I’ve been on the hunt for the Holy Grail of Texas BBQ for a few years now, and several times a year someone comes up to me and asks: “When are you going to go to North Main?” Well, there’s a reason I haven’t, and that reason is fear.
You see, North Main has a kind of mythical reputation in this area among BBQ freaks — it’s unlike any other place I’ve been to. It’s only open on the weekends in a nondescript-looking building where, once through the door, you pay an entry fee as if at some carnivorous version of Six Flags, and just go for as many rides on the meat buffet as you want. You even get your choice of beverages (sweetened or unsweetened tea).
And the ribs — for all that’s holy, these people knew how to make ribs. They would keep decoy ribs out on the serving line, but if you were in the know, you could ask for the “sauce-and-toss” ribs, and they begrudgingly unlock the rib vault behind the counter and dole you out a few. But you had to know to ask for them, and there was a chance they could run out, so it was all kind of hush-hush. They were worth it, because while the decoy ribs were good, the sauce-and-toss ribs were the standard by which ribs are judged.
But it’s been years since I made it out there. When you revisit something from your childhood (OK, I was in my 30s but still), it’s never as good as you remember it. If they had sold out and coasted on their reputation, I didn’t want to know. But you have to face your fears sometimes, and I found myself in that Euless parking lot staring down the snout of a fiberglass pig on a trailer. This could get ugly.
I stepped into the building and took in how it had changed. At least some of my suspicions were well-founded: They had modernized.
First of all, they now had both white Styrofoam plates (for all-you-can-eat), and black plates (sandwich only). I can forgive them for that; some people just want a sammich.
Second, they installed a soda machine. You can get soft drinks with your ’cue, not just tea.
Third, when I asked for “sauce-and-toss” ribs, the man with the big knives pointed to the ribs on the line. I asked about the super-secret rib stash and he said, “We don’t do that anymore.” Kind of takes the mystique out of the thing, doesn’t it?
So, enough nostalgia, let’s eat. I had ribs, sliced brisket, sausage, and for the sides I had potato salad and cole slaw.
First off, the brisket. Texas barbecue is brisket, and the first round I got was broken up into chunks. It had a good smoke ring, and a nice bark. The flavor was excellent, with a nice rub and a good bovine flavor. Some of it was a bit tough, so I went back two more times to be sure. Other than that initial piece, the brisket was good and tender.
The sausage has a good flavor but was a tad salty. I liked it, but more sensitive types might be put off by the sodium. Dipped in a little of the slightly sweet sauce it was about perfect, and the flavor cut through the sauce nicely.
The potato salad was the best I have ever had anywhere. I normally try the sides to be polite, because they went to all the trouble of scooping them out of food service tubs, but this stuff was homemade and addictive. I went through two helpings and totally blew the nice ketosis I had going. It was worth it. Get the potato salad.
The cole slaw was good, but nothing special. Get twice as much potato salad. I am a man who has met his potato salad.
On to those famous ribs. North Main joins the short list of places I will recommend for the best pigsicles anywhere. That list also includes Roscoe’s in Burleson (who learned how to ’cue working at North Main), and Billy’s Oak Acres in west Fort Worth. I went back time and again, you know, just in case the first four plates of ribs were a fluke. They were all pigsicle perfection. These are St. Louis-cut ribs, with a nice glaze and smoke ring, and the meat is perfectly tender without falling off the bone. Each bite comes away clean, effortlessly tender, and the taste is a devastating blend of porcine goodness and caramelized sauce that enhances without overpowering the pig. If you have had Roscoe’s ribs, they are very close to these.
North Main has been serving the same ’cue for 35 years, more or less the same way in the same place. OK, so they did away with the secret rib concept, and now offer soda, but I’m not going to hold that against them. This is world-class barbecue, and it’s all you can eat. What’s not to love?
So is it the Holy Grail? The quintessential Texas barbecue joint? North Main is more of a unique kind of beast with its all-you-can-eat server line. Its business model doesn’t fit the traditional mold, but it doesn’t have to.
We’ll keep searching, but you can bet that every time I drive through Euless, I’m going to be checking my calendar to see if they are open. Meanwhile, if you think you know the perfect barbecue joint, let us know on DFW.com.