The hermit crab is born exposed to the elements, and as it matures it must seek protection by using a shelter discarded by someone else.
Barbecue joints, generally, are the same. Look into their history, and most beloved barbecue joints started in someone's back yard and then took up residence somewhere else, like, an old Dairy Queen building.
Such is the case with Smokeys Barbecue on Lancaster Avenue. Smokeys has been around for a long time, and when I started getting suggestions from our readers, I was hesitant because I had tried this joint several years back, and it wasn't so great. I'm glad I gave it another shot. Apparently, the place has changed hands since my last visit.
Pulling up to the place at night, it had all the signs of a great barbecue joint. Specifically, there was a distinct lack of signs. A great barbecue joint will pull people in without fancy lights or big signs. What we have in Smokeys is a largely unmodified Dairy Queen shell, with a vintage firetruck out front. If you can't find that, you don't deserve 'cue. (It does lose points for spelling out "barbecue" on the one sign that is there, however. This is Texas.)
I showed up just before closing on a Thursday night, and the place was empty. However, there were rows of long tables, so apparently when it's busy everyone sits together. I like that.
I placed my order at the counter for the three-meat plate, which is referred to as the Cool Hand Luke. I got brisket, sausage and ribs, and while they were getting that ready, I made a trip to the self-serve steam table for sides. There were big pans of homemade potato salad, slaw and beans, and you get as much as you can pile into a bowl. This is how a barbecue place should be run. By the time I made it back to the table, my food was ready.
The sausage was quartered lengthways, and had a great spicy bite to it. It was good with and without the sauce. I recommend eating the sausage last, because the heat has a bit of staying power to it. You don't want to miss out on the rest.
The brisket had a nice smoke ring, was sliced thin, was incredibly tender and had the best flavor of any brisket I've had -- including (and it kills me to say this) my own.
The pork ribs were also great. They had a decent rub, the texture was perfect, and there was plenty of meat. I have two minor complaints, however. They did not peel the membrane from the back of the ribs before cooking (an easy fix), and they used a spare-rib cut instead of a St. Louis cut. A St. Louis cut leaves you with a cleaner and more enjoyable pigsickle. Fix these two things, and this place would border on perfection.
The sauce is tasty and thick -- and it is totally not needed because the meat is so flavorful. The sides were made fresh, including a great mustard-based potato salad, and it showed.
For dessert, the staff practically insisted that I try the vanilla buttermilk pecan pie -- also made from scratch, and also incredible. Don't skip this, even if you have to take it with you.
We're still looking for the Holy Grail of Barbecue, and although Smokeys on Lancaster is getting close, we'll continue our search. If you have a place you'd like to recommend, leave a comment.