Throughout this week, we're sharing DFW.com contributor Malcolm Mayhew's profiles of five people who are making their mark in North Texas barbecue. Our final installment introduces us to Leroy Wilson, who keeps it simple in his small east Fort Worth joint, Wilson's Bar-B-Q. Our previous installments profiled Justin Fourton of Pecan Lodge in Dallas; the family who runs Hickory Stick BBQ in Everman; the woman behind the sign at Mama E's in Fort Worth, and Bryan McLarty, a Southlake man who takes his smoking skills around the region in competition barbecue events. And don't miss Malcolm's quick snapshots of some other favorite North Texas BBQ restaurants.
Over the past few years, a vibrant barbecue scene has evolved on Fort Worth's east side. You have Smokeys Barbecue on East Lancaster Avenue, Uncle Willie's BBQ on Miller Avenue, Mama E's Bar-B-Que & Home Cooking on East Rosedale Street and, if you keep heading southeast a few miles, you'll hit Off the Bone, heralded by D Magazine as the best barbecue joint in North Texas.
Leroy Wilson could be considered the unsung hero of this thriving little scene.
Originally opened in west Fort Worth but now located in the heart of the east side, Wilson's Bar-B-Q has received accolades from Texas Monthly, Fort Worth Weekly and the Star-Telegram, but still maintains a low profile. Could be the restaurant's visibility, or lack thereof. Unlike Smokey's, which is on the busy East Lancaster, and Mama E's, which practically smokes its meat on I-35, Wilson's is easy to miss. At the intersection of Loop 820 and Brentwood Stair Road, on the northwest corner, look for the big sign and then you'll see his small shack.
Wilson, who opened the restaurant after friends gushed about the barbecue he cooked at parties, also doesn't have a lot of money to spend on advertising. He puts his money where his meat is.
"We haven't hit the community hard; we haven't gotten out and walked the streets. I just don't have the manpower," says Wilson, 56, whose small staff numbers two to three employees. "But the people who come in for the first time, they come back."
They come back for tender brisket (smoked up to 10 hours overnight), spare ribs, sausage and bologna, all of which are smoked over mesquite in a J&R Manufacturing wood-fire oven. Two sides are available: baked beans and house-made potato salad. His wife often makes sweet potato pie.
"I want to keep it simple," says Wilson, who maintains a day job as an office assistant at Tarrant County College, where he has worked 28 years. "I want to focus on doing a few things right, not a lot of things wrong."
The inside of Wilson's is simple, too, with enough room for 14 people. Most get take-out orders or zip through the drive-through window.
The restaurant's arrival on the east side two years ago came on the heels of a four-year stay on the west side, on Lovell Street. There, Wilson developed a solid following, handling catering for several TCU tailgate events and winning a Best Barbecue award from Fort Worth Weekly. A property dispute led him to close, however, and a year later, he moved into his current location, a former chicken-and-waffles restaurant.
Ultimately, maybe after he retires from TCC, he wants a new pit and longer hours; he's talking 24 hours. "I figure if the brisket's here cooking, I might as well be selling," he says.
But for now, he's taking things slow, keeping things simple. "We'll never have a big menu here. I'll never try to start doing things that I don't know how to do," he says. "If I had a lot of money, I would have made a lot of mistakes. Not having a lot of money has allowed me to focus on doing what I do best."