The other day my son asked me why BBQ joints are always in what look to be abandoned buildings. I explained to him that it speaks to the very history and nature of BBQ.
We don't choose brisket and ribs to slow smoke because we have too much time on our hands; we do it because these are tough pieces of meat, sold on the cheap since nobody else wants them. It was discovered that tough meat would break down when cooked over very long periods of time; and if all else fails you can chop it up and hide it under a heavy sauce. BBQ, in other words, is all about making something great out of whatever so-so cut of meat you have.
Naturally, when people started selling 'cue, there wasn't a lot of money to be made. BBQ purveyors often set up in old service stations, broken down machine shops, or shambling shacks -- i.e., places nobody else wanted. The people who got really good at BBQ saw no reason to move (or sweep up). Now the shabby settings have become part of the traditional BBQ experience; and if you see a line of people waiting to buy BBQ out of a place that should be condemned you know it's the real deal.
So when the guys at TB&S, a machine shop on the north side, told me there was a good BBQ joint on Beach, in a clean building with friendly people, I was skeptical. But people who build stuff tend to know their BBQ, so I headed out to Lone Star Bar-B-Cue to see how it fared.
My first warning sign was the actual sign. It said "Bar-B-Que." Real BBQ places don't need more than three letters. Only copy editors and Yankees spell it out. Inside, more trouble: the place clean, brightly lit, and the owner was nice and helpful. What was he trying to hide? At least you go through a serving line (like God intended).
I got sausage, ribs, and brisket (the BBQ trifecta), and the spicy sauce (they have three different ones). I found a table and dug in. For the sides, I got a traditional mustard based potato salad that was first rate, and a nice crunchy slaw. (Beans may be a more traditional choice, but I have a family to think of.)
The brisket was good, with a nice thick smoke ring, and texture was perfect. Even when I dipped it in the sauce, I could still taste the brisket. Maybe a touch on the lean side, so we're talking a good 7.5 out of ten here.
The sausage was OK, nothing to write home about, but not bad, either. It went well with the sauce.
Then we get to the ribs. Oh my, the ribs. These are meaty, St Louis-cut ribs, with just a hint of glaze to them. Unadorned (it would be a sin to sauce these), they had some the best flavor I've tasted from a pig sickle. I won't say they are as good as Roscoe's (my current favorite), but I'm hard pressed to nail down why. Texture was perfect, and I found myself wanting more, even though I long past full. Mortals will need a doggy bag with this plate. I'd say a 9 out of 10, with the caveat that I've never found a 10.
So while they lose points for authenticity -- close your eyes and imagine you’re in a shack -- the 'cue in this place is easily in the top five I've eaten in North Texas. On Wednesday and Thursday nights, you get all you can eat ribs and I plan on going back and making them regret that.
This is great BBQ, but I'm still looking for the perfect Texas BBQ joint, the Holy Grail of BBQ -- perfect meat and perfect (by which I mean, crumbling) building in which it's served. If you have any suggestions for places we need to try, let us know.