Find a Que joint.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Local team, Meat Church, to appear on Season 5 of BBQ Pitmaster's.

Before the turn of the New Year, a minor Twitter cowshit storm was brought about by Waxahachie resident, Matt Pittman. The reason was to get his competition team, Meat Church, on the upcoming season of BBQ Pitmaster’s. The $50,000 cash prize and an invite to the Kingsford competition doesn't hurt either.

Taking advantage of a few influential barbecue friends on social media (even the Dallas Observer), he and brother Josh Pittman, were able to generate enough interest to catch the attention of BBQ Pitmaster’s creator John Markus. Apparently everyone (and their barbecue-loving-mothers), pissed Markus off from the unbridled amount of Tweets aimed his way.

(Photo by Cody Neathery)

“Please, I am asking that you call off those lobbying us to put you on,” Markus pleaded in a direct message to Pittman's Twitter account. “Enough, ok? Network has made decisions. So sight tight.” Needless to say, after Markus’s passive aggressive requests for calm from the Twitter barbecue cult, Meat Church was selected to prove their cooking skills. 

When asked why he wanted to get on the program,“I’ve been to all the joints. Watched all the shows. Think I can beat anyone,” Pittman answered stoically, before swearing me to secrecy due to a non-disclosure act by the network. “I’m just a regular Joe trying to slay the dragon.” Smoking the dragon may be more appropriate in this case.

(Photo courtesy of Matt Pittman)

Pittman got his start smoking meat on the Big Green Egg and will be participating at The Texas Egg Fest down in Austin on April 26th. Dallas’s very own, Kent Rathbun, Chef/Owner of Abacus, Jasper’s, and Rathbun’s Blue Plate Kitchen, will be joining as well.
Pittman may have the best locks amongst the smoked meat community, but can he bring the heat? There will be a watching party –open to the public –this Saturday, April 19th, at Lockhart Smokehouse. The show begins at 8 P.M.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Blind Butcher of lower Greenville.

Follow on Twitter: @DFWBBQ

With an endless amount of steakhouses in and around Dallas, one genre that hasn’t been tapped is a bar with a meat centered menu. In short, a watering hole where a guest can enjoy a Notary (similar to an Old Fashion) while hanging out at a meat counter. This constitutes for personal jubilation.

At The Blind Butcher, Goodfriend owners Matt Tobin and Josh Yingling, kept the interior simple, yet classic.  It has the welcomed appearance of a prohibition era saloon, but also offers neighborhood warmth fitting for Greenville Avenue.
Upon entering, you'll notice all furnishings are painted black, and there isn’t much light beside the soft glow from wall lamps and flatscreen TVs. Taking a seat on a barstool will guarantee a bartender's introduction with a handshake and you may catch yourself people watching via the bar’s giant mirror. I imagine a small room full of cigar smoking, fedora wearing gamblers tucked in the rear but in reality, a spacious patio with another bar.

Big Meat board (photo by Greg Cella)

After several visits since February, I’ve been impressed each time with both new items and the consistency of previous items ordered. The front of the menu is divided by snacks (appetizers rather), boards for sharing, and hand cranked sausages. Aside from the cocktail and beer menu, I find this to be all one needs to enjoy their inaugural experience here. Actually the only two items we ordered from the back of the menu was Pork Belly Poutine and Duck Fat Fries.

The Pig Ears, served with a side of orange aioli, are fried with an unassuming chewiness due to a thin piece of cartilage within. During our last visit, an agreement among the table was an improvement on the already great tasting snack. The house-cured Pastrami eggrolls were also still a favorite.

Ordered on the second visit was the Big Meat Board. This is your man’s man dish. Having enough meat to feed four, the protein is a selection of daily specials. What stood out on this evening were the bison short rib and stuffed chicken.

When it came time to sample the sausage, you cannot simply deny an opportunity to devour Duck Foie Gras sausage with chutney. For a less pretentious sounding choice, the bacon bratwurst with sauerkraut was also carefully selected.

The Duck Foie Gras stood out between the two, having a deeply rich and satisfying flavor. The bacon brat, though  composed of a completely different animal, made it tough to be comparable. However, the brat refused to settle for anything less than approval in taste.

Tangent: Bacon is the cornerstone of the American way of life by celebration of gluttony. The only way to disrespect bacon is to fry it. Sure, throw rocks at me. Then go make your own bacon and ovenize it. After this, you will never ever purchase Kroger bacon again or fry it. If you do, be prepared for my rock hurling.

