The Houston Barbecue scene - late 2015 >

From what I read in the papers, the barbecue scene here has been picking up, being reborn or rejuvenated, growing up, or whatever. Texas barbecue has caught the attention of the nation if not the world and lots of operators want a piece of the action/glamour/bucks so there are newly minted places and others supposedly upping their game.

I burned out on barbecue about a decade ago after many, many trips to Central Texas when I might have indulged in as many as three places in one day and I haven’t paid much attention to it since.

But I have eaten at all of the local places that made the latest Texas Monthly Top 50 list: - Gatlin’s, Corkscrew, Brook’s Place and Virgie’s. I’ve also tried out the most hyped newcomer, Killen’s in Pearland. I’ve commented on all of those in another place and won’t post anything more here until I revisit.

But starting this month I’ve been hitting several of the newest places, some mentioned in that recent Texas Monthy interim report, and those are the ones I’m going to be posting first about here.

Please join in with your reports and comments on any and all you’ve been trying - and I know some of you have been doing this.

First up - The Brisket House, 5757 Woodway

Though it has a Woodway address it actually faces Augusta and is easy to miss or dismiss. It’s a small hole-in-the-wall in a very nice strip center in a very nice part of town. Those are not the usual signs of good barbecue but it was raved about by Katherine Shillcutt in the Press back in 2010 and Daniel Vaughan gave it a very positive review on the TMBBQ blog. It’s on neither of the Texas Monthly lists. Vaughan gave it 4 rating in his review; that would not have been good enough to make the Top 50 - the cut-off was 4.25. I’ve been meaning to go for a long time.

I know the barbecue snobs/fanatics insist you shouldn’t order sides, just meat. I know this because I used to be one. But I’m older if not wiser now, I don’t enjoy pigging out on nothing but animal protein anymore, I like a semblance of a balanced meal. So I always give the sides a try at a new place. Besides, I’ve read that one thing that differentiates the Houston barbecue scene from Central Texas is that places here take sides more seriously.

I ordered fatty brisket, jalapeno sausage, pinto beans and traditional potato salad. There was no problem ordering - only one person in front of me, the counter girl understood what I meant when I asked for fatty brisket. There was a bit of a wait for the food - they were turning out quite a few to-go orders. The food is brought to your table. The girl was at pains to make sure I understood there was sauce in a hot pot on the condiments bar, about 8 feet from where I was sitting. She even offered to bring me a small cup of it but I said no.

The brisket was very satisfactory, just a little lacking in smoke, seasoning and bark but otherwise tender, juicy and flavorful. I was pleasantly surprised. I’d give the brisket an A- or maybe a B+.

The jalapeno sausage, custom produced by a butcher in Bryan, was not great but very good, juicy and with a nice snap. I didn’t get much heat from it nor smokiness. I’d give it a B.

The potato salad was boring. Not an institutional product I think but just pretty basic, and too wet for my tastes. The beans were sad, lacking in seasoning and just a tad underdone. I’d give the PS a C, the beans a D.

I did get up and help myself to some sauce - too sweet and too ketchupy for my taste. It gets a D-.

I will be back. The brisket and sausage were good enough and even if I don’t want to take a chance on any other sides, I can order meat only or what they call their ‘Specials’, a hold-over from the owner’s days at a barbecue joint in Bryan; that’s meat(s) of your choice on butcher paper with a wedge of cheddar cheese, half an onion, a whole pickle and white bread.

This is good enough we should think of recommending it if we ever start getting those tried and true tourist questions here like ‘where can I find good barbecue near the Galleria?’ It’s better than Luling City Market on Richmond.

The website includes links to Shilcutt’s and Vaughan’s articles. The Vaughan article includes some details about the smoker and technique used.

I’ve also been to Roegel’s and Pappa Charlie’s but my visit to Roegel’s I wanted pulled pork so I can’t report on anything but that. I’ll wait until I’ve revisited and can report on the brisket and I know others have already been. My visit to Pappa Charlie’s didn’t go well. I’ll hold off on giving judgment until I’ve been back. I’m also going to try to get up to Southern Q up on Kuykendahl and maybe Jackson St downtown.

Anybody else hopefully?

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I don’t know why I always seem to be the contrarian lately.

My takes on the places you listed are almost exactly 180’.

My only two visits to The Brisket House came at least six or seven years ago. My mom and I went the first time and agreed it was not very good. I remember the brisket being more gray than pink and the bark wan and weak. I went again with my work buddy a couple of months later and found the same. Both of these visits were for lunch.

I’ve never had the urge to go back even though it’s just a couple of miles from my office.

Roegle’s
, (fka Baker’s Ribs) is a place with which I have a long history as it’s just a couple of hundred yards from my office.

When it first opened I thought it was great. And while bbq has evolved in the last few years, I grew up eating Ms. Tootsie’s bbq in Lexington long before Snow’s opened so I do know good “q”.

Then Baker’s got pretty mediocre and even I just quit eating there. A year or so ago, the franchisee let go of the Baker’s franchise and started his own thing with vamped up methods and recipes and I think it is great again. They do specials most days. Smoked pork bellies one day, lamb chops the next. Beef ribs are a steady Fri and Sat thing and are pretty damned good.

