In my travels to date I have not visited the Dallas/Ft Worth area. Partly this is due to the fact that this area has had plenty of coverage in the past with other BBQ focused bloggers, as it is the hometown area to Daniel Vaughn – the BBQ editor for Texas Monthly. The Texas BBQ Posse also hails from here, and while I would love to hit a few places with them, I haven’t had the chance yet. Don O also runs a BBQ blog out of Dallas although he posts with less frequency than the Posse. Since the Houston area doesn’t get much coverage I have tried to mix my central Texas trips with visits to Houston area joints.
There are two Dallas/Ft Worth joints that were on my short list; Pecan Lodge and Red Barn BBQ. Pecan lodge is highly revered locally and earned its place very quickly not only onto the Texas Monthly Top 50 but into their top four ranking; essentially tied for second with Snow’s and Louie Mueller while Franklin BBQ was proclaimed to be the best. I don’t always agree with other’s interpretations but do respect Daniel Vaughn and the Texas Monthly list enough to delay publishing of my own personal top 10 until I had tried each of the top 4 from the list as well as a number of their top 50.
Red Barn BBQ was on my short list as it is a bonus stop on the Biker Monkey BBQ tour contest, benefiting America’s Mighty Warriors. I was solidly leading the contest and there were only three more bonus joints I had not visited yet. Red Barn is located in Colleyville, Texas which was close enough to Pecan Lodge to stretch the day into a two BBQ stop and still get back home by sundown.
We added a couple of stops of interest in between the BBQ. Bonnie and Clyde are both buried in the area, but Clyde Barrow’s grave site seemed to be unavailable to visit so we settled on visiting only Bonnie Parker’s grave site. Strokers Icehouse is an eclectic motorcycle dealer and bar/restaurant that had been the focus of a reality TV series called “Ma’s Icehouse” . It is like a smaller (but by no means small) version of Full Throttle Saloon. All of this would be done in a single day from Tomball, clocking in at over 500 miles on the motorcycle.
The ride would be the day after my birthday and we would have to leave early. I took it easy the night before but still had a few drinks to shake off my work week. Temperatures were forecast to be above 100 degrees and keeping hydrated is critical.
Headed for Dallas
The buzzer rang at 5:30 am and we groggily got ready for the day. We rolled out on the BMW at 6:15 am to a nicely cool-ish morning. The coolness at early dawn was welcome and we enjoyed the first bit of the ride immensely. The sky turned from the dawn just breaking to a slate blue sky as we neared Lake Conroe thirty minutes later. We witnessed a beautiful sunrise with a glowing ball of orange that was diffused from a large amount of dust that had blown in over the week from Africa.
We rode quickly up I-45 and made our first stop at 146 miles and two hours into the ride. The gas station offered BBQ and had a wood burning pit so we tried to get a brisket taco for breakfast but the meat wasn’t ready yet so we settled for bacon and egg. I wouldn’t have expected them to have fresh brisket at 7:30 am anyway so it wasn’t a letdown.
We were at the edge of Dallas by 9:30 and caught side of the hazy downtown skyline at 9:40. Pecan Lodge opens at 11 and the building they are located in opens its doors at 10. Previously the building was opened at 9 am but recently the property owners have delayed opening. Based on reading some of the other blogs it didn’t look like we’d need to get there 2+ hours early but I wanted to be there a at least a few minutes before the doors to the building opened. Pecan Lodge is located within the Dallas Farmer’s market, inside of a building labeled “Shed 2.” One of the benefits to this arrangement is that the wait in line for BBQ is inside the air conditioned building rather than outside in the elements like Franklin BBQ in Austin. Like the top few BBQ joints, the lines here can grow to an hour long wait or more on busy days.
We took the exit off of the freeway and found our way quickly to the Farmer’s Market. I was surprised by the ample free parking, at least at our time of arrival. We were able to park just outside the doors of the building. We walked up to the building at about 9:55 and saw a group of about 8 people lined up inside the building. I tugged on the doors but they were still locked. We looked and were responded to with blank stares. Apparently the small group of people had snuck in behind workers but they were unwilling to let anyone else in behind them.
There was only one other person outside with us and we were let in soon enough. As we waited the two people in front of us asked when Pecan Lodge opened. When we told them the opening bell is at 11, they decided not to wait and left. We were asked at least one other time by people who walked by and had misunderstood that while the building opens at 10, Pecan Lodge and many other businesses open at 11. I guess they didn’t understand why there was a line if the place wasn’t even open yet. They must have thought to themselves, “Those crazy BBQ fanatics.”
