Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Granary 'Cue & Brew (San Antonio, TX)  

The Granary Webpage, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter  

The Granary has been on our list for a while, especially once we’d heard about pastrami beef ribs on Tuesday. So, Scott, James and I headed down to see how it compared to the places in Austin. This certainly qualifies as a trip for us.  
Nestled in the Pearl District,  where the old Pearl Brewery once made beer.  We'll leave the debate of that particular beer's quality for another day.  The area has seen urban revitalization efforts come to fruition, and provide a new area for locals, San Antonio expats (*cough Scott cough*), and tourists alike to visit, just north of downtown (just west of 281, north of 35).  Granary has obviously caught the eye and taste buds of folks who get paid to check out places like this.   
The Granary is counter service with pickup at a window right next door. They also brew their own beer (Scott had their Brown Ale while James and I had their Coffee IPA (Socrates), both of which were excellent). Lunch is sandwiches and plates (although meat can also be ordered ala cart), while the dinner menu is more elaborate (smoked octopus? We must head back one evening!). But we each order three meat plates, and will try most of their meats between us.
Chicken: The chicken was tender and had a slight smoky flavor. Mine as a touch dry in places, but the others didn’t have this complaint. There also didn’t seem to be a lot of flavor other than the smoke. This was probably the most divisive of the items for us. Tom – 6.5/10. Scott – 7.5/10. James – 8.0/10. Avg: 7.33
Pork Ribs: I was the only one trying these. They were juicy but just a tad tough. They had a decent amount of smoke, and were nicely sweet with some black pepper to complement the sweetness. A solid entry. Tom – 8.0/10. 
Brisket: The brisket is very tender and has a nice bark. There’s a heavy smoke flavor complimented by black pepper. It’s good. All three of us score it 8.5/10. 
Regular Sausage: The sausage is tender and juicy. It has a very good flavor, reminiscent of pastrami/corned beef itself (I ask, and someone tells me that the meat is brined before put in the sausage). It’s good. James and Tom – 8.5/10. Scott – 8.25/10. Avg: 8.42
Spicy Sausage: They use cayenne and red pepper instead of jalapeno, which gives a nice bit of heat while not following the normal jalapeno model (this is a plus in my book). It is also well-made, being tender and juicy. James and Tom – 8.5/10. Scott – 9.0/10. Avg: 8.67.  
Pulled pork: The pulled pork is tender and moist without being greasy. It is sweet and smoky, and does not need sauce to be good. Tom – 8.5/10. Scott – 9.0/10.
 Pastrami Beef Rib: I was the only one to try this. I must admit I had some preconceptions. It’s always important to remember that pastrami is a style of preparation and technically NOT a flavor (although there are some common flavors used when making pastrami for deli meat). So, if you order this expecting to taste your normal pastrami sandwich, you’re going to be caught off guard. What you are getting is a beef rib that is VERY tender with a nice smoky flavor and some delicate seasoning. It also looks like it is rare (very red) even though it isn’t. It’s a quality beef rib. Tom – 9.0/10.  
The Granary has put together a quality BBQ place. They have some excellent food, and make some great beer to go with it. Consensus was that we’d probably spend way too much time here if we lived in San Antonio. 
Interestingly, the layout inside seems a little different than a lot of places. They seem broken up into smaller rooms. The section we were in would have sat no more than 20 I would suspect. Definitely a lot quieter than most places. We liked it.  
Is it worth a visit? Definitely.  
Is it worth a trip? Absolutely. It qualified as a trip for us but we certainly considered the time well spent. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Review of Corkscrew BBQ  (Spring, TX

Corkscrew BBQ Webpage, Facebook, & Twitter 

Heading back from visiting my friend Loni, I detoured into Spring to pick up some Corkscrew BBQ to take to friends in Pearland. Corkscrew had impressed me at the various festivals I had been to, so it was time to see how they did on a more formal visit.  

Corkscrew BBQ is typical counter service BBQ. They offer a wide selection of plates and sandwiches as well as meat by the pound. I’ll be trying moist brisket, sausage, turkey, and pork ribs.  

