Daily News Article about the Texas BBQ Co.
May 9, 2007
Texas barbecue finds a home in Northborough
Bob Tremblay; DAILY NEWS STAFF
NORTHBOROUGH - There's barbecue and then there's Texas barbecue. To tell a Texan there's no difference is fightin' words. You might assume that locating a place serving Texas barbecue in New England would be as easy as finding a vegan in a butcher shop. But you would assume incorrectly. The Texas BBQ Company has been serving the real deal on Rte. 20 in Northborough for almost a year.
"This is authentic Texas barbecue," said Dave Brannon, who owns and operates the restaurant with his wife, Linda. "It's all 100 percent wood-smoked. … A lot of places smoke them 50 percent of the time and put them in the oven the rest of the time. We don't use any ovens. We don't use electricity. We don't use gas to start our smoker. We start it with a match.
"We use native green oak and when I get hickory, I use that. No mesquite. Mesquite is used primarily for grilling steaks. It's not a real smoky wood. A lot of people think it is, but it's very rarely ever used in a smoking environment."
"Brannon learned the P's and Q's of barbecue from his parents, who owned the Texas Pit BBQ with one location in Texas and another in Arizona. When they retired, their restaurants retired with them. ''We grew up doing barbecue,'' said Brannon, who hails from Bellville, Texas. Before arriving in Northborough, the Brannons lived in Austin. He notes that each area of Texas has its own barbecue flavor. Austin has Texas Hill Country.
The Texas BBQ Company represents the first restaurant owned by the Brannons, who had been looking in Northborough and the immediate area for about five years for a site. When Stan's Sub Shop closed, they found their spot. They then renovated, decorating the 1,800- square-foot interior with Texas knickknacks, including a longhorn at the bar. A picture of country music stars Waylon Jennings and Jessie Colter, who used to frequent the Texas Pit BBQ, hangs on one of the walls. The Texas state flag flies outside. Instead of "Men" and "Women," the rest room signs read "Cowboys"; and "Cowgirls."
The 50-seat restaurant is also a family affair as the Brannon children work at the eatery when they're not in school.
Diners walking to The Texas BBQ Company from the parking lot will immediately be confronted by the inviting aroma emanating from the eatery's smoker.
Once inside, diners can sit at either tables or booths. The atmosphere is no-frills casual. The informative menu notes that "barbecue is to Texas what lobster is to New England." Ingredients for a top-notch Texas barbecue include the highest quality beef, pork, chicken and turkey - "there is no breed of dairy cattle found in real Texas beef BBQ," the menu continued.
Depending on the meat, the smoking process can last anywhere from three to 18 hours, according to Brannon. And no sauce is required.
"Sauce only enhances real BBQ," the menu pointed out. "It doesn't make BBQ." Dry rubs get applied instead.
The menu features such appetizers as the Texas caviar dip with homemade chips. Sorry, the dip isn't made with sturgeon eggs. It's actually a salsa made with black-eyed peas, avocados, tomatoes, onions, jalapeño peppers, cilantro and bell peppers.
The eatery also serves fried okra, a popular Southern dish, as one of its homemade side orders. Cameron Smith, a colleague of yours truly who hails from Austin, calls the vegetable "a unique enigma that melts in your mouth." Said Brannon, "A lot of people who come in here have never had it before. They then try it and that's what they order every time they come in." The restaurant also serves Lone Star beer, much to Cameron's delight. "To date, this is the only place in this damn state where I've found it," he said. "Now, I'm sure there are others where it exists, but Lone Star is the official Bud Lite of Texas, and we're raised on it like a pacifier."
Yours truly frequented The Texas BBQ Company for lunch with this paper's trend editor, Nancy Olesin, who used to live in Austin. Cameron ordered his food takeout for dinner.
For an appetizer, Nancy and I split an order of jalapeño cheese sticks ($6.99). A special, it consisted of eight mozzarella sticks with jalapeño-infused breading served with a southwest dipping sauce. The coating was not too thick and provided a nice kick. "It sneaks up on you," said Nancy. "Fire starts to smolder in your mouth." The sauce, resembling a ranch dressing, was deemed agreeable.
For her entree, Nancy selected the half order of beef ribs ($9.99). Three gigantic ribs arrived on her plate. Diners with hefty appetites can order a full slab ($14.99). That gets you seven ribs weighing roughly 21/2 to 3 pounds. These ribs get slow-smoked for up to six hours.
Nancy was impressed. "They're very tender and very flavorful," she said. "There's also lots of meat and it's not too fatty."
I wisely chose the sliced beef brisket ($11.99). The five, extra lean slices were so tender I put away the knife and cut them with a fork. They also demonstrated a pronounced smoky flavor boosted by the dry rub spices. Said Brannon, "Texas barbecue restaurants are judged by their brisket." The sauces, served in plastic squeeze bottles, lacked zing.
Each entree came served with a choice of two sides and either Texas toast or cornbread. Nancy ordered the okra and the cole slaw. She said the former was not fried so much that the flavor was extinguished. She noted that the cole slaw was vinegar based rather than the common mayonnaise variety. She said the cornbread was "more like a corn muffin, fluffy, not too dense with a nice corn taste."
My sides were the onion rings and the Texas-style potato salad. The former were shoestring in structure instead of the large circles. They were numerous and delicious. The potato salad added mustard to the mix - very pleasant - while the Texas toast - thick white bread, buttered and grilled - was off the calorie chart.
Speaking of calories, for dessert, we split an order of the pecan pie ($4.99). We received a generous slice packed with pecans. We also appreciated the buttery crust. How sweet it was. All the desserts are homemade, by the way. Now it's Cameron's turn.
"The beef ribs ($9.99) were terrific … thick meat that had a heavy oak taste," he said. "You could really taste the long smoking in it to the point that a serious BBQ connoisseur wouldn't even use sauce. Better yet, it's so tender that it pulls off the bone easily at the teeth, a sure sign that it's been well smoked.
"The pulled pork ($10.99) was nice and soft with plenty of moisture in it. This is impressive because it's completely unsauced. You'll notice that pulled pork often comes in a soupy, sauce broth. Not here. This is just meat pulled off the bone, and it's soft and easily flakes away with the fork.
"The Texas Hill Country Sausage ($11.99) may be the gem of the group. Truly impressive. Well smoked with a nice, spicy skin and some serious bite. I had the hot version, which was certifiably hotter than the mid-level of Earl Campbell's brand. Smoky, completely free of gristle. This isn't your aunt's Hillsboro Farms freezer sausage. Delicately done." Said Brannon, "That's an item you're not going to find anywhere around here. It's a Texas/German-style sausage that a gentleman in Worcester makes for us. We give him the seasonings and he does the rest."
Back to Cameron, who now weighs in on the side orders.
"Fried okra - does it matter how good it is? Just the fact that they have fried okra is one of the greatest things that's happened to me since I got to Massachusetts. … The nice part about it was that it wasn't too heavily breaded. These were pretty lightly covered. If there's too much breading it can start to taste like fried dough.
"Onion rings - shoestring onion rings are always good. These are fairly pedestrian, but I still love them. Every fast food joint should be legally required to have shoestring onion rings as a french fry alternative. We need to make this happen. I'm willing to start a petition.
"Sweet potato fries - this is the crown jewel of the sides. They're not too sweet, which so often is the ultimate undoing of sweet potato fries. There's a noticeable salty taste which reminds you that they're french fries first, sweet potato fries second. Just the way they should be.
"I am thrilled to certify (The Texas BBQ Company) as legit."
The Texas BBQ Company restaurant slow-smokes its ribs for up to six hours.