With the kind of gritted-teeth excitement usually reserved for last-second game-winning goals, by-a-hair-close political races and Game of Thrones season finales, barbecue lovers in North Texas waited to learn the fate of Pecan Lodge Catering. Would it stay or would it go?
When the smoke cleared, owners Justin and Diane Fourton announced that, four years after opening their tiny barbecue stand at the Dallas Farmers Market, they were indeed going but just down the street to Deep Ellum. And barbecue aficionados the world over let out a collective sigh of relief.
So much anxiety over the fate of a barbecue stand might not be understandable if you had not eaten at Pecan Lodge. During their tenure at the farmers market, the Fourtons made a name for themselves as not one of the best barbecue joints in the area but the best, opening the eyes of many to the beauty of moist brisket, burnt ends and other facets of barbecue popular in other parts of the state but relatively new to North Texas.
Their rise was like watching your favorite indie band turn into an arena-headliner. First came local notoriety, then regional, then national, the latter via an appearance on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Twenty-minute waits for food turned to 90 minutes, but no one seemed to mind. With success came friction between the Fourtons and their landlords, resulting in the couples move to Deep Ellum.
In the new location, which opened in May, theres more of everything: a bigger dining room, a larger smokehouse for pitmaster Justin and his triplet of mesquite-burning smokers, a patio. Even more hours: Tuesday lunch service has been added, along with Friday and Saturday dinner service. Pecan Lodge (the Catering has since been dropped from the name) also now serves the all-important cue accompaniment: beer.
One thing that hasnt changed: You will still stand in line. On a recent Saturday, it took us an hour to snake our way through it. After we ordered, there wasnt much of a wait; our food was ready in less than 10 minutes. We also didnt have trouble finding a place to sit, as we had three options: patio, dining room or bar.
The menu remains uncomplicated, composed primarily of barbecue basics: brisket, ribs, sausage and pulled pork, all sold by the plate, pound or sandwich. The popular Hot Mess ($9) a sea salt-crusted baked sweet potato topped with shredded brisket, butter and chipotle cream returns, too; its also available beef-free.
Quicker you are to get in line, the greater your chances will be of not leaving disappointed, as certain things often sell out. Usually the first to go are the beef ribs ($9 per half-pound), monolithic hunks of tender meat, blackened crust and glistening fat gripping titanic curves of bone. Weighing about a pound each, one is a meal for two. Early arrivals can also get in on the burnt ends ($9 a pound), twice-smoked, bite-size nuggets of meat, fat and crust pulled from the point of a brisket.
House-made sausage links came in two kinds: pork, and a beef-jalapeño-cheddar mix. Both were plump and served whole, not sliced. Casings took some tooth to bite into and once we cracked the skins, coarsely ground filling spilled out like marbles. Pork was pleasingly restrained, spotlighting smoke and the mild flavor of the meat. Beef was spicier, richer, more complex; both were excellent.
Pork spare ribs ($8 half-pound) were not of the scrawny variety. They were large and meaty, each sheathed in an ideal amount of fat and bark. Some of the meat required a bit more tugging than other portions, but all of it tasted exceptionally good a perfect balance of smoke, pepper and sweetness.
Pecan Lodges pride and joy is the brisket, smoked for 18 hours, carved just before serving. Wielding Vette-red smoke rings (a sure sign theyd been cooked well), our half-pound of thickly cut moist and lean slices needed no sauce, although two variations of it one tangy and vinegar-based, the other traditional and tomato-based are on standby for those who must.
Few places in Texas do moist brisket as well as Pecan Lodge. It takes a deft hand at rendering fat to get you to the point where you crave it more than the meat. Each bite, upholstered in fat, topped with peppery crust, made it hard to imagine getting brisket any other way. But if fat isnt your thing, the lean is good, too; ours was juicy and rich, with a wonderfully smoky flavor.
Although the place is now known primarily for barbecue, the Fourtons have kept fried chicken on the menu, thankfully. Our plate came with two pieces, a leg and a breast. The leg was a little soggy, but the breast was hot and juicy, with a crisp, likably salty batter that had a nice crunch.
Of the sides ($3 each), mac and cheese is a smart way to go. Green chiles are buried throughout, offering a sizable amount of heat and flavor, and its topped with crumbles of bacon. Think twice about the coleslaw if you want something cool and creamy. This red cabbage slaw has a spicy bite.
For dessert, banana pudding ($3.75), dotted with whipped cream and crisp vanilla wafers, is a must; theres also cobbler and cookies.
At the old space, you got in and out as quickly as possible, so you could give your seat up to someone else whod been standing in line. Here, though, space allows you to linger. Theres live music on the weekends and the landscaped patio is cozy. Inside, you sit at wood-top tables with mismatched chairs, surrounded by rusty advertising signs and soft lighting that creates a faded-photo feel, like its been here the whole time.