Turkey: The turkey is very tender and moist. There’s a light smoke flavor. I can taste a hint of some pepper in the rub, but the seasoning is a little light for my taste.  Overall let’s call it 6.5/10. 

Pork Ribs: The ribs are  tender and juicy and have a nice crust. There’s a nice smoke flavor, but like the turkey I’m not tasting much other than smoke and maybe a hint of pepper. I’d like some more flavor here. 6.5/10.

Brisket: The brisket is moist and tender and has a very nice bark. It has a wonderful smoky flavor and there’s some nice pepper working here. This has all the flavor that the previous two didn’t quite live up to. Call it 8.5/10.  

Sausage: I made a tactical error, and forgot to ask what type of sausage they have. Turns out it is a jalapeno sausage, as one of my friends pointed out when I brought it back. Needless to say, this had me suspecting I had an un-scorable item for myself….

Except I don’t. Corkscrew has actually done something I thought was impossible: they’ve made a jalapeno sausage I don’t just like, but love. It’s tender and juicy, with a nice snap in the casing. You get a nice light heat from the jalapeno, but the other flavors mask the taste (which is a plus in my book). This is really good. Call it 8.5/10.   

Corkscrew BBQ is definitely producing some solid BBQ. I’d like to get back and try beef ribs (Saturday only) and their pulled pork.  

Is it worth a visit? Definitely. 

Is it worth a trip? By our standards, not quite yet. Only two scores at an 8 or above (so far). This may be subject to change if/when we try other items. 


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Review of Lost Pines BBQ  (Giddings, TX)  

Corkscrew BBQ Facebook, & Yelp

We’d reviewed City Market in Giddings twice before, and been unimpressed both times. However, since I was heading down to Pearland to visit friends, it seemed like a good time to take a look at one of their other option: Lost Pines BBQ.

Lost Pines is located along 290 in Giddings, and is typical counter service BBQ. They offer the typical 1-3 meat plates as well as meat by the pound. I’ll be trying moist brisket, sausage, turkey, and pork ribs.

Turkey: The turkey is tender, but is a touch dry in some places. There’s a heavy smoke flavor (a plus), but a hint of a metallic after taste (a minus). Overall let’s call it 5.0/10,

Brisket: The brisket is moist and tender. However, it doesn’t have a lot of bark. There’s a touch of heat, but I can’t taste anything that is causing it. In fact, other than the heat it doesn’t have much flavor at all. Again, call it 5.0/10.

Pork Ribs: Reasonably tender and juicy, but not much crust. Yet again, there’s a touch of heat but not much other flavor. 5.0/10.

Sausage: They have an all-beef sausage that has a nice snap in the casing and is reasonably tender. There’s some heat (sounding familiar), but not much other flavor. 5.0/10.

I find Lost Pines very interesting. Usually when you are noticing some heat, you either are tasting something that is causing it (cayenne, jalapeno, etc.), or you can taste other spices that may be masking the source of the heat, but you taste SOMETHING. In the case of three of the four items I tried, there wasn’t really much noticeable flavor at all (even smoke) other than the base taste of the meat and the heat, which saved it from being unacceptable.  

Is it worth a visit? Everything earns a minimal passing grade. It’s an OK place for lunch. 

Is it worth a trip? Nope.  


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Review of Chisholm Trail BBQ  (Lockhart, TX)  

Johnny's Webpage, Facebook, & Instagram 

Be warned: This is arguably the most divided of our reviews so far, thus proving the point that taste is subjective (and in James’ case, wrong! (J/K)). But we were definitely divided on two of the staples.

We’d mentioned previously that Mike likes to ask local law enforcement about their favorite local BBQ place. So when a Sheriff’s Deputy stated that Chisholm Trail BBQ was better than any of the more famous Lockhart places, we felt we’d better see if he was right.