Poutine's popularity in Canada is equivalent to Hawaii's obsession with Spam. Because of it's recent arrival on local dining tables, the Blind Butcher has three styles to choose from. While sparse of meat and not quite as tender, the Pork Belly Poutine was unique in the flavor delivery. In addition to the belly, layered on a pile of fries was a smoky gravy and cheese curds.

Blind Butcher wall menu (photo by Greg Cella)

I found this to be a choice go-to dish after a few late night beers from their sexy  menu of libations. The Chips and Beer cheese were also lightly decorated with duck pastrami and beer goat cheese, on what seemed to be generic potato chips.

Chef Oliver Sitrin has quietly carved a spot in the upper echelon of local meat purveyors with his unique menu and specialty sausages. The Blind Butcher is a must for meat aficionados to engage their digestive system. But most important is that you can shop for hand cranked sausage –  while sipping a Notary.

Monday, March 3, 2014

BBQ Events for the spring.

Things we like about March – Fat Tuesday, St. Patty’s Day, March Madness, and the beginning of spring. Items we dislike about March – sub-freezing weather.

With the constant threat of an Icepocalypse lurking and ready to expose its ice cubes at any given moment, it may be difficult to envision being outside, frolicking in 70-something degree weather. Do not fear, because like weathermen whose job is stating the obvious of hot or cold, I say it’s a safe bet you will be romping around in a field of blue bonnets.

You know what is better than illegally picking our state’s designated flower? Barbecue.  So, before you find yourself in the county jail with a pocket full of blue bonnets, how about getting grease on your shirt at one, or all, of these upcoming barbecue events.

·        You’re going to need to soak up all the alcohol from the prior weekend’s Dallas Observer Greenville Avenue St. Patty’s Day Parade (could the name be any longer?), so mosey on over to the Fort Worth Stockyards on March. 21-22. The International Barbecue Association Cook-off holds the 'Fort Worth Cops for Kids' competition with over 100 teams cooking meat in support of disadvantaged youth. Find your best handkerchief, head west, donate, and eat. Easy right!?

·        Houston has seldom been known for good barbecue. Once the Oilers left for Tennessee, there hasn’t been much to discuss. Not that either is actually related. Well, Houston no longer has a problem, and the barbecue has upped its game with CorkScrew BBQ and the recently opened Killen’s BBQ. Now the city will be hosting the 2nd annual Houston BBQ Fest at Reliant Park on April 6th. General admission tickets are $50 and $90 for VIP. A portion of proceeds also help Vita-Living, Inc. who supports people with disabilities.

·        Outdoors, live music, and beer. What if we combined those aforementioned items with 15 of the best barbecue joints in Texas? Well I’m no magician, and we've established I’m just as reliable as a weatherman – there is such an event. On May 3rd, The Red Dirt BBQ Fest in Tyler will be providing music from the Randy Rogers Band, Whiskey Myers, and Green River Ordinance, while barbecue from local favorites such as Hutchin’s BBQ, Cousin’s BBQ, The Slow Bone, and Lockhart Smokehouse will be serving up their meat stuff. I’d said that’s worth the hour and half drive east.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

LUCK (Local Urban Craft Kitchen), Dallas, TX

If you have never seen a strip mall of restaurants before, behold Phil Romano’s Trinity Groves. His restaurant concept has singlehandedly baked, taken, and devoured the cake – even if it was slightly overdone.

From the kitschy outside appearance – likely due to a Christmas light sale at Costco – to the massive flaming rock columns beckoning you into the coliseum of window shopping for food, Romano went full-fledged Liberace with this.

Upon initial eye contact, it is overwhelming in a childlike sense of wonder kind of way. Once your burned retinas have adjusted to the electric light orchestra, the uniqueness will captivate you.

Entering this dining compound, one conspicuous detail sticks out – each patio was constructed with nothing more in mind than simplicity. A striped down approach was taken –purposefully or not – and unfortunately, this lack of architectural ambition does not match tenants such as Casa Rubia and Resto’s individuality when it comes to their interior design.
While this concrete uniformity may not translate well with the more upscale destinations, it works effortlessly with LUCK (Local Urban Craft Kitchen). Opened in late October of 2013, this gastropub relies on local craft beer while serving variations of regional dishes.

