Saturday, January 29, 2011

Papa Joe's Backyard BBQ: It's a family affair

The first of Oak Cliff's three new BBQ joints, Papa Joe's Backyard BBQ, opened today with an 11am ribbon cutting. Friends and family were on hand to see Lee and Beverly Alvarez's two-year labor of love come to life. Lockhart Smokehouse, located in the Bishop Arts district, will open next Wednesday. Luckie's Smokehouse BBQ, located at 1300 W. Davis across from the Kessler Theater, is also opening very soon.

Papa Joe's is located in Oak Cliff's Elmwood neighborhood, near Edgefield and Illinois Aves. and also close to the Alvarez's home. The restaurant is located in a former daycare center that was bought and completely redone by Beverly's dad over the past two years. The result is a bright and vibrant new restaurant they hope becomes a community favorite in the neighborhood.

The "Joe" in Papa Joe's is named after Lee's dad, Joe Alvarez, who was the head chef at the Dallas Petroleum Club for 30 years. Many old family recipes are at play here. Both Lee and Beverly are running the restaurant with help from Lee's bother and their twin 9-year-old sons Ryan and Richard. They also have a younger daughter Anora, who was running around between the dining room and outside playground.

The joint also features a large "backyard" with plenty of outdoor chairs, tables and fire pits, making it a great place to spend the evening. Think marshmallows roasting and ice cold beverages. The backyard also has a large outdoor playground for the kids, making it DFW's top kid-friendly BBQ joint by far.

On to the meats, Papa Joe's is serving brisket, chicken, ribs and sausage, along with numerous sides and deserts. He is using pecan wood and a smaller smoker until is big pit arrives. We tried the brisket and chicken. The meat was well cooked and seasoned, tender but a little light on the smoke. Lee says this will be taken care of when he starts using his big smoker. The three homemade sauces were excellent: original, sweet and brisket sauce versions.

Posse member Bryan Gooding also went to Joe's on their first day and writes on his Facebook page, "Papa Joe's grand opening today. Was under the radar for the last month. Commercial smoker using pecan wood. Brisket had small smoke ring and very little flavor (roast beefy). Ribs were a bit better. Star was the jalapeno cheese sausage + mac & cheese and their beans were good. Let's watch this place. Nice neighborhood kind of place and totally kid friendly."

Bryan adds, "I applaud their use of pecan (what oak is to the hill country, pecan is to Oak Cliff) and will possibly help reinforce the style of "Oak Cliff" BBQ. Their use of rub only lets "the meat speak for itself" as they spared the use of BBQ sauce on their meats. It's been a long road back from the days of Austin's BBQ and this helps signal an end to the drought of smoked meats in the OC. We can thank Smoke for that also."

Lee says, "We just wanted to open a place where our kids could play and we didn't have to worry about them.......and a place to enjoy a cold beer too!" Mission accomplished Lee and Beverly, good luck to Papa Joe's Backyard BBQ.

Click here to see Papa Joe's Facebook page. Their website with dining room and catering menus will be live next week:

Papa Joe's Backyard BBQ, 1233 Newport Ave, Dallas, 214-941-4092. Open Thurs 11am-7pm, Fri-Sat 11am-10pm, Sun 11:30am -7pm.

Photos by Chris Wilkins

Thursday, January 27, 2011

10 Texas BBQ giants gather in Dallas to cook for Super Bowl XLV Media Party

It's like a dream BBQ tour. Imagine hitting 10 of the best barbecue joints in Texas.....all in one night.

Posse lead writer Gary Jacobson got the scoop this morning about a gathering in Dallas next week of legendary pitmasters. Snow's BBQ owner Kerry Bexley called to give Gary a heads up on the story.

Pitmasters from 10 top TexasBBQ joints will gather in the parking lot of the House of Blues next Tuesday to cook for the 2011 NFL Super Bowl XLV Media Party, which is held that evening at the HOB. You have to be a Super Bowl credentialed member of the media to attend and the NFL has credentialed over 5,500 journalists to cover the big game at Cowboys Stadium. What a great way to show the national and international media what Texas is all about.

Kerry and Snow's will be cooking with the team from Louie Mueller Barbecue on Mueller's portable smoker, which they will drive up from Taylor. In addition to Snow's and Louie Mueller, Kerry says they will be joined by Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue, Black's BBQ from Lockhart, Blue Ribbon BBQ (Mikeska family) from Austin, Cooper's Old Time BBQ from Fort Worth, Meyer's Elgin Smokehouse, Mills County BBQ Company in Goldwaite, Stanley's Famous Pit BBQ in Tyler, Schoepf's Old Time Pit BBQ in Belton and Earl Campbell's Sausage.