Mike, James and I headed down late Saturday morning and arrived about 11:00. Chisholm, Trail is typical counter service, but they are open for breakfast hours, and in addition to the usual choice of BBQ meats (ham, turkey, sausage, brisket, chicken, pork ribs, beef ribs), they also offer salads, potatoes, and a pretty big selection of side. We order a variety of things to try.

Turkey: I’m the only one who tries the turkey, and when I did I was asked an unusual question: Did I want it warm or cold? I said warm (of course), and was treated to the sight of a plate of wrapped sliced turkey being taken out of the refrigerator and placed in a microwave. Hard to say what it would have been like otherwise, but this is very dry and chewy. It has a light smoke flavor, but no other noticeable spice. My suspicion is that the turkey is primarily used on salads, but no one said anything about that. Tom: 4.0/10.

Chicken: The chicken is also a little on the dry side. It is also very bland, with the only noticeable flavor coming from the sauce Mike added to it. Otherwise, even the skin doesn’t have much flavor. Tom: 4.0/10, Mike: 3.0/10. Avg: 3.5/10.

Brisket: The brisket looked a little dry when we saw it on the cutting board, and mine at least matches. I ordered moist, but it is tough, somewhat dry, and fairly bland. There’s not much smoke or flavor from the rub. Mike agrees with this. James likes his however, feeling that it has a good flavor. Tom and Mike: 4.0/10. James: 7.0/10. Avg: 5.0/10.

Sausage: I found the sausage hard to score. It was definitely well-made with a good snap in the casing. It was very tender as well. But (mine at least) had no flavor to speak of, so it tasted like I was eating a hamburger flavored hotdog with maybe a smidgeon of heat well at the end. As a result, the grease was very noticeable. On the other hand, Mike and James liked theirs a lot more, agreeing that it was well-made, but feeling it had decent flavor. Tom: 4.0/10. Mike: 7.0/10. James: 8.0/10. Avg: 6.3/10.

Pork Ribs: The pork ribs are a touch tough, but they have a good crust and an excellent flavor. A nice rub and there is some good smoke in the taste as well. These are quite good. Tom and Mike: 8.0/10.

As you can see, on everything all three of us tried there was at least one person who was throwing off the average. We’ve always said taste is subjective, and this review probably shows that more that any other review of a single place we’ve done.

Is it worth a visit? Splitting the difference, probably. James indicated he would go again if he lived in the area, and Mike would for the sausage and ribs. I probably would not (and would stick to ribs if I did).

Is it worth a trip? We all agreed it was not.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Review of Johnny's  (Salado, TX)  

Johnny's Webpage, Facebook, & Twitter 

Scott had the week off (Happy Birthday, BTW) and I'm off on Tuesdays, so seemed like a good day for a BBQ run. We figured we'd swing up to Salado and check out Johnny's, so we loaded up James and headed north.
Johnny's is a little different in that it is a true sit down restaurant. No counter ordering here. They bring your menus, your food, etc. From a BBQ perspective they offer chicken, turkey, brisket, pork ribs, and sausage (original and jalapeno). But they also have a substantial menu of other items: steaks, burgers, chicken, pork chops, sandwiches, catfish on Fridays, etc. In fact, it seems as though BBQ is a secondary part of the menu. We also notice a sign that indicates their food is prepared fresh …. (Foreshadowing: A valid literary technique). But James orders brisket and jalapeno sausage, Scott orders brisket, jalapeno sausage, and turkey, and I order brisket, original sausage, and pork ribs.

Brisket: The brisket has a nice smoke flavor (mine does anyway), and a nice bark. But the fat isn't well rendered on a lot of it. It's also a bit tough and dry in places. Scott comments that his is actually a bit bland. James seems to like his a bit more, but he's smothered his in sauce. Scott and I give ours 6.0/10. James gives his 8.0/10.

Jalapeno Sausage: It's well made, with a nice snap in the casing and reasonably moist and tender. But Scott commented that there wasn't as much heat as he would like (bland comes up again). He scores it 7.5/10.