For starters, bierrocks, breaded shrimp, and the pretzels were ordered. The breaded shrimp was less memorable, while the pretzels were as appealing as I’d expect from a homemade pretzel.

Coming three to an order, the bierrocks were reminiscent of the Czech pastry, Klobasnek, which can be found on the way to Austin in West, TX.  With a fluffy texture from the marginally sweet bread, the ground beef and cheese contents meshed well together. Complementing this appetizer was beer cheese and au jus for your dipping pleasure.
For our main entrees, our table of eight ordered the pastrami sandwich, fish and chips, shrimp and grits, pozole, torta de lengua, and pork schnitzel. Sadly, the shrimp and grits were under seasoned with the grits more liquefied in the bowl. The pork schnitzel didn’t exactly set fire to my lenden (Google translate) either, as it was a tad bland. Their fish and chips were good, but you can locate better in one of Dallas’ Irish pub knockoffs, and there are plenty of those to kick your little green shamrocks in.

Having never tried pozole before, this is one dish of LUCK’s that threw a better right hook than those previously mentioned. Again, a pozole rookie here, but without an overabundance of spice, the pork and hominy stew were well seasoned and came across even tempered upon inhalation. A second bowl was ordered.
For LUCK not being a barbecue restaurant that only concentrates on smoked meat, I found the pastrami to have been cooked nicely. Thick slices of meat served between two slices of sourdough bread, along with caramelized onions, ground mustard and a slice of Swiss – this is a well above average bar sandwich. But also, your average bar doesn’t turn brisket into pastrami. And for that reason, try the meat as separate from the sandwich as it’ll allow the pre-smoking brine to be more palpable upon taste.

Recently, I was told not to eat anything that could lick me. Well I do, but I can’t recall much detail about the torta de lengua other than it was enjoyed very much. By this point, my third high ABV beer was about finished, and so was I.
LUCK does craft beer extraordinarily well; but they have some minor misses on the menu. Clearly taking more cues from south of the border and eastern Europe, and given they’ve been open three months and some change, the consistency isn’t there yet.

What the other restaurants in Trinity Grove lack from not having a bar, LUCK provides a closure to that gap. With better than average food, it is an enjoyable spot to relax and attempt to navigate through all 40 taps. Considering most of their inventory hovers around 8% ABV, that’s one challenge I’d like to see.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

El Come Taco - going where no Dallas Taco joint has gone before.

I typically stick to smoked meat when writing, but sometimes I need to step outside my self-imposed box and broaden my horizons. Why not do so with my second love?

The taco.

A simple yet versatile concoction of cooked meat, diced cilantro and onions snuggled in a corn tortilla, often doubled up for durability. Like barbecue, if the meat is cooked right, sauce is unnecessary -- though it can be great company.

I’m no taco connoisseur like Taco Trail’s author, Jose Ralat, but when he speaks highly of a taco joint, I pay attention. It’s not often – if ever – I make a dedicated trip to a taqueria beside a late night drunken stop the closest one I locate. When Ralat's photo of a taco from El Come Taco appeared on Instagram, my taste buds started talking.

Although the novelty taco can be entertaining and seemingly adventurous, do they serve sesos or tripas or could they pull off a taco filled with chapulines? No. If you do not know what any of those words mean, allow me to translate – veal brains, calf intestines, and grasshoppers. Yes, grasshoppers.

Growing up in Mexico City, brothers Luis and Javier Villalva worked for their family’s taqueria. Later on, older brother Luis found himself managing Café San Miguel then a little spot over in Ft. Worth known as Revolver Taco Lounge. 

With well over 10 years’ experience between the two and a plan, both combined their love of traditional street food with El Come Taco. The restaurant opened roughly eight weeks ago and has quickly gained fans and ground in the local taco scene. Lucky for us, they chose Dallas for their establishment.

Offering attractive hours for the late night crowd, I decided on going a bit later on a Thursday night. You’ll find El Come Taco situated in a small strip center along Fitzhugh Avenue with only a banner announcing its existence.

On the inside is a brightly colored polished, yet bare restaurant filled with tables, one TV, and a beverage cooler. There is also a dining bar along one wall. Each table has the burnt logo of the restaurant which is the calavera, or a skull -- a symbol mostly associated with the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos.