Several Texas BBQ Posse members will be covering the Super Bowl for The Dallas Morning News. We'll be sharing stories and photos from the event and any other BBQ-related news from the Super Bowl.

Photos by Chris Wilkins

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Lockhart Smokehouse: See the photos of Oak Cliff's new BBQ hotspot

More on our blog post earlier today on the long-awaited opening of Lockhart Smokehouse in Oak Cliff. Thanks to an impromptu tour today by owner Jeff Bergus and pitmaster Tim McLaughlin, Posse member Tom Fox and I got to see the closest thing to Lockhart without driving 200 or so miles south to the BBQ capital of America.

For those of you familiar with the routine at Lockhart's Kreuz Market, Tim says you should feel right at home. First of all, you order your meat at a counter located in front of the smoker. You order by the pound and it's served on butcher paper. Sauce and forks will be missing too!

Texas BBQ Posse pitmaster Marshall Cooper checked in and talked shop with Jeff and Tim on Monday. He was impressed with what he saw, saying their locally-made Bewley pit is phenomenal. Jeff said they are putting the final tweaks on their pit work, ie: the abilty to juggle and rotate all the different meats in the pit at once with the right amount of smoke. He also added they're planning on trucking up 2-3 year old seasoned post oak wood from Lockhart.

Lockhart Smokehouse is located at the corner of Bishop and Davis, in the Bishop Arts District of Oak Cliff and will open next Wednesday, Feb 2.

Lockhart Smokehouse owner Jeff Bergus, right, and pitmaster Tim McLaughlin pose with an original Kreuz Market sign that once hung at the legendary BBQ joint.

Photos by Chris Wilkins

Lockhart Smokehouse to open next Wednesday, Feb. 2nd

Great news for BBQ fans across North Texas and beyond. Lockhart Smokehouse will open on Wednesday, Feb. 2. It's likely been one of the most anticipated BBQ joint openings in DFW history.

We dropped by today and met owner Jeff Bergus and pitmaster Tim McLaughlin as they get ready for the opening a week from tomorrow. We got a tour of the place and got a peek at their amazing custom-made Bewley smoker. Lockhart Smokehouse is located at the corner of Bishop and Davis, in the Bishop Arts District of Oak Cliff.

In the photo above, Tim, left, and Jeff pose with an original Kreuz Market sign that once hung at the legendary Lockhart BBQ joint. They will sell Kreuz Market sausage, some of the best in the world, and Tim trained with equally legendary Kreuz Market pitmaster Roy Perez.

I'll post more photos from the tour later today, but here's a taste of things to come!

Photo by Chris Wilkins

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Posse pitmaster Marshall Cooper talks butcher paper wrapped cooking with Mr. BBQ

Mr. BBQ Bruce Bjorkman has once again called on the Texas BBQ Posse to talk barbecue on his syndicated radio show. Texas BBQ Posse pitmaster Marshall Cooper will join Bruce this Saturday to talk about his test cooks smoking brisket and ribs with butcher paper wrap, rather than foil, during the cooking process.

Posse lead writer Gary Jacobson has visited the show three times over the past year to share stories from our Texas BBQ tours, but this is Marshall's first appearance. He's a master backyard pitmaster, with over 25 years of experience manning the smokers.

We first saw the butcher paper technique during our recent Central Texas 5-Star Anniversary BBQ Tour, starting with a talk with Aaron Franklin, owner of Franklin Barbecue in Austin. Later during the tour, we also saw butcher paper wrapping being used at both Prause Meat Market and Taylor Cafe, at various parts of the cooking process.

Since I blogged late last year about Marshall's experiments with butcher paper, we have been deluged with comments and emails. A lot of central Texas BBQ is served on pink butcher paper, but using it for a wrap instead of foil is news to many backyard pit bosses.

Marshall is still very early in perfecting his process. Also, in a week he leaving his beloved pair of Pitts & Spitts smokers for a Jambo J-3, one of the finest pits available, custom made by legendary BBQ cook Jamie Geer in Burleson, Texas. The bottom photo shows Marshall, right, visiting with Jamie as his pit is being readied for painting.

