Monday, March 20, 2017

BBQPALOOZA2017: The Truth About HTown

When we started bbqpalooza 7 years ago it was the passion of our good friend Chris Hicks to go off in search of the greatest BBQ that Texas, and thereby the World, had to offer. We had to venture outside our home base of Houston, because while being the greatest city in the greatest state in the greatest country in the world it was surprisingly lacking in life changing BBQ. Our adventures took us to Lexington, Taylor, Giddings, College Station, Lockhart, and of course the capitol ...Austin. We ate BBQ that literally changed our lives. We documented it. We blogged about it. We talked about it until our wives put a moratorium on meat talk. And then a funny thing happened....we started to notice that good BBQ, great BBQ, even LEGENDARY BBQ began popping up right here in the H. This year we decided the time was right to show H town some love. We have spots where people wait hours, we have spots just as eccentric as Austin, heck...we even have our OWN BBQ festival now! It was time to represent for our hometown.

Before we get into the trip let me address the giant elephant in the room. When most people think of Houston BBQ the two places most likely to come up are Killen's BBQ and Corkscrew BBQ. Both are tremendous joints that are absolutely in the top 50 upper tier, however we have visited these fine establishments.....ALOT. Killen's is our closest top 50 joint and combined we have feasted there no less than 25 times....with many more meals to come. Corkscrew is a personal favorite of mine and we have also frequented this establishment more than 10 times the past few years. Both are MUST TRY for any BBQ aficionado and I can't recommend them enough. In fact, I would be mistaken if I didn't acknowledge that much of the Houston BBQ explosion and thereby the idea to do BBQPalooza2017 at home can be traced back to these two meccas of meat. We left them off the trip, but rest assured they are two of our very favorites.

One favorite we did return to this year is back where it all started....Snow's BBQ in Lexington. My feelings on this previously awarded #1 BBQ joint by Texas Monthly are well documented. This was the first spot BBQPalooza ever journeyed and it holds a special place in all our hearts. Ms. Tootsie is the hardest working, most generous, and hospitable pitmaster to ever tend a fire. And oh by the way...she has been churning out central Texas BBQ that is universally acknowledged as some of the best in the world since before that stuff was documented. The brisket has never been sub 10 out of 10 in any of my trips here. This particular time we were all impressed at the higher quality of ribs than what we felt we got last time. I started getting chicken here 3 visits ago (not a part of my usual order) because it can't be missed. Top it off with some jalapeno sausage and you quickly realize why showing up at 8am at Snow's is the best breakfast Texas has to offer!

Now we were headed back towards Houston and stopping at a joint none of us had ever been to: Truth BBQ in Brenham. We had varied levels of excitement as we waited about 6th in a line of roughly 15 for the 11am opening. The spot is fantastic, right off 290 with recent additions to outdoor seating and great Texas decor. We got up to the counter and immediately noticed the color, consistency, and smell of the brisket was outstanding. We forgot all about having to eat at 4 more spots and ordered several pounds of meat. This is where owner/pitmaster Leonard Botello went next level on us. LOOK AT THAT PRESENTATION ON THIS PLATE OF MEAT! No....look at it. I could hang this picture at the Louvre! Most BBQ lovers know the importance of presentation, and Leonard was the best I've seen. The care he took to make our plate reminded me of the first time I held my firstborn....making sure everything was in place and its full beauty could be appreciated. He thrice moved our perfect beef rib until he got it in just the right spot....being sure to show us the jiggle (even giving it a love tap) like some kind of cameraman on the set of Baywatch. Leonard threw on about 10 pieces of burnt ends that nearly caused a knife fight in line. By the time we paid we were full of the type of anticipation usually reserved for a line of lightsaber wielding nerds at a midnight premiere of the newest Star Wars movie. Then we ate....and ate...and ate. Very little was said for roughly 20 minutes. There was nothing on that plate that wasn't top 5 I'd ever had. Brisket that had a perfect pull with the thumb and forefinger, ribs that were cooked perfectly, house made sausage that had a perfect consistency, a beef rib that was the BEST I had ever tasted. The mac and cheese, corn pudding, and greens were Micklethwait level sides. By the time we had contemplated what was happening ridiculous comments like "Best meal I've ever had", "Greatest meat spread in Texas", and "Might be #1....period" were being brandied about. It was that good.....and then we ate some of Leonard's Mom's cakes....God Bless Texas. Apparently it's not enough to possibly be churning out the world's finest BBQ, but Truth also delivers the best cake I've ever had (Banana Caramel was the favorite and most fiercely fought over). Truth BBQ was an absolute revelation. I'm going to be honest....from here on out any top BBQ list that neglects to include Truth BBQ is automatically going to be disregarded.

