There’s an old newspaper saying that it takes three of a kind to make a trend. Going by that adage, lil’ ol’ Burleson is the site of a bona fide trend story.
In the thick of Burleson’s Old Town area, a trio of likeminded restaurants has opened within blocks of one another. Over the past several months, we’ve seen the arrival of Spice Rack Grill, Dalton’s Corner and, most recently, Old Town Brewing Company, each serving variations of comfort food. Each has a hook: Spice Rack was opened by Cordon Bleu-trained chefs. Dalton’s Corner is relying on nostalgia to bring in the locals, borrowing its name from a popular ’80s teen club in the area.
Old Texas’ hook? It should be that the restaurant has its own brewery. Months after its June opening, the permits and equipment, says owner Rick Hazen, are still entangled in red tape. Maybe by the end of the year, he says.
For now, you’ll have to settle for bottled or draft beer, signature cocktails and some often good food, served in a spacious, cool atmosphere. Unless the weather’s bad, the front doors are always open, giving the large restaurant a breezy, al fresco vibe. Up top, there’s a rooftop bar (the “Skybar”) where local musicians play on the weekends.
Housed in a 100-year-old building, the space itself is knockout-gorgeous, all exposed brick, wood and big, handsome booths and tables, shaded in warm colors.
Similar to Spice Rack and Dalton’s, Old Town’s menu is made of familiar comfort-food dishes: chicken fried steak, burgers, chili, nachos, sandwiches, fish and chips.
The restaurant’s signature dish is barbecue. Hazen, who runs the restaurant with his wife, Dena, (the two also ran the nearby Gambino’s Pizza), says he smokes brisket, chicken, sausage, ribs and pork in a 40-year-old all-wood pit left behind by a shuttered barbecue restaurant; he uses hickory and mesquite, at the same time.
A combo plate ($14.99), made up of brisket, sausage and pork shoulder, was hit and miss. Brisket came in the form of four thin slices, trimmed of fat, each with a small layer of black crust and a faint red smoke ring. But even those who prefer lean brisket would have had a tough time with these slices. They were gummy and difficult to chew. Any flavor the meat might have had was masked by an overly sweet, ketchup-thick sauce, ladled on all the meats.
A large, round pork and beef sausage link had charred edges, giving the skin a smoky flavor and us a bit of hope. But the meat itself was gristly and bland. We did like the pork shoulder; the tiny chunks were etched in crust and well-rendered fat.
Burgers are a better option. An Old Town cheeseburger ($9.99) came with a thick, eight-ounce Angus patty, cooked perfectly to a pink, juicy medium; the meat was nicely seasoned with salt and pepper. Lettuce and tomato were crisp and habanero cheese gave it a touch of fire. Best part was the bun, sweet with a light, roll-like texture.
Accompanying fries were thick, plump and salty. The restaurant showed remarkable aptitude at frying other things, too: onion rings sheathed in a slightly sweet beer batter; crisp okra; and the appetizer hushpuppy fish poppers ($5.99), fried bite-size pieces of cod served with two ramekins of rich, housemade tartar sauce.
Not everything’s heavy. There’s a handful of salads, and a very good chicken salad sandwich ($6.99), brimming with a filling of smoked chicken, grapes and sugar that struck a perfect balance between sweet and savory.
Wish we could have said the same for the beignets ($4.50), which were caked in so much powdered sugar, you couldn’t even see them. Throw in some chocolate streaks and an inordinate number of the things — a half-dozen — and you have one over-the-top dessert.
If Old Texas could show some restraint, maybe ease up on the heavy-handed barbecue sauce, the mountain of cheddar cheese dumped on an otherwise good bowl of chili ($5.99), the blizzards of powdered sugar, it could be one of Burleson’s better restaurants — brewery or no brewery.
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