Thirty eight people had lined up by 1030 am. We had arrived on Friday to avoid the worst of the lines, but I had still expected a larger crowd based on the reviews and hype. There was one business directly across from Pecan Lodge selling lemonade and tea for $3.75 a cup which seemed pricey to me. We still paid for a bottle of water from them so they got us, too.
When the bell was rung to signal the opening about 70 people had queued up. Pecan Lodge has a tradition of allowing the first person in line to ring the old-fashioned triangle to announce the daily opening. I think it’s pretty cool and it sort of ramps up the crowd’s excitement.
To try and bring more efficiency to the speed of service, they have added a second cash register and express lane for orders of 5 pound or more. About 5 people took advantage of that while the regular line slowly moved along as normal. When the express lane had died out they brought some of the regular line folks over onto the second register to help speed up the process. Serving BBQ is a slow process, as each order is custom cut. This way the meats are as fresh and moist as possible. It would be faster if someone was in the back pre-slicing and weighing the meat prior to an order I am not aware of any joint that functions that way, and I am glad.
We had ordered a three meat plate with fatty brisket and both the regular pork based sausage and a beef based jalapeno cheese grind. We got one of our typical side orders of beans but debated for some time on other options. I really wanted to try the macaroni and cheese as well as a beef rib but there was just the two of us with another BBQ joint to visit. I hate throwing away good BBQ and it would be 6-7 hours before we’d arrive back home so we had to settle for only the brisket and sausage for meat but splurged on banana pudding for dessert.
When we sat down with our food I heard someone behind us complaining that they only had a single pork rib with their 3 meat plate but on our plate at least there was plenty of brisket and the sausage links were long enough that we could snap each one into two pieces long enough to wrap some bread around if we had desired.
Finally, a meal at the Pecan Lodge
First up was the brisket and visually it was very nicely colored, but did not possess quite the range of colors that I had seen during my last visit to Corkscrew BBQ. I grabbed a nice piece with some bark and took a bite. It was tender with the rub less peppery than Louie Mueller but still containing a nice spice mixture. The smoke flavor didn’t permeate all the way through, and where it did the mesquite wood used here gives it a different flavor than my personal favorite of Oak.
Pecan Lodge recently upgraded to a new pit. What is interesting is that both the old and new pits here are designed slightly differently than the common steel round and oval pits in use at many joints. The typical design employs a fire box at one end of the smoker, and a smokestack at the opposite. This forces the smoke and heat to carry across and out the pit. This also makes tuning the pit for even temperatures a critical component of pit building, otherwise there will be hotter and cooler spots and uneven cooking will occur. The pit in use here has a firebox centered behind the pit with smokestacks on both ends. This should make for more even cooking, but the design is not very common. Our brisket was cooked perfectly, with well rendered fat and a moist interior that was tender without being overcooked, but I would have preferred a stronger smoke flavor. Based on my single visit I would rank Pecan Lodge in the top ten, but probably not in the top five. I will have to come back to try the brisket again, along with additional sides. This wasn’t bad brisket by any means, this was darn good brisket, but I’ve really gotten picky after visiting so many of the top joints.
I liked both of the sausages. They had a good snap and were filled with the course style of grind that I like. The jalapeno cheese was drier than I prefer, though. The jalapeno flavor was muted and not overwhelming like some joints produce which was good. The cheese was a little too muted for me and I would have desired a little more cheese flavor to come through. The original pork based sausage was my favorite of the two. It was juicy and had a reddish hue to the filling, possibly from cumin. It had a slight hint of spiciness but not too much for those who like a milder sausage.
The pinto beans were good. They were soaked in a soup like complex mix that included plenty of onion and some pepper. I thought I spotted green onion as well.
The banana pudding finished up the meal well – It wasn’t magical but very good and helped coat our stomachs for the next stop.
All in all I liked Pecan Lodge but I had really high expectations for it based on the buzz I had read. I’ll have to visit again but based on this trip it’s in or near my top 10. Since I had waited to create my list until this visit I will post my personal top 10 soon.
Adventures with GPS
Our next stop was Strokers Icehouse and I used a new GPS app I had downloaded rather than the Google Navigation provided with the Android OS. I have learned that my specific model of phone has a problem with Google Navigation for some reason. I have reset the OS and tried other options but web searches confirmed that the problem is not unique to me. The biggest issue is there is no rhyme or reason, but randomly the entire phone will crash and reboot. This only happens when running the Google Navigation app and it is rare that any app can cause an entire reboot of a phone, but that probably one of the worst apps to have reset while driving. Since the phone completely reboots, you cannot simply continue without reloading the app; something that I can’t do easily while riding the motorcycle.
Normally I draw some simple maps, bring paper maps or printouts, and familiarize myself with the route prior to riding. We had map folding and reading classes when I was younger but more and more often people have lost or never learned those skills. I wanted to relieve myself of this effort and trust electronics. What I was to find was that I should probably never do that, and that our society is likely becoming far too reliant on electronic navigation.