Our final stop before getting inside the city limits was at Tejas Chocolate Craftory in Tomball. This is a real family labor of love. We got to speak with Scott (the BBQ brains), Michelle (the Chocolate maker) and Scott's son who was working too. You can't find nicer people in the business or a better setup than they have there in Tomball. Craft chocolate, beer, and bbq in the middle of the shopping district with an awesome outdoor seating area. The meat was delicious (we were especially fond of the pork belly) and my wife can vouch for the chocolate I offered as a peace offering upon my return. The Craftory is appropriately named as this truly is a factory of craft foods and drink. If you are in the Tomball area, I can't imagine getting a better meal or having a better time than you will at Tejas Chocolate.

Now we headed towards a spot I alone had previously been to ....Roegel's Barbecue. I was a little disappointed owner/pitmaster Russell would not be there this visit (I think he was doing his own BBQ trip to NY), but he left a message for right hand man Bruce who took tremendous care of us! Roegel's brisket is top notch. The rest of his trinity is excellent, and I can tell you the boudin we procured was the first thing gone. Bruce asked us about our trip so far and heard us mention the Truth beef rib. We didn't order a beef rib as we all felt incapable of conquering another so late in the day, however Bruce cut some tasty morsels off one and I can verify they were eaten with zeal. Nobody in Houston can make a better beef rib, and I still have the Thursday only pastrami (one of the most sought after meals in H town) on my personal bucket list. Getting a personal pit tour from our gracious host Bruce was the icing on the cake. I already knew it, but now our whole group could recognize that Roegel's belonged with the best BBQ Texas has to offer. Extremely proud of the quality of meat they are cranking out each day from my hometown. Keep up the good work Russell, and tell Bruce we said thanks!

Now we were feeling it.....but pressed on to The Pit Room. The first time I had Valentina's in Austin I was blown away.....REAL Texas BBQ melded with Mexican cuisine....everything great about Texas. Well, now you can get a similar experience in Texas' most diverse city. The Pit Room can throw a trinity down to rival many top 50 joints but let's be honest, the stars here are THOSE TACOS! Brisket, pulled pork, and chicken topped with the likes of cilantro, griddled cheese, pickled red onions, charred garlic, salsas (verde and rojo) all on top of tortillas made with brisket fat! What is the perfect thing to follow up 4 BBQ plates? BBQ tacos of course! These guys do a tremendous job and I'm really glad somebody took the BBQ/Mexican pairing and is doing it at such a high level here in the city. Get to The Pit Room and get yourself some tacos ASAP.

At this point several members were questioning the need to make our final stop. Stomachs had stretched, belts had been adjusted, mini vans smelled like BBQ pits, but we pressed on to our final destination...Pinkerton's Barbecue. If The Pit Room is Houston's Valentina's, then Pinkerton's is very much Houston's Freedmens. A plush set up, craft cocktails being churned out from a full bar, and barbecue rarities like duck and sausage jambalaya set this place apart from the rest. We were extremely glad we sucked it up and came to our last spot. In fact after tasting the brisket, sausage, ribs, and jambalaya we actually ordered seconds .....AFTER 5 MEALS! I can't think of a higher compliment or recommendation than that. Owner/pitmaster Grant Pinkerton was nice enough to come by the table to talk some Q and marvel at the day's accomplishments. He seemed like an extremely cool guy to hang out with earning bonus points for mentioning the new TV's coming in just in time for Astros season (he's a huge fan too!). The vibe of this awesome hang out place seems to reflect his personality. We all agreed that we needed to come back with some friends one evening (when not engorged on BBQ) and spend some time really appreciating all that Pinkerton's has to offer. If you're looking for a place in the Heights to bring some friends and possibly blow them away with real authentic Texas BBQ head here. I can't imagine any best of list leaving this jewel out. Even though we had doubled down on our sin of gluttony we couldn't stop talking about the quality of meat Grant and his staff produced.

It was time to head home. We were full: of meat, drink, dessert....but mostly full of pride. Our city represented... and if BBQPalooza2017 taught us anything (besides that we may all want to start practicing some moderation) it was that you no longer need to travel away from Houston to experience the very best Texas BBQ has to offer. You want a chocolate/beer/smoke meats craftory? Check. Do you prefer a traditional spread with top shelf beef ribs? Check. Care for tacos that perfectly blend the Tex and Mex sides of our state? Got it. Want to entertain friends for an evening of BBQ that will knock their socks off and discuss the meal over cocktails? Can do. Are you searching for the VERY best meal you've ever experienced? May not have to go farther than an hour. Snow's was the solid beacon it always is, each of the Houston spots brought something different and represented our hometown extremely well, and the Truth is.....Leonard might just be smoking the finest BBQ in all the world!