Original sausage: This sausage is also well made, with a nice snap, and is juicy and tender. There's actually a fair amount of heat, and a flavor that reminds me of Christmas ham. Possibly clove or allspice. There is one thing missing, which I'll comment on below. I'll score it 7.5/10.

Turkey: The turkey has a very nice spice flavor, as well as some pepper. It's an excellent rub. But it is a touch dry and tough in places. Scott likens it to Saturday after Thanksgiving leftovers in terms of texture. Scott and I score it 6.0/10. James gives it 7.0/10.

Pork Ribs: The ribs are overdone, and fall completely apart when picked up. They are also extremely bland with no real flavor at all (not even much pork flavor). No crust to speak of. I score them 4.0/10. Scott gives them 6.0/10.

You'll notice bland comes up an awful lot here. And with the exception of the brisket, you'll notice the absence of another word: smoke. Except for the brisket, none of the meats had any noticeable smoke flavor to them. If someone told me that the turkey and sausage were roasted in the oven and the ribs in a slow cooker, I'd believe it.

It's a shame really, because there's definitely some potential here. The turkey and the original sausage both had an excellent base flavor, and there was a nice smoke flavor to the brisket. Like the Cubs in game 1, they have the runners on base, but can't seem to bring them home.

It was also interesting to note the sign about "Our Food is Prepared Fresh. Please be Prepared to Wait". At a table service place some waiting is expected, but I found it interesting that we waited as long as we did given that (based on what we ordered) everything should have already been ready to go. They may work under a philosophy of first come, first served, but I saw one table of two that sat after ours that got their burgers before us.  So I'm really wondering if the "Our Food is made fresh" part applies to the BBQ as well.

But I suspect this place is more popular for the other items on the menu. Of the tables I could see while we were there, no one else had ordered BBQ. Steaks, burgers, and sandwiches seemed to be the dominant theme.  

Is it worth a visit? It seems like an OK place for lunch.

Is it worth a trip? From a BBQ perspective, nope.


Saturday, October 29, 2016

Texas Monthly BBQ Brisket Brunch  (Austin, TX) 

Texas Monthly Event Site 

Juliet Ristorante Webpage,  Facebook, & Twitter  

The Beast Paris Smokehouse Webpage,  Facebook, & Twitter 

Barbecue Wife Webpage, Facebook, & Twitter

On October 29th, 2016, Texas Monthly BBQ held their first annual BBQ Brisket brunch. And they started off with a bang, hosting a collaborative event with Pitmaster Thomas Abramowicz from The Beast Paris Smokehouse (Paris, France) and Chef Jacob Weaver from Juliet Ristorante (Austin, TX). A shout-out also goes to Aaron Franklin, who loaned out a pair of pits so they would have smokers available.
2nd from left - Thomas Abramowicz; Far right - Jacob Weaver
Free mimosas and Bloody Maries (with the latter courtesy of Barbeque Wife) were served at the beginning. After a brief speech by Daniel Vaughn (Texas Monthy's BBQ Guru), they began serving.  
First course consisted three dishes: Smoked red beets with pickled gold beets, Dijon Chantilly Culatello, and chervil; Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio with Parmigiano, fried capers, pea tendrils, and Tonnato; and Grilled Beef tongue with Black truffle hash browns, shaved red onion, pickled jalapeno, and Balsamic BBQ sauce.
The beets had a wonderful smoky flavor. They had some moisture but were not overly juicy. Smoking seemed to make them a little less sweet than normal (which is a plus in my book). I normally don't like beets, but I liked these. 
The Carpaccio was extremely tender and had a wonderful flavor. Fried capers were an interesting touch.
The grilled beef tongue also tasted wonderful, and was easily cut with a fork. The balsamic BBQ sauce made a nice contrast. I did not try the hash browns (allergy issue).  

