Traditional St. Patrick's Day fare might be corned beef and cabbage, but that's only because they didn't have barbecue on the Emerald Isle. So on St. Paddy's Day I headed out to Fort Worth's Railhead Smokehouse BBQ to continue my quest for the holy grail of barbecue joints.
I've had my reservations about going to this place -- a Fort Worth fixture -- for a while now. You see, my sister is a huge fan of its 'cue and informed me that if I say anything bad about it -- well, let's just say Thanksgiving could be awkward.
The atmosphere of this place is spot-on. You get your barbecue in a serving line like God intended, the folks behind the counter are pleasant but suitably distant, and there's lots of rustic stuff on the walls. There is a bar in the middle of the room, which sets the place apart from the traditional barbecue shack, and the place was seriously packed on a Saturday evening.
I ordered a two-meat combo plate plus a quarter-pound side of sausage. It was served on a Styrofoam tray with slaw, potato salad and beans for $14.58.
So, let's get to the sides. The potato salad was standard fare, a mustard-based food service-quality offering. Not bad but nothing special. The beans, about the same. But when I tried the slaw, I was afraid I'd had a stroke. I couldn't taste anything; there was no flavor there at all. No matter, I rarely eat sides. I'm searching for the best barbecue, not the best slaw.
The ribs were supposed to be St. Louis cut, according to the website, but these weren't. (Either that, or the butcher was having a bad day.) They had a bit of a sticky glaze, the texture was about perfect on most of them, but they were a tad on the small side. The last rib I had was like shoe leather, but for the most part, these were decent pork ribs. No sauce really needed.
Sausage was decent but nothing special, and it didn't appear to be smoked like the ribs and the brisket. It went well with the sauce, which was a sweet, thick and slightly spicy concoction (served on the side, as it should be).
To finish off the meal, I got to the heart of Texas barbecue -- the brisket. It had a really good smoke ring, which shows Railhead know its way around a smoker. It had a good beef flavor to it, smoke was just about right and texture was perfect. Unfortunately, it was seriously dry. Not inedible, mind you, but enough that sauce was mandatory. I don't mind this so much with thinner, more vinegary sauces like Sammie's, but here the sauce overpowered the good taste of the brisket.
While Railhead Smokehouse BBQ isn't the holy grail I'm seeking, it's not bad for an everyday 'cue joint to hit up when you just can't go exploring the outskirts of civilization. Still, I'm looking for the perfect place, and if you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear from you.