The GPS ladies are screwing with my mind, part 1 (Strokers)
I had actually downloaded two separate apps to try and the first one I was testing today was MapQuest. I liked the fact that it was easy to load up a multi-point route and even resume that route if you turned off the phone or closed the app. However, MapQuest’s streets and highways didn’t seem to align with reality. I don’t have a phone mount set up yet for the BMW so I leave it in my pocket and I have ear buds on to hear the directions. My first interaction with the voice in my head was as I tried to maneuver onto I-35 north. I made a wrong turn and the voice told me it was “re-call-culating”. I dropped off the freeway and it gave me updated directions. The updated directions didn’t match the street signs so I began arguing with the app. But rather than listen to me, she kept spouting off turns. She said something about route 60 – but the only signs showed I-35. I was not just having a hard time following the directions; I was beginning to think this was intentional. Maybe she would start cackling at my attempts to follow her lead. I even thought how cruel it would be to intentionally create an application to mess with your head while driving…
I had looked at the route enough to know a couple of the major roads and intersections so before long the GPS lady calmed down and realized I was making my way accurately to my destination, Strokers Ice house.
I rode into the parking lot and couldn’t find a place for motorcycle parking, which struck me as odd. The dealership had new bikes lined up in front but otherwise it was car and truck parking. I found a spot in the lot eventually and we had an ice cold tea while I wandered around to take some photos. As I exited the back door of the bar I realized that there was indeed bike-specific parking. There is a narrow passageway between the dealer and ice house which leads to bike parking behind the bar.
In the area behind the bar there are stages, spaces to gather in, and other smaller satellite bars strewn about the place. We were there in the afternoon so it was pretty dead but it looks like this place gets rocking at night.
Our next stop was just up the road a few miles so I resumed use of the same navigation app. However she and I were no longer getting along. More than once I disagreed with her, yelling into my helmet that this other road was a better option, or that there was an obvious shortcut. We continued to argue until I rode PAST the cemetery, which she told me to, and turned at the road immediately after. Then she guided me down this road for about a half mile and triumphantly announced that I had reached my destination. W.T.F.? Really? I continued to yell at her but she wouldn’t respond. I shut her off, turned around, and made my way to the cemetery in silence.
It took us a little time to find the quiet headstone belonging to Bonnie Parker and we paid a short visit. Her mother is buried beside her as well in a simple headstone. We stopped for a couple of pictures of the art-deco styled mausoleum before getting ready to make it to the next stop.
The GPS ladies are screwing with my mind, part 2 (Bonnie Parker)
I no longer wanted to listen to my last GPS lady so I tried another app I had downloaded; Navigator Free. What was interesting about this mapping application is that it downloaded the maps directly to your phone. This prevents the requirement to have a data connection that standard phone navigation apps require. While my phone service includes “unlimited” data, we often ride far enough from major cities to lose mobile signals. A GPS signal is still mandatory, but the mapping info is from an open source mapping project called OpenStreetMap. I had verified that the map itself looked to be accurate and previously setup the same route as I had done with MapQuest.
As I left the cemetery I began making turns. Then I made more turns. I quickly learned some things that were truly insanely frustrating with this mapping application. First, it does not announce the street names; it only provides which direction to turn. “Turn right in 100 yards”. After making a turn, it does not tell you how far you will be traveling on that stretch of road. So if you make a wrong turn, you will hear “recalculating” (although this one had a bit of a British accent, she could at least pronounce the word properly.) After recalculating though, you may hear silence. Then eventually it will tell you to make a turn. Or maybe it will be busy recalculating, or possibly it will begin playing mind games.
We began to wind our way back and forth, listening to alternatively “recalculating” and “turn right” or “turn left”. I had a less than perfect recollection of our path so the game continued until we found a major thoroughfare. Then it told me to “make a left turn” where there was no entrance to the freeway at all. It seems that it also doesn’t stipulate the difference between entering a freeway, merging, or “slight” turns. Everything is essentially black and white with this GPS lady, and I was entering into another destructive relationship with my navigator.
The yelling would continue. Even cursing would not change her opinion of directions. We rode past the DFW airport. Then we crossed over and rode past the airport on the west side, making our way back in some haphazard method. We passed the Great Wolf Lodge, a kind of fake giant outdoorsy lodge with a water park, laser tag, spa for kids, and who knows what else.
Somehow we did make it towards the city of Colleyville. Intentional or not, we took a small road into the city through rows of very high priced houses. We came right up on Red Barn BBQ at the heart of Colleyville, Texas. The location is at the intersection of Glade road and Colleyville Boulevard, also called Grapevine highway. The building looks a bit out of place amongst the neighborhood and the seemingly endless strip centers along the main street.
Red Barn BBQ
We walked into the building at about 2pm, which is basically the witching hour of BBQ. From 2-4 pm you will often find leftover meat from the lunch rush, under cooked meat, or sometimes even lack of some meats until after 4 pm. There were a couple of other occupied tables so I was a little hesitant but reminded myself of the time. The service is cafeteria style so we headed to the front of the line to make our choice. Meat by the pound here is “to go only”, which I think was the first time I had seen that requirement. Since this was a bonus stop on the BBQ tour we dove in headfirst and ordered a two meat plate with fatty brisket and sausage.
First up as usual was the brisket. The rub was light, but I did find one piece that had some seasoning and crunchiness. Our first comment was that it was more tender than Pecan Lodge. A few more bites and the smoke flavor came into its own. They use pecan wood here (unlike “Pecan Lodge, which uses mesquite.) Pecan wood can leave behind a more ‘earthy’ flavor. You don’t get the heavy smoke flavor of oak or the bite of mesquite, but we tasted the flavor all the way through the meat. Leslye stated she actually preferred the brisket at Red Barn over Pecan Lodge. I was a little more reserved than that and unwilling to make that kind of statement on a single visit to each location, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the brisket here.
The sausage was good. It was a little too finely ground for my tastes, but moist and flavorful. The beans were OK but in general most joints’ pinto beans are about the same. There are a few standouts like John Mueller and a number of really good ones like Pecan Lodge. These were workable as a side. The potato salad was very “yellow” and chunky with lots of pickle and pimento. Since we didn’t have any at Pecan Lodge we couldn’t compare but they were good enough for us to finish them off.
We spoke with the young pit master for a bit and learned that he had come from the other Red Barn location. The owner sold off the other location and they are no longer affiliated. I told him that I was impressed with the quality here and that I thought it should get more publicity. I always like getting surprised with quality BBQ and they service it up at Red Barn.
There was one other thing we discussed that I thought was amusing. He mentioned that some customers come in and request that their brisket be devoid of any bark, and any signs of fat. This type of request even can come in for the chopped beef. This is more common in east Texas, but I implore the readers of this blog to leave the bark on! Some fat can be trimmed off, especially from the outside layer, but the meat from the “point” of the brisket has a vein of fat running through the middle. When properly smoked this renders down to a buttery-like texture and both coats the meat with moisture and helps to flavor the meat. The brisket at Red Barn was perfectly rendered and was a pleasant surprise.
The road back home
We had delayed out exit by as much as possible and the realization of what lie ahead fell over us. We had a four and a half hour ride with official temperatures hitting 102 degrees and the temperature on the road even higher. We made our way over to Texas-21 but were blocked by construction for a bit. We sat in the sun toasting away until finally they moved out of the way enough to let a group of vehicles past and onto the freeway. It was now three o’clock Friday afternoon and our mission was to get to the outskirts of the Dallas/Ft Worth area before traffic got ugly. We got lucky when we made a turn onto I-820; I saw traffic stacked up just beyond and we kept rolling along. We headed briefly on I-20 until making our exit on U.S. 287 toward Waxahachie, Texas.
While we had made great time heading into Dallas in the morning, we had to pace ourselves easier for most of the day due to an abundance of police keeping an eye on motorist’s speeds. We followed U.S 287 through Midlothian where I almost got a speeding ticket (watch it when the speed limit drops to 55 mph!) We made it to Waxahachie with the tank nearing empty so we filled up and made an extended stop to cool off.
Back on the road and at the peak of the heat we toiled down I-45 trying to beat both the temperature and the boredom. When the heat rises above the average body temperature of 98.6, wind is no longer to your benefit. The blast of air is actually raising your temperature rather than providing any benefit. We both wear full face helmets and it’s downright unpleasant in them; even with the heat-out skull caps I will tend to get some beads of sweat rolling down my face in this kind of heat.
We made an extended stop at a Sonic in Madisonville, Texas that offered indoor seating. This time we probably stayed 30 minutes or longer while downing our cold drinks but once again had to slog it out down the freeway in the heat. At least at this point we had realized that the temperature had reached its maximum of 102 and it wouldn’t get any hotter.
Conroe was our stop for refueling and downing another big drink. It was 7 pm and finally the heat was really starting to break. As we rode past some of the lakeside restaurants and bars I thought it would have been a great place to stop. We had seen the sunrise as we rode past in the morning and we could have seen the sunset from virtually the same vantage point, but I had made a promise to our younger son Wyatt that we would return before sundown. We made the final miles with some shade from the pine trees and indeed arrived home before the sun had set.