We'll keep sharing what Marshall discovers on his quest to cook the perfect brisket, including results from several cookoffs that the Texas BBQ Posse cook team will be competing in this spring and summer.

UPDATE: Click here to listen to a podcast of the show and hear Marshall share his butcher paper cooking tips with listeners. Marshall's portion of the show comes on around the 19:00 minute point in the podcast. Download and enjoy, great stuff!

Photos by Chris Wilkins

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Barbecue Chronicles: Central Texas 5-Star BBQ Tour, 8 joints in 26 hours

Some of us didn’t know what good smoked brisket was until we ate at Snow’s during our first Barbecue Posse tour a year ago. Since then, the Lexington place has been our unanimous standard. Nothing compared.

But after a recent two-day, 555-mile “anniversary” tour to Central Texas, there’s a new favorite for several of us: Franklin Barbecue, a trailer joint at 34th street and I-35 in Austin.

Over a 26-hour period, we ate at eight places, including lunch at Franklin and breakfast at Snow’s BBQ the next morning. Tour organizer Chris Wilkins, a photo editor at The Dallas Morning News, planned it that way so we would have a good basis for comparing the two places.

Sheilagh Cooper, making her first posse tour, called Franklin’s brisket “salty heavenly goodness.” Posse veteran David Woo, a photographer for The News, said he “began to drool” like his old basset hound when he watched proprietor Aaron Franklin cut the meat.

Franklin’s, located behind a former gas station, has been open about a year. Two trailers house barbecue pits. Everything is served from a third trailer. Aaron Franklin said he hopes to soon move into a permanent building.

“I’m telling friends they should visit Franklin as soon as they can,” Bruce Tomaso, an editor at The News, said. “The trailer experience will never be duplicated in a restaurant; and the brisket might not be, either.”

We’ve made six barbecue tours around Texas in the past year, covering nearly 2,000 miles. More than any other, this was a trip of contrasts. In addition to small joints like Franklin, Snow’s and the Taylor Cafe, we visited a classy restaurant, Lambert’s in Austin; a big-box barbecue outlet, Southside Market in Elgin; and classic butcher shop/BBQ combinations like Prause Meat Market in La Grange and City Meat Market in Giddings.

There was some very nice central Texas scenery, too, especially during the early Saturday morning drive from Taylor to Lexington. Steam rose from the creeks and farm ponds. Patches of fog covered the grass meadows. The air smelled of sage.

And if you like railroads, there are plenty of train-watching opportunities, particularly the switching yard just outside the doors of the Taylor Café in downtown Taylor.

The tour started at Franklin. Some of us had eaten there before, but the posse hadn’t yet made it a stop. The place opens at 11 and usually sells out within a few hours. This Friday, the sold-out sign was posted at 12:30. Impressive, considering that Aaron Franklin said he had cooked about 325 pounds of brisket that day, in addition to ribs, sausage, and pulled pork.

Fortunately, posse member Mike Gagne, who lives in Austin, had ordered ahead. And when the main contingent from Dallas assembled about 1 p.m., a whole brisket, a rack or ribs and sausage were waiting for us.

A dozen strong, we dived in.

On taste and tenderness, it’s hard to choose between Franklin and Snow’s brisket. What gives the Austin joint the edge, most of us said, was the nice crust. Aficionados call it bark.

After we finished eating, Aaron Franklin came out from his serving trailer and talked to us. We learned that after a few hours of smoking, he wraps his brisket in butcher paper and continues smoking until it’s done. The theory is that butcher paper doesn’t trap moisture to the same extent as foil, which is used at many other places, including Snow’s. That allows for a crispier crust.

Franklin said he built his two smokers himself, from large propane tanks. And, he is working on two more smokers that he said he plans to incorporate into his new location.

Several people help him prepare the meats, side dishes, and serve, but the proprietor himself is indispensable.

“When I’m sick or not here, we’re not open,” Franklin said.

Our next stop was a short drive away, Lambert’s in downtown Austin.

Without a doubt, Lambert’s has the classiest bar we’ve ever seen in a barbecue place. It offers many brands of single-malt Scotch, including Oban, several high-end tequilas, like Reserva de la Familia from Jose Cuervo, and Blanton’s bourbon.

“Excellent sausage, damn good shots of whiskey,” said tour veteran Marshall Cooper, who is married to Sheilagh.

We arrived too late for the regular lunch menu, but we were able to sample several barbecued meats. We loved the sweet and hot wild boar ribs, served with a touch of blue cheese.