Second course consisted of: Jalapeno cornbread muffins; a greens salad; sliced brisket; pork and duck liver terrine, Dijon, Cornichon, and Mostarda; and a Cassoulet with Duck, Tarbais beans and other wonderful things.
The jalapeno cornbread muffins and the salad were both good for what they are. The salad had a dressing that had an interesting bitterness to it. I liked it, but noticed that not much got eaten by the rest of the table.
The brisket had an excellent smoky flavor, as well as some nice pepper. Having said that, it was definitely on the tough side, as it had to be cut with a knife. This was commented on by others at the table. If I was scoring it on a Recon scale, 6.5/10. Flavor is excellent, but for a Texas style BBQ it needs to be a lot more tender.
I've never had pork or duck liver before, and to be honest I expected to not like this one. But this tasted really good. It looked almost like slices of bread, and had a nice slightly sweet flavor. You could taste both meats in there, and this was my favorite dish so far….
Until the Cassoulet. Oh my goodness. The Pitmaster and his team would come out later and talk about this dish. It was prepared in the smokers, and had homemade sausage, smoked duck, what appeared to be pork belly, and some wonderful beans and onions. Honestly, if I had gone home having had just this dish, it would have been a worthwhile event.
Third Course: Apple pie with a cheddar crust and caramel whipped cream. The apple pie part itself was very good, as was the whipped cream. I've never had a cheese crust in pie, and this just didn’t appeal to me. I know apples and cheese are a popular combination with some, but I'm not a fan of that flavor combination and it also made the crust a lot tougher.
This was an excellent first brunch. The food was outstanding and the combination of styles made for some interesting dishes. Hats off to Thomas, Jacob, and their staff, and a big Thanks to Texas Monthly for setting this up. See you there next year!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Review of Pecan Lodge (Dallas, TX) 

Pecan Lodge Webpage,  Facebook, & Twitter 

October 21st, 2016. Friday. About 1:30pm. In less than 24 hours I'll be participating in the Dallas area Tough Mudder. Given that I'm 47 and not in the greatest shape, where should I have what may be my last meal? Let's try Pecan Lodge.  

Located in what I believe is called the "Deep Ellum" area of downtown Dallas, Pecan Lodge still manages a rustic feel on the inside, as well as a decent-sized outside dining area. You order at one counter and pick up at another, and they also have a separate line for large orders (5 pounds or bigger I believe).
(Scott's Comment: Deep Ellum is actually east of downtown.)

Their smoked meat menu isn't as large as some places, as they offer brisket, beef ribs, pulled pork, pork ribs, and sausage (original and jalapeno). But I do see a sign inside for burnt ends, and they also serve fried chicken. I decide to get a three-meat plate (moist brisket, pulled pork, pork ribs), and add on a link of original sausage.

Sausage: The original sausage is a pork sausage. The casing has an excellent snap, and there is plenty of moisture inside. It has a nice smoky flavor and a touch of heat from the spices. Call it 9.0/10.

Pulled pork: The pulled pork is moist but not greasy. It also has a nice smoke flavor, but there's a touch of sweetness in there, as well as some pepper. It stands quite well on its own without sauce. I give it 9.0/10.

Pork Rib: The rib had a very nice crust, but was still tender inside without being overdone. There's a lot of meat on the one I got. Again, there's a lot of smoke flavor, some nice pepper, that touch of sweetness, and just a bit of heat. This rib is excellent. Call it 9.5/10.

Brisket: The brisket has an excellent bark and is incredibly tender. It has a very strong smoky flavor (always a plus), and a nice strong pepper flavor as well. It practically melts in the mouth. Call it 9.5/10.

I'd heard good things about Pecan Lodge, and it certainly lives up to the hype. It's easily a contender for one of the best places in Texas (and the lunch lines seem to support it). Jeremy (the Pitmaster) is certainly turning out some of the best BBQ in the state.

Is it worth a visit? Absolutely.

Is it worth a trip? Again, absolutely. I'd come to Dallas primarily for the Tough Mudder, but if I'd turned around and gone home after eating here, I'd still have considered it a day well spent.

One thing to note: As near as I can tell, there's no free parking in the area. Plan on paying (I spent $2 in the lot a block over).


PS: It wasn't pretty, but yes, I did survive the Tough Mudder.
(Mudder's response: "You survived this time... Next time however...")