Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Couple of BBQ Trailers

I seem to be starting to like barbecue again. It's been a while.

A few years back I OD'd on the stuff, especially the Central Texas, smoked meats variety. Every trip to Central Texas, and I made quite a few, I hit a succession of the famous places in Luling, Lockhart and Taylor, once even doing two within a couple of hours and on one occasion making a daytrip just for the purpose of eating 'cue at a couple of places and then heading for home. And I was ordering full orders at these places, not just sampling one slice of brisket, one rib, and moving on (no sides though, other than pickles, onions and white bread). Then, I'd had enough.

I've been avoiding the stuff for a few years now, and not just because Houston 'cue isn't quite as good - I was just tired of it. I've been to Pierson's a few times and it's certainly one of the best locally. I'm fortunate to live near Boogie's on the SW side and have been there several times and I think it may be better than Pierson's, but that's about it.

But with Boogie's still out of commission for the foreseeable future, apparently (they do make an awesome burger, btw) and Pierson's still not having moved down to the SW side to be more convenient, I got a hankering recently and thought I'd hit a couple of the places I've heard about.

Bar-B-Que Done Right

A trailer on Laura Koppe, just east of Homestead, off of 59N.

Laura Koppe is a 'furr peice' away from where I live (and a long way from being a scenic roadway) and when I found this place, there were no signs of life, no 'Open' sign, no smoke belching from the wagon. Fortunately, when I approached the window and it slid open I was hit in the face with a whoosh of hot smoky air and it smelled great.

After a brief discussion of the offerings and the ordering process (the smallest plate listed is three meats but he'll prepare a two meat plate on request, just giving you more of the two you select) I ordered some brisket, both fatty and lean, and ribs. Having read Robb Walsh's review of this place in the Press, I had decided in advance to forgo the sausage. The guy smiled and asked 'Did you read what Robb Walsh had to say?' Well, duh, yes I did. Don't all barbecue afficionados pay attention to what Walsh has to say? I guess maybe I looked like I just fell off a turnip truck out of East Texas on the ride over from 59.

He got busy making my plate and I stood back to bake in the sun. He did mention that in addition to the Walsh review, he's been visited by Texas Highways Magazine and will be in a feature - I think it's on bbq trailers as a Texas highway phenomenon - in the July issue.

There were more signs of life - more customers showed up, one to pick up a huge phone-in order, the others mostly ordering the chicken and turkey legs but having to make a second choice since those weren't ready, said the man. When I got my order, the parking lot was getting pretty crowded so I moved down the street a bit, pulled into the grass next to a ditch along the side of the road, and prepared to feast.

It smelled and looked great. I had asked for sauce on the side; this translated to the corner of the container which meant sauce underneath. Well, that's better than slathered all over the meat and it wasn't bad sauce anyway, not that the meats needed it.

The ribs were loaded with meat, tender as they should be, smoky, great. Not as good as the very best I've had at Boogie's but perhaps the equal of Pierson's and I liked the sauce better than Pierson's.

The brisket was another story. Tender, flavorful, excellent texture and a nice balance of lean and fatty, but virtually no smoke flavor. Actually, under the lighting conditions in the car, the smoke ring was even less apparent than under the flash. Now I like brisket, it's one of my favorite cuts of beef, and I've fixed it many times in the oven or in a huge stew pot on top of the stove, and I liked this brisket overall, it was very tasty, but it didn't qualify as barbecue for me because of the lack of smokiness.

The mashed potato salad had a strange, soapy taste. I could only manage a couple of nibbles at the time but I found when well chilled it was more palatable. I wonder if the bowl it had been mixed in had not been rinsed well after washing? Strange.

Besides the Constitutionally mandated pickles, onions and white bread I really liked the inclusion on the plate of the pickled vegetables - carrots, onions, pepper - a la a Mexican restaurant. That's a nice addition.

All in all I liked BBQ Done Right's barbecue and I'll be willing to give it another try and may recommend it be included in our next barbecue taste comparison.

Plantation Bar-B-Q

On US 90A eastbound, just east of Richmond, in front of Lev's, an auto repair shop.

Robb Walsh had included the brisket breakfast tacos from this wagon on his list of 100 favorite dishes and a friend of mine who lives in Sugar Land has also made me aware of it.

This is a quintessential Texas roadside scene, a homemade trailer parked under the shade of a big tree not 30 feet off the roadway; an overturned cable reel for a table and some tree stumps for seating - excellent. There are more stumps and a rack with pecan wood just out of the picture. What more do you need, a drive-thru with a squawk box and a playground for the kids?

But is this a taco trailer or a barbecue wagon? The menu on the left is breakfast tacos (besides the brisket tacos there were barbacoa, bacon and lengua as I recall); the menu in the middle is the lunch taco menu and the menu on the right is the sandwich/plate barbecue menu.

My sinuses had been doing their best impression of Niagara Falls for about 36 hours and I was little out of it this day; I asked if they made their own sausage and when the answer was no I passed on ordering the sausage, forgetting that there are some awesome Texas sausage makers out there and they might use one of them. I also forgot to specify some fatty brisket and sauce on the side. Fortunately I got some of the fatty portion and it was a modest amount of sauce, which wasn't bad anyway, although the brisket didn't need it.

The brisket was a just little less tender than I like and I could have used more of the fatty portions. It had only a mild smokiness but I thought it was very good. Pecan can be a little overwhelming but this was not. The potato salad was probably an institutional product but not bad but the real star of the plate for me were the beans. Look at the size of some of those babies! I'm pretty sure these were home-made, not only because of the size but the flavoring; these were straight forward pintos with out a lot of seasonings. Beans are one of Mother Nature's finest gifts and most of the time they're really doctored up in the preparation. Sometimes it's good to just have them highlighted on their own as they were here with minimal seasonings, probably just salt, pepper and some kind of animal fat. I could have eaten a couple of cups of those beans.

There was a big problem with the ribs, however. If you looked closely you might have noticed they seem to have a pretty thick crust. Unfortunately that's an understatement - much of the meat was almost charcoalized, i.e., as hard as charcoal and inedible. I had to throw about half the 'meat' away and I didn't get a good idea from the rest if they were really good although I did think they were promising.

It was a major disappointment but despite that I'm willing to give this place another try. I'm going to give the the benefit of the doubt that they don't serve ribs like that all the time but I do think they should have been able to tell when they were cutting them up that they were overdone. I hope I have better luck next time.

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