Normally on barbecue tours, we’re not much into side dishes. But posse member Libby Jacobson, my daughter and an Austin attorney and regular at Lambert’s, said we shouldn’t miss the mac and cheese. Even though it wasn’t on the abbreviated bar menu, she talked them into preparing some.

“That was sublime,” said posse veteran Jim Rossman, a tech writer at The News.

The short drive to Elgin, east of Austin on Highway 290, was complicated by rush-hour traffic, and we arrived at Southside Market at dusk. In business since 1882, Southside is proud of its sausage. It says it has made so much that it could circle Texas with links.

Marshall Cooper wasn’t impressed. “You gotta sauce this to get some flavor,” he said. “That’s bad.”

Southside did have something we had never seen before: an automatic plastic utensil dispenser. Hit a lever and out pops a fork.

From Elgin, we drove north on Highway 95 about 16 miles to Taylor. When we walked through the door of the Taylor Café about 8 p.m., Vencil Mares was holding court, much as the octogenarian has for more than half-century as owner.

Don Kovar, who assists Vencil, gave us a tour of kitchen. He said Vencil’s methods haven’t changed much over the years. “Ask him what’s high-tech and he’ll tell you turkey sausage,” Kovar said.

No one in the posse had much room left for barbecue, but a couple of us ordered small plates.

“This place is a bargain,” said Rossman. “$6.50 for a brisket sandwich and two beers. Vencil’s got it going on.”

We stayed at a motel in Taylor, about a 40-minute drive on Highway 112 from Lexington, home of Snow’s.

A year ago, we thought brisket for breakfast was odd. Not anymore. It tasted just as good as we remembered.

We told owner Kerry Bexley that we had eaten at Franklin’s the previous day.

“I’ve met him, but never eaten his stuff,” Bexley said. “I hear he’s putting out good stuff.”
Prause Meat Market, on the town square in La Grange, is still operated by the same family that founded the business a century ago. Tourists use the front door, locals the back, just like at Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, the barbecue capital of Texas.

We sampled the sausage and pork. Both were good.

The dining room serves as a community bulletin board. “Deer Pictures Bring Yours! Other critters welcome,” said a hand-written sign on one wall. Above it were dozens of photos of hunters posing with dead deer and wild hogs.

On the opposite wall, there was a long cord. Notices were attached with clothespins: A big barbecue at the VFW, a course for concealed hand gun permits, La Grange’s Schmeckenfest featuring the lighting of the tree and Santa, a 24-hour family crisis hotline, and a hand-written plea for a community member in need. “She has cancer, needs prayer,” the note said.

If we lived in La Grange, we’d make Prause a regular stop.

Probably not Zimmerhanzel’s Bar-B-Que in Smithville. The line for food was long when we arrived, just after noon. And, talking to the locals in line, they loved the place, especially the ribs. But there wasn’t any atmosphere. Just a big room with tables.

By the time we ordered, the ribs were gone. We ordered chicken to take out and went to a city park to eat. There was some nice smoke taste, but we didn’t finish our order.

Our last stop was City Meat Market in downtown Giddings. Snow’s buys its meat there. We passed the place earlier in the day on our way to La Grange and probably should have stopped then.

By the time we arrived, 3 p.m. or so, they were out of everything except sausage and pork. Both were among the best we had on the trip.

“I have a feeling that City Meat Market might be right up there with the best places we visited,” Tomaso said. “I’d like to try it again when they’re not almost out of meat, and when it’s not my eighth barbecue meal in 26 hours.”

As we left City Market, Marshall Cooper, a commercial real estate broker and amateur barbecue master, asked if there was any place he could buy butcher paper. The server behind the counter gave him some.

A few hours later, back home in Dallas, Cooper fired up his smoker to test Aaron Franklin’s method. His verdict: Great crust, butter tender, but too smoky.

“Need another test or two,” Cooper said.

Central Texas 5-Star Anniversary BBQ Tour itinerary

10 a.m.: Leave Dallas
12:30 p.m.: Lunch at Franklin Barbecue, 3421 N. I-35 (old address), Austin, (512) 653-1187. Open Sun-Sat, 11 a.m.-until the meat runs out. (New address is 900 E. 11th, Austin)
2:30 p.m.: Lamberts Downtown Barbecue, 401 W. Second, Austin, (512) 494-1500. Open daily 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
5:30 p.m.: Southside Market BBQ, 1212 U.S. 290, at Hwy 95, Elgin, (512) 285-3407. Open Mon-Thur 8 a.m.-8p.m., Fri-Sat 8 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun 9 a.m.-7p.m.
7:30 p.m.: Dinner at Taylor Cafe, 101 N Main St., Taylor, (512) 352-847. Open Mon-Fri 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat-Sun 10a.m.-11p.m.
Overnight in Taylor.

