Whenever out-of-towners ask about the best barbecue in the Metroplex, Chowhounds (including me) usually reply that we have no great barbecue here. Lately, I've been wondering if that's true. I'm hoping it isn't. So for the next while, I'm going to be combing through DFW barbecue joints--focusing on brisket, sausage, and ribs, only--hoping to find something truly great. I'm starting with some of the better known places. But, once they're exhausted, I'll be looking for more obscure possibilities. If anyone has any hot tips, please let me know.
This week's effort began with Angelo's, the legendary, hickory-burning Fort Worth establishment. With the glassy eyes of countless mounted animal heads looking on, we sat down to our first pile of meat for the day. The brisket, which had been coarsely chopped (rather than sliced as we'd requested), was quite poor--tough, chewy, and dry, even by DFW standards. The sausage had a bit of welcome spiciness to it, but was otherwise in the same vein as most sausage you get around here (i.e., not far off from supermarket product). The ribs had a decent, smoky flavor, but didn't yield a high enough meat-to-bone ratio to justify the gnawing. I've occasionally had somewhat better experiences at Angelo's in the past. But I've never found them to be consistent. And, as mediocre as today's showing was, it wasn't entirely unexpected. Restaurant legends can be built on many foundations, such as age, ties to a community, distinctive appearance, etc. Food quality isn't always key to preserving that status. And I fear that's the case with Angelo's.
While we were in Fort Worth, we headed over to the original Railhead location on Montgomery. Open, spacious, clean, and well-lit, Railhead is much younger and more commercial-feeling than Angelo's, losing points in the "vibe" category. Apart from the sausage, the barbecue was a definite step up from Angelo's. The brisket had pretty good flavor and was moist. But it was really too moist, almost becoming mushy. (Had it been warmed in a steamer or something?) The ribs were peculiar. They looked great. And, when we bit into them, we found them to be tender and meaty. But, for some reason, they tasted surprisingly bland. If they'd only had some flavor, they would have been pretty good ribs. Sausage was average. This meal was largely consistent with my past experiences at Railhead. They're consistently "pretty good." But they're not in the barbecue big league.
Last stop for the day was the "original" Sonny Bryan's on Inwood. Pulling into the parking lot outside this shack, you really *want* to like it. It's old, run-down, and filled with regulars. With the pit doors opening into the kitchen, the dingy interior, and the school desk seating, it's easy to see why the Beard folks named it a regional classic. Sausage was, yet again, unremarkable. The ribs, which had been finished on a grill, were blackened, dry, and tough, with little flavor to commend them. The brisket was so flavorless and dry that it could only be served in a school cafeteria without comment. I can understand the affection many feel for this spot. But this was really poor barbecue. And, in my experience, that has been the rule, rather than the exception, at Sonny Bryan's.
This outing led to a unanimous ranking: (1) Railhead; (2) Angelo's; (3) Sonny Bryan's. But, after last week's trip to Lockhart and Luling with the same group, there was also unanimous agreement that the best meat in any category on this day was significantly worse than the "worst" meats in the Central Texas trip.
So we have to keep looking and hoping. Our next local sampling will be of Sammy's, Peggy Sue, and Holy Smokes. At this point, I'm considering taking a shortcut on sausage. If they make their own, we'll try it. But if they're unloading it from a Sysco truck, we'll save our time, money, and stomach space, and forego the futile exercise of tasting yet another commerical link.
For more details and photos of each place, go to the link below.
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