According to Luis, the chalkboard menu provides a well representation of traditional street food found in Mexico City. Javier said several customers have asked for the chapulines taco due to Ralat's  photo – the same photo that attracted me.

Luis stated he would like to make it a permanent item at some point. He even hinted at the possibility of the Maguey worm becoming a filling for tacos. The Maguey worm can either be a caterpillar or larva, dependent upon the color distinction. They feed off the agave plant in central Mexico, and this is one reason distribution would be difficult.

I ordered the lengua (tongue), pastor, pollo marinado, tripas, sesos, and campechano, which is a mixture of brisket and chorizo. Beside the lengua, each meat was cooked to a nice crisp texture, thus eliminating any possibility of slimy meat that could harm the integrity of the tortilla. No one likes a soggy tortilla.

The generous amount of cilantro can be overwhelming and may jeopardize the flavor of the meat, so remedy this by removing as much or as little to taste. You have a choice of four sauces and every bottle is meant to be paired with different meats, as evident by the hand-written labels on the lids.

Providing a bit of heat, I found the green avocado sauce to be the most delectable. The other three sauces were a bit less flavorful and mild than one may expect. However, they’re worth trying a few drops with the respected taco pairings.

The menu doesn’t yield to tacos only. You’ll also find tortas, gringas, and even postres. After a quick education on traditional street tacos and listening to the direction the Villalva brothers want to go in, I suspect they will continue moving into a territory that other local taco joints have yet to venture into.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Lockhart Smokehouse, Plano, TX - a first look.

Crossing over the DART tracks into downtown Plano, you will quickly notice new construction surrounding the area off 15th Street. With a recent article from the Dallas Morning News of the city's planned mixed development sprawl southward, it’s not far-fetched to say downtown Plano is very similar to Bishop Arts District.

Already there is a healthy mix of shops, restaurants and bars such as Vickery Park, Fillmore Pub, and Kelly’s Eastside. In 2012, Urban Crust spawned a Tex-Mex sister, Urban Rio, and more recently the popular food truck, Cajun Tailgaters, moved into a brick and mortar.

Adding to the downtown diversity was the announcement of Lockhart Smokehouse's second location in the summer of 2013. December was initially the target month for open doors, but unfortunately this did not occur.

Owner Jeff Bergus said of the date being pushed back, “With every business, there will always be hurdles to jump over, but we’re close. I expect us opening within the next couple weeks.”

After an October fire to neighboring restaurant Zanata, the city of Plano tightened the reins on their plans. The pits had to be enclosed within a separate brick structure. Being housed in a building over 100 years old, Lockhart's owners obliged due to the safety factors involved.
Owner Jill Bergus was elated to have found a location with such history, and the preservation of its character played an important part during the renovation. “We just seem to fall into dumb luck," she said. "Between the Bishop Arts location and here, just luck.”

Originally there was a downtown McKinney location mapped out before that deal fell through. Though disappointed, Jill was content saying, “Because of that not working out, it gave us another year of learning and planning. I believe we’re in a much better position now.”

“This location gives us something we didn’t have before -- more space to accommodate our customer’s needs. There will be an upstairs dining area which will have a bar over looking the restaurant, and will also serve as dual purpose for an event space," she said.

Wanting to maintain as much of the building's original appearance as possible, they kept partially exposed brick walls, wooden floors, and an exposed ceiling. During the renovation, an old well was found where the downstairs bar is situated. This dated back to when every building had its own well for precautionary measures in case of a downtown fire.

As far as the menu goes, it will remain the same as the Bishop Arts location with a robust local craft beer selection. The service line will be more fluid from entrance to chopping block. One thing the Bergus' didn’t want to do was separate their customers from the quintessential barbecue experience and not allow them the opportunity to view the cutting of the meat.

With the first annual Suburbia Fest being announced earlier this month, there’s no denying Plano is becoming an eclectic place to live and play. If there was anything missing to the downtown's puzzle, Lockhart Smokehouse aims to put that piece in place.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Barbecue without a wait - Austin, Texas.

Spring is around the corner and many folk will find themselves making a pilgrimage to Austin or at least a pit stop on their way to one of the state’s many natural water sources. Regardless of why you want to go down south and get weird, nobody has time to spare while on vacation – especially in lines.

When it comes to lines, we scoff; cursing those ahead of us for taking too long, since it’s their fault they arrived earlier than us. Our choices are to leave or continue practicing half-assed patience.