8 a.m.: Breakfast at Snow’s BBQ, 516 Main St, Lexington, (979) 773-4640. Open Sat. 8 a.m.–12 p.m. or until the meat runs out.
10:30 a.m.: Prause Meat Market, 253 W. Travis, La Grange, (979) 968-3259. Open Mon-Wed & Fri 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Thur 7 a.m.-1 p.m., Sat 5:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
12:30 p.m.: Zimmerhanzel’s Bar-B-Que, 307 Royston (Hwy 95), Smithville, (512) 237-4244. Open Mon-Sat 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
3 p.m.: City Meat Market, 101 W. Austin, Giddings, (979) 542-2740. Open Mon-Fri 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Sat 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
4 p.m.: Head back to Dallas

Story by Gary Jacobson
Photos by Chris Wilkins

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sad news for fans of Pat Gee's BBQ in Tyler

The first time I stepped into Pat Gee's Barbecue in the late 1970s, Vida Gee was manning the counter as husband Pat handled the smokers and cutting board. Mrs. Gee greeted you with a smile and some of the best BBQ to ever come out of the piney woods of east Texas.

After Pat died in 1999, she continued to run the historic BBQ joint with her sons Arthur and Billy. My family members were regulars at Pat's, so I continued to go there through college and then on visits back home in Tyler over the years. I really enjoyed visiting with Mrs. Gee and catching up on what had gone on since the last time we talked.

She worked well into her 80s and the last time I saw her was a couple of years ago, before she entered assisted living. Vida Gee died on December 16, 2010, but Pat Gee's Barbecue goes on under the stewardship of her sons. Posse member Tom Fox stopped by Pat Gee's this weekend and Arthur told him it was his mom's dying wish that her sons keep the BBQ joint open and that's why they've continued on. Mrs. Gee was a truly special person and will be missed by all of those who were lucky enough to know her.

Click here to see Vida Gee's obituary in the Tyler Morning Telegraph. The photo of Pat Gee's shown above was shot by Tom Hackim in 1977, the year I was introduced to the little BBQ palace in the woods.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

City Meat Market in Giddings - Is this one of the best joints in Texas?

I can't think of a better way to start the New Year than to share some great photos of City Meat Market in Giddings shot by Posse member Guy Reynolds. Guy is a Dallas-based photojournalist and fellow photo editor at The Dallas Morning News.

Guy is a regular on our Texas BBQ tours, but was unable to join in on the recent Central Texas 5-Star Anniversary BBQ Tour, an eight-stop trip that ended at the City Meat Market. However, he was driving through Giddings a week later and asked about the City Meat Market. I told him it very well may be in the top three or four joints in the entire state.

Our biggest regret of the tour was not stopping in Giddings earlier in the day. We began day two of the tour at Snow's BBQ in Lexington, then drove south down Hwy. 77 toward Prause Meat Market in La Grange. We drove through the heart of Giddings directly past City Meat Market, which is at the corner of Hwys. 77 and 290, the main road from Houston to Austin.

It seemed like a good plan at the time, we would swing west from La Grange to Smithville, then loop back through Giddings on our way back to Dallas. However, by the time we got back there mid-afternoon, all they had left to sample was sausage and pork. It was some of the best meat we had on the tour though.

Guy's visit a week later was more successful. He hung out and photographed owner and pit boss Gerald Birkelbach at work, resulting in a wonderful set of images that really convey the texture and character of the place. He also got a full sampling of meats, which he placed among the best he's ever had.

Texas BBQ Posse member Bruce Tomaso, who was on the anniversary tour, sums up our visit to City Meat Market.

"I have a feeling that City Meat Market might be right up there with the best places we visited," Bruce writes. "I’d like to try it again when they’re not almost out of meat, and when it’s not my 8th BBQ meal in 26 hours."

Amen Bruce. The Posse will be back.........

City Meat Market, 101 W. Austin, Giddings, (979) 542-2740. Open Mon-Fri 7:30am-5:30pm, Sat 7:30am-4pm.

Photos ©Guy Reynolds