For this month's installment in my never-ending quest to find the holy grail of Texas barbecue, we hit David's in Arlington. Egg Nebula of the band Spoonfed Tribe recommended this joint to me. One day while I was hanging out with the boys at Red Star studio in Arlington, our conversation drifted in the direction of good barbecue -- so we drifted in that direction.
David's is actually in Pantego, which in the language of the native Hekawi Indians means "speed trap." The locals still honor the native heritage, which anyone who has ever ridden a Harley down 303 at night alone will attest to. But we drove in someone's sister's car (these are musicians), we thought pure thoughts, and we made it to David's unticketed.
David's has a heritage that dates back to 1910. It's part of the Sonny Bryan barbecue dynasty, so I was expecting great things. I wasn't expecting it to be in a strip mall next to a pet-grooming place.
The strip-mall vibe goes away once you get inside and are run through a high-walled cattle-chute serving line. We got our choice of meat, but had to ask for sauce (a great sign that they have confidence in their 'cue), and among the traditional sides of potato salad and beans is the option of grabbing a chunk of wood that looked like a wood-shop project. The wooden stands get you fresh onion rings brought to the table -- how could I resist that? We even got banana pudding.
We grabbed ourselves some seats at an antique-looking table. On the walls at David's are well-aged photos of local celebrities and sports stars whom very few people would recognize today. There was even an autographed photo of Ken Curtis ( Gunsmoke Festus-era, not Sons of the Pioneers) and one of John Travolta from the Welcome Back, Kotter era.
As for the food, the pork ribs were almost perfect. The texture was textbook, just enough substance that they didn't fall apart. There was a good smoke ring, but they weren't St. Louis cut, so there were little chunks of bone and gristle at one end of them. They had just a touch of a sticky glaze, and were among the best ribs I've ever had.
Brisket was dead on. Nice smoke ring, perfect texture, and only occasionally did I add sauce for lubrication. This family has been doing barbecue for 100 years, and it shows. In fact, I couldn't tell you what the sauce tasted like -- it absolutely didn't matter. Good meat just doesn't need it.
The sausage had a nice texture and flavor. It complemented the other meats well, and that's really all I expect of sausage in a place like this.
The onion rings were excellent. The banana pudding was, well, banana pudding (you can't really mess that up). But the potato salad was too vinegar-y and chopped up really fine.
Trim the ribs better and David's would be right up there with Roscoe's. Any points lost for the potato salad are made up for by the onion rings and then some. In atmosphere, they lose points for the strip-mall thing, but gain most (if not all) of them back for the photo of Festus.
It's a tough call between David's and Roscoe's for first place, but I think Roscoe's edges out the win with its all-you-can-eat carnivore festival on Wednesdays.
So if you are in Pantego, and under the speed limit, check out David's.