"Fort Worth is where the West begins and Dallas is where the East peters out." -- Will Rogers
Lately, I've been catching a lot of flak for my deeply held beliefs on BBQ. I am a traditionalist, yes. But while you can't convince me that you can BBQ anything with feathers or that green salad is a valid BBQ side, I like to think I'm open-minded about some things.
So when a friend told me he had gotten good BBQ back east -- as in Dallas -- I put my skepticism aside and headed into the sunrise.
This location of Baker's Ribs, part of a 10-restaurant mini-chain, mostly based in Texas but with one outlet in Minnesota, is located on the east side of Deep Ellum. The restaurant recently moved from an old industrial building to a larger old industrial building, and when we pulled up, painters were putting a new sign directly onto the brick. This means authenticity points: for the building, for the painted-on sign and for the sign being a cartoon drawing of one of the animals that is going to be on your plate.
Just inside the door, however, things took a dramatic turn.
People should be able to live their own lives, don't get me wrong. But right there, in public, in front of God and everyone, these people were just flaunting their unnatural lifestyle. We're talking about a fried pie shop and a BBQ joint in the same space. Seriously, things get weird the closer to New York you get.
We politely pretended not to notice what was going on, and walked up to the carnivore counter. The man with the big knives took my order for brisket, ribs and sausage, with coleslaw and potato salad. My wife had the same, only with pasta salad. (She's a transplanted Yankee.) The cue was served up on disposable plates, and we got plastic utensils, like God intended.
The interior of Baker's is newly refurbished, but there are plenty of rusty signs and farming implements on display to take the shine off. I'd rate the atmosphere a 7 out of 10, which is the best you can expect till the place gets smoked up a bit (and maybe has a fire or two).
On to the BBQ. The sausage was tasty. Although it was a lighter color than I'm used to, the casing had a good snap. And it had a nice flavor that I can't quite pin down. It went well with or without the sauce, which was served warm in a squeeze bottle.
The brisket had a nice smoke ring, and a good hickory smokiness to it. One of the slices was perhaps a tad overcooked and had broken down into strands, but it was in no way dry. Like the sausage, it worked well with or without sauce.
Since Baker's has ribs right in the name, I saved them for last. These pigsicles were meaty, St. Louis-cut and cooked to perfection. They had a good flavor, not at all hammy, and were tender without falling off onto your plate. I've had better, but not often. My only complaint is that the cooks left the membrane on the back. Come on, Baker's. A pair of catfish-skinning pliers and a couple of minutes per rack would've meant rib perfection.
I wouldn't think of trying these with sauce. It would just be a sin.
Speaking of sin, I have to admit to being a little pie-curious. Everyone likes a little fried pie, but fried pie intermingled with BBQ? Well, for dessert, I had them fry me up a brisket-filled fried pie. It was on the menu, and I just couldn't help myself.
Straight out of the deep fryer, it featured a perfect crust and tender brisket. In a word: amazing. And it just goes to show that maybe you can get good BBQ on the wrong side of the airport, and maybe we can rethink some traditions.
Meanwhile, I'll keep on with my search for the Holy Grail of North Texas BBQ. Keep the suggestions coming, and please, don't judge me.