Admittedly, there’s a certain sense of entitlement married with accomplishment when we are the ones everyone else is waiting for. You always know that everyone else is now cursing you but you pretend to not notice. You’ve waited your turn and couldn't care less if anyone else gets theirs.

This may not seem as big of a deal when it comes to gas station lines or the drive-thru at Starbucks because luckily for every American, there’s another gas station down the road and three Starbucks before that. However, when it comes to getting your smoked meat fix, a line often determines our perception. Although great taste and long lines can be synonymous, remember kids – looks can be deceiving.
Bragging about how you braved a line for hours just to eat somewhere doesn’t gain you any life points and in fact, makes you seem as awesome as a Galveston postcard from the 80’s. How about trying somewhere new and getting your fix – without a wait. With that being said, here’s a short list for your convenience.

Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ – 600 W. 6th St. (Behind Star Bar). Open 5 pm Mon & Tues, Lunch/Dinner only Wed through Fri and all day Sat and Sun.
When coming to this food trailer, toss any stereotypes of how Texas barbecue should be served out the window. While the meat is smoked in the traditional manner, the Tex Mex angle comes from how the food is served. The simple menu is divided into two sections; Tex and Mex. Under the Tex you have sandwiches loaded with your meat of choice while under the Mex, you will find the same meat, though snuggled in a tortilla, handmade onsite. Order the smoked brisket taco with guacamole and tomato Serrano salsa and the smoked carnitas taco that includes caramelized onions, cilantro and a tomatillo habanero salsa, which is quite mild. At this point, you’ll forever forget those barbecue stereotypes.

Micklethwait Craft Meats – 1309 Rosewood Ave. (East Austin). Open Wed through Sat, 11 am - 3pm & 4:30 - 8pm. Sun 11 am – 3 pm.
Smartly located down the street from Franklin Barbecue, this canvas of a trailer has emerged from the shadow of the aforementioned top barbecue joint of the world. Here you will not only find a near perfect plate of smoked meat but some of the best sides to accompany a barbecue joint. Owner/Pit Master Tom Micklethwait is also crafty in the world of handmade sausage. One day he may concoct pork belly Andouille and the next, Thai sausage. His sausages are true to the word artisanal. Order the three meat plate for $14 and allow Tom’s meat to surprise you.

La Barbecue – 1200 E. 6th St. (East Austin). Open Wed – Sun, 11 am until sold out.

If you must deal with any line, here’s a place worth waiting for. Having recently moved from their location on South 1st, the line isn’t a nightmare though it can be a consistently long at times. No fear – with live music on the weekends and free beer, this wait is the most tolerable of them all. My recommendation here is to purchase a handmade link of Pit Master John Lewis’s all beef sausage, along with the well seasoned pork ribs and a thick slice of fatty brisket. If you're wise, order one succulent beef rib and take it to go. Big Red is an encouraged liquid partner to your meal.

Pro-tip: Call ahead the day before or day of, walk past the line while getting cursed and pick up your order. That’s something worth bragging about.
Kerlin BBQ – 1700 E. Cesar Chavez (East Austin). Open Wed through Sun, 11 am through 3 pm or sold out.

Recently opened Kerlin BBQ has made a ripple in the Austin barbecue scene. Of course they have the whole no line thing but once you try Bill Kerlin’s brisket and ribs, you’ll be scratching your head as to why there isn’t a line. Being in close proximity to other barbecue joints with a hellish DMV style line, Kerlin BBQ is smoking superb meat worth skipping a line for. Try one slice of lean and one slice of moist with the ribs. Ask for extra pickles to dip  in the BBQ sauce and hum along with the music of Waylon Jennings.
Freedmen’s Bar – 2402 San Gabriel St. (West Campus). Open Tues through Sat, 11 am – 12 am. Brunch starting at 11 am on Sunday.

Evan LeRoy has seemingly mastered the craft of not only smoked meat but smoked food overall. After tasting his barbecue, one may think that a pit master, decades older, is cooking but he has accomplished this level of prowess while only in his mid-20’s. Although open for lunch with great specials, the historic building which houses the restaurant, truly comes to life upon dusk. Order the Holy Trinity with smoked beats and grilled cabbage slaw while sitting in the patio under strands of party bulbs. After tossing back a cocktail of your choosing, finish the night off with smoked banana pudding. All this and no line.