Somewhere over on the east side of the airport, on an unassuming street corner, lies the tiniest hole in the wall barbecue restaurant I've ever seen. The front of the house is just a waiting room with two chairs, a window for orders, and for some reason a guitar, fully set up ready to go with an amp and pedal, all plugged in. It looks like a London cab dispatch office, and if you've never seen one of those, that's for the best.
The sign outside, in contrast to all the other signs in the strip mall, lights up, so a circle round the block including a near-miss with a pick-up truck in the dark eventually leads us to spot Fatman's BBQ (3701 Esters Rd, Irving, TX 75038) when we're about three feet from it. Even then it looks like the building next door. In summary, it is not easy to find this place. At all.
There are, however, some perks. You can see through the order window that the kitchen is huge, at least 10 times the size of the waiting area. It also smells legit, always a must for a good barbecue place. The man at the window is extraordinarily friendly, and he does claim they deliver within a 10-mile radius for orders over $15, which is insane. Also it's handy because you're sure as hell not eating in.
The owners lived all over the south before moving to Texas, so this isn't another Texas barbecue place trying to stick their oar into the crowded Texas barbecue contest. No, