Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lamberts Downtown Barbecue

AUSTIN: Lamberts Downtown Barbecue
401 W. Second

Austin, TX 78701


Open Daily 11-2 & 5:30-11

Downtown Austin is home to many new structures, many of them modern. In the midst of the building boom sits Lambert's, which is located in a historic two-story brick building with lofty ceilings and an open kitchen. On a Wednesday afternoon, there were no open tables during lunchtime, so we made our way to the concrete bar.

Detractor's generally chalk up Lambert's as "fancy barbecue" and insist that it does not belong in the discussion of great Texas 'cue. The descriptions on their menu do little to dissuade the first time visitor. Rather than brisket, ribs and sausage, you can instead choose from "Brown Sugar & Coffee Rubbed Natural Brisket, Maple & Coriander Crusted Natural Pork Ribs, and Homemade Jalapeno Hot Link." Fortunately the bartender understood when I simply asked for brisket, pork ribs (they do offer beef ribs) and sausage.

A thin line of fat hugged the bottom of each beautiful thick slice of brisket. The black crust held a deep smokiness that permeated the meat and the fat. I initially peeled some fat off before my first bite, which I rescued later after realizing just how good each previous bite was. The only negative I could find was a slight toughness to the meat which could just be chalked up to a consequence of the thick slices. The sweet rub on the ribs was incredible. It wasn't cloying, but it married well with the smoke flavor. Each rib had a deep red color with well rendered fat and excellent flavor throughout. The rib meat was also less than velvety in texture, but not uncomfortably tough. The jalapeno sausage is house made and features a bold pepper flavor, a fine grind and great snap. Each bite of link also had a great smoke flavor. Three sauces are offered in mild, hot and mustard, but save it for your bread...this meat needs no adornment.

The owner has a sense of humor as evidenced by the menu which pokes fun at this joints supposed reputation by adding the question "Fancy Barbecue?" at the bottom of each page. As far as this BBQ Snob is concerned, if it's good tender meat that is caringly smoked over oak wood, then superfluous descriptions and cloth napkins are no reason to keep you from enjoying some paticularly scrumptious 'cue.

Rating *****
Lamberts Downtown Barbeque on Urbanspoon

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Jasper's Bar-B-Q

WACO: Jasper’s Bar-B-Que
105 Clifton St

Waco, TX 76704


Open M-Sat 9-2

Jasper's is a tiny joint housed in a building that stands next to the remains of an old railroad track. It was opened by Jasper DeMaria, whose son later opened Tony DeMaria's (I have since learned that this is incorrect. See this post for clarification) just a few blocks down the street. This joint has changed hands a few times, but it has retained the family owned feel. While standing in line I was asked to step aside by the pit boss so he could pelt the guy behind me with a balled up piece of bread. Everyone was amused, including the victim.

All items are ordered at the counter. One guy cuts the meat, another assembles everything on a tray, then a third guy follows you to a table with your order. I ordered a rib sandwich and a sliced brisket sandwich. I was given a sausage sandwich by mistake, but the guys quickly whipped up the right order and let me keep all three sandwiches. I got the sauce, which they call gravy, on the side. The brisket had no crust, no smokeline, or much flavor beyond roast beef. The fat was well rendered, but it was too tender leading me to believe it had been steamed to doneness. The ribs were better. Smokiness filled the air when I unwrapped the sandwich, and the flavor did not disappoint. The crust was delicious as well as the meat beneath it. The sausage was average with little smokiness but decent flavor. The major disappointment was the "gravy". It was thin and nearly flavorless, and didn't help to revive any of the missing flavor from the gray brisket. Hopefully Tony has something better to offer down the street.

Rating **
Jasper's Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Big Bruce's Bar-B-Que

DALLAS: Big Bruce’s Bar-B-Que
8018 S Lancaster Rd

Dallas, TX 75241


Open Daily 11-9

Update: This joint is CLOSED and is now a Soulman's BBQ location.

2008: South Lancaster Road Tour/4 of 4 - Big Bruce's is housed in a big metal building just off of 1-20 in South Dallas. At 3:30 on a Saturday, I wasn't expecting a limo in the nearly full parking lot, nor did I expect 50+ people in line for 'cue. I learned that an entire funeral had moved from the church to Big Bruce's so I was hoping that the food warranted the crowd. After 35 minutes in line, I ordered sliced beef and pork ribs to-go, as there were no seats left after I ordered. The ribs had a bit of fatigue from the warmer, but the flavor was smoky and the crust was good, and the meat was moist and tender. The brisket was a big disappointment with no crust and no flavor. The slices were also a bit dry. I'm guessing the popularity of this place on this particular Saturday had a bit more to do with the seating capacity than the meat.

Rating **

Big Bruce's Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

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3403 S Lancaster Rd

Dallas, TX 75216


Open M-Thur 11-12am, F-Sat 1-3am, Sun 12-12am

South Lancaster Road Tour/3 of 4 - Near the end of the DART Blue Line sits this tiny joint with a few football fans filling the few tables inside. If this joint had meat worth waiting for, the the long wait wouldn't be so bad. There were four people in line when I arrived, but the glacial service didn't complete our orders for about 15 minutes. They did actually ask if I wanted sauce, and I asked for it on the side. The brisket here had a deceptively dark crust which yielded little smokiness. The lean meat was dry with little overall flavor. The ribs were a better, but also were dry and a bit tough. The intense smoke flavor made up for it. The flavor of the peppery rub also stood out to create a tasty rib. Contrary to the customer's advice at Record's, I saw little difference between the meat at this joint, and the offerings at Record's.

Rating **
T D's Barbecue on Urbanspoon

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Record's Old Fashioned Bar-B-Que

DALLAS: Record's Old Fashioned Bar-B-Que
2325 S Lancaster Rd

Dallas, TX 75216


Open M-Thur 10-3am, F-Sun 10-4:30am

South Lancaster Road Tour/1 of 4 - A former drive-in houses this take-out only joint in the shadow of the DART Blue Line. Behind the counter was efficient if not courteous service. They would not let me purchase a single rib, but insisted that I buy a rib sandwich along with my sliced brisket sandwich. With a total bill of under $9, I couldn't really complain. Both sandwiches came sauced (no option given) on cheap white bread...not great for portability. In the car I peeled open the brisket sandwich which was encased in a flour-based sponge just 90 seconds after it was wrapped and bagged. The brisket had no crust or fat and little crust. There was no smoke flavor, and the ketchupy sauce did little to improve the flavor. The slices were also a bit tough, but they contained no offensive flavor. The ribs were much better. Despite the unfortunately flavored sauce, the deep smoky flavor of these ribs bits shone through. They had great tenderness and a moist pleasing texture. These were great ribs.

A guy at the counter waiting for his order was inquisitive about my choice in eating establishments. As the only customer with a German car, pale skin, and designer eyeglasses on the entire South Lancaster Road Tour, let's just say I stuck out a bit. I told my fellow customer that I was trying to find the best BBQ south of I-30. He urged me to try TD's down the road. I was now looking forward to my future itinerary hoping to find some better brisket. As I drove away I couldn't help but wonder why the guy was at Record's in the first place if he preferred the joint just 1/2 mile away. Either way, I was still hungry.

Rating **
Record's Barbecue on Urbanspoon

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Longhorn Bar-B-Q

CEDAR HILL: Longhorn Bar-B-Q
124 N Hwy 67

Cedar Hill, TX
Open Daily 10:30-9

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

2088: This joint at the busy intersection of Highway 67 and Belt Line was dead at 5:00 on a Saturday. The brisket was also dead, but not much else had been done with it since its demise. The dry slices were devoid of flavor with no crust or fat to enjoy. The meat was fall apart tender, but that was its only positive. Unfortunately, the pedestrian sauce didn't help to resurrect the pallid beef. The ribs were equally as tender. They were also more flavorful with a dark smoky crust. The sausage was the best with a fine grind, heavy black pepper flavor and a good snap on the casing. Skip the brisket and get some ribs and sausage.

Rating **
Longhorn Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Texas Smokehouse Bar-B-Que

RICHARDSON: Texas Smokehouse Bar-B-Que
800 E Arapaho
Richardson, TX 75081
Open M-F 10:30-5, Sat 10:30-3

This part of town is home to a variety of business park operations that vary from high-tech to transmission service. At 11:35am on a Thursday, I appeared to be the first customer of the day. I would guess that they primarily sell lunch to workers from the area, but only a handful had trickled in by the time I left, just after noon.

Everything looked as it should. The brisket displayed a promising black crust and pink banding. As you've seen here time-and-again, looks can be deceiving. Although it was nicely done with just enough moisture left, they managed to expunge almost all the flavor as well. A hint of smoke just eeked it's way through the beef. The crust turned out to be a mirage of texture as well with no bark or crunch at all. Ribs were similarly unremarkable. Their sauce is a thinner, sweet & tangy one. I can't recall what side dish I had. Nothing bad to report but they seem to have made the same compromise we see all over, consistency for flavor.

Rating **
Texas Smokehouse BBQ on Urbanspoon

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Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.