I haven’t been to Pappa Charlie’s since they moved into their brick and mortar but I went to the old trailer at Jackson’s Watering Hole numerous times. It was a long way from me, (and is even farther now), but I never regretted the drive. The brisket was delectable. I will admit that we found the beef ribs uneven at times, wishing they had spent more time “under smoke” so to speak but we usually got there just as they opened so maybe another hour would have helped.

Killen’s was good but we decided it was NOT worth the drive. I know he has a lot of fans but I probably won’t do it again when I have so many choices so much nearer to me.

I’ve been to Brooks, Burn’s, Gatlin’s, Stockyard, Houston BBQ Co, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, and I don’t think any of them compare with the ones noted above.

Snow’s, JMMC, and City Market in Luling remain my gold standards but I love having every day lunch options. Hat’s off and a big “Thanks” to Wes and Russell for fetching me the good stuff.

I am just about as far as one gets from a BBQ fanatic, but I do enjoy the occasional smoked meats. My favorite because it was my first remains Swinging Door in Richmond. I have a picture of myself next to the covered wagon out front dated 1979. Sides are often my focus, and I would say that Swinging Door does a good job of those, I especially love the potato salad. In recent years they have improved the sides more by adding fresh green beans, which is a boon for those low carbing it in a food genre which is high in carb-o-nated sides, beans, potatoes, breads.

I think we all are contrarians from time to time in our discussions. No need for any one to apologize.

I didn’t remember that you or anyone had ever mentioned the Brisket House - I thought I was breaking new ground. I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t think - and I hope my report reflects - it was as good as either Shillcutt or Vaughan thought it was, but it was better than I expected. I don’t trust either one of them very far.

I’m not sure how ;you can disagree 180 degrees from me on Roegel’s and Pappa Charlie’s since I haven’t posted a review of either. Maybe I misunderstand.

Also didn’t realize you’d been to Brooks; don’t recall reading a review.

I’m looking forward to visiting Roegel’s again and trying the brisket for the first time, mainly based on your repeated recommendations.

Stockyard was the second worst barbecue I’d ever had in Houston. It was given a favorable review by the barbecue columnist for a certain major daily newspaper in our city, back when he had the Houston Barbecue Project, a website where he was supposedly going to visit and review every one of the more than 200 barbecue restaurants in Houston. That was the last time I ever paid any attention to his recommendations.

JMMC - John Mueller Meat Co?

My gold standards are City Market, Luling, Black’s, Louie Mueller.

Lambowner, I think I’ve been to Swinging Door once, maybe twice. I’m not sure because it was so long ago. I am fond of pecan smoked meats and I was looking for an alternative to Dozier’s in Fulshear, which had gone way down hill, and hoping to avoid the long, boring drive to Bay City to Hinzes. I think I decided after one or two visits that it was not going to suffice. But I do remember thinking they did a good job on the sides.

When I first moved to the Houston area, my son had recently married a local girl - born and raised in Sugar Land. Swinging Door was her family’s ‘go-to’ restaurant for celebrations - birthdays, anniversaries, etc. So it wasn’t long before I was there, along with about twenty of her family members, for one of these events. When the waitress came around, I ordered the brisket plate - “and can I please have my brisket cut from the high side?” The waitress just stared at me for a moment. Then, “I don’t know what that means.” “From the moist side, the deckle.” Still no recognition on her part. My son tried to intervene: “She’d like her brisket cut from the fat cap.” After a long pause, the waitress said, “We don’t have any of that. We have sliced brisket and chopped brisket.”

So, refusing to give up, I figured my chances were better with chopped. And that’s what I ordered.

I didn’t think it was good at all. And, as I sat there picking around on my plate, I became curious as to why this restaurant was so popular with all of Angela’s family when the brisket was clearly, in my opinion, so average, if even that. Was it just me?

I looked around at all the plates and on every single plate other than mine, without exception, I saw turkey.

I joined the group there two more times before my son and Angela split for good. And, having learned my lesson, ordered the smoked turkey.

My opinion of Swinging Door: Love the atmosphere, love the sides, love the smoked turkey. Would happily go again. Think it’s a wonderful place to take out-of-towners that might want to go to Goode Co. Same sort of deal, but light years better than that.

Just don’t get the brisket.

Back in the early to mid-80’s I worked at a small firm that had maybe eight or nine employees. For a while there, we would gather up our spouses/SOs and head to the Swinging Door on the occasional Friday evening for BBQ, and then country dancing and beers in the barn out back. I don’t know how many times I drove back into town with one eye closed at 1am or so.

Good times.

HAHAHA! Gosh yes. I remember my boyfriend chasing a goose around the pond out back at midnight in the 70s. Between Saturday nights at Swinging Door and others at Riverside Hall in East Bernard to dance to The Triumphs, it’s a miracle I live.

BTW, Brisket House is opening up a third location around Champions area in March 2016, one that is 3-4x bigger than the existing locations.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold