discriminate between poverty and wealth.

We can do one of two things as a society. Ignore the problem entirely and shake our heads later in disgust or face the problem head on by wreaking havoc on darkness through positive outreach. If we choose the second, we've the opportunity to successfully prevent this downward spiral and assist in their self-worth becoming realized.

Chad Houser chose the latter. As long time Chef at the Oak Lawn restaurant, Parigi, a self-described "neighborhood bistro," Chad made the decision to leave in August 2012 to concentrate full-time on another culinary creation, Café Momentum. Assisting Chad was another Parigi Chef by the name of Janice Provost and from there these two would continue to grow it out of it's stages of infancy.

There was something quite different with this new food venture as it had no storefront and would rely heavily on the ever-so-popular "pop-up" restaurant themed events. It would also involve a group which most would've deemed worthless, disadvantaged and already lost, the Dallas County Youth Village (DCYV) also known as "at-risk youth."

The DCYV are young men between ages 13-17 who are at that pivotal moment, returning to their same environment with one leg to stand on while the vicious cycle continues until they wind back into a juvenile detention center. Unfortunately not all of us had someone taking our hands to show us that there is more to life than a bleak future on the streets. Fortunately there are people who exist, willing to step into that role as a complete stranger and guide, to expose a brighter future.

From this point forward - the term at-risk will be obsolete because there is not one of us who hasn't made mistakes growing up and some, if not most, continue making poor decisions well into our adult lives. The late great Hank Williams sang it best, "So unless you have made no mistakes in your life, Be careful of stones that you throw." We cannot allow ourselves to define them by their past. To be a positive changing factor in someone's life we must not label them as anything other than success.

I first came into contact with Chad previous to an event when I was following Jack Perkins around his new barbecue venture, The Slow Bone, located on Industrial Blvd. It was here that Jack offered his building and parking lot for Café Momentum's latest "pop-up" theme - the Pitmaster's Picnic. Knowing this in advance I reached out to Stephen Joseph of Joseph's Riverport Bar-B-Que in Jefferson, TX to offer my assistance. The final lineup would include The Slow Bone, Stanley's Famous Pit, Pecan Lodge, Lockhart Smokehouse, Louie Mueller's and of course Joseph's Riverport. To keep it short, some of the greatest cooks within the Texas barbecue scene who have some of the biggest hearts.

The day of the event, Sunday July 7th, was met with anticipation. I arrived at The Slow Bone mid-morning to meet Stephen and his Riverport crew after their early morning haul from Jefferson. While waiting out the lunch crowd, talking all things barbecue, and listening to Jack's humorously embellished tirades about whatever came to his mind, the worker's and volunteers of Café Momentum begin to arrive.

While it's clear that Chad is the brains behind the operation, board member Terry Lynn Crenshaw was the mover and shaker for the day. A personal Chef by trade she was omnipresent over the site, instructing the young men of their duties and overseeing the event's step by step process. Mainly she could be found chatting away and laughing. A lot. A true asset to the inner-workings of Café Momentum would be an understatement.

By evening time, the tents were set up with food ready, red and white checkered clothes covering the tables and the crowd's arrival imminent. Before the serving hour, Chad brought the young men around to each pitmaster's table to introduce themselves. Each one had a handshake more firm than the last and carried a well-mannered demeanor with every "Hi, my name is" and "Pleased to meet you sir." The moment I recognized what Chad already had - happened while standing from a location where I could see each pitmaster's area. What I saw were these "young men" interacting with each pitmaster and being engaged. Not ignored.

As evident from the crowd in attendance, Café Momentum has a strong and loyal following. Over half of the crowd were repeat eaters and those fans stayed a bit longer to hear an announcement that had been published a week prior in Dallas Observer's Food Blog "City of Ate."

Understand that the whole time Chad has been conducting these dining events, he still had a bigger vision. This vision included having a brick and mortar where the young men of DCYV would have a positive environment to learn skills and work ethics which would benefit them more than one could imagine. With a grant from the United Way to the tune of $175,000 - Chad's brick and mortar is that much closer to reality. This announcement was met with inspiring cheers and applause from the Café Momentum faithful. It seemed as if they want to see this project all the way through to completion more than Chad. In a sense, they are partners as well and I don't believe anyone would disagree.

Many times I've heard people say "If I had a million dollars I could help a charity". My newly found personal motto is "If you don't help when you have nothing, what's going to change when you have something?" Since Café Momentum's first pop-up in June 2011, some of Dallas' finest restaurants and Chefs in the dining scene have offered their services. This has helped Chad build upon his reputation and credibility while acquiring an evolving belief in his work. Café Momentum still gets by with a little help from some friends but when you put it into perspective, it really does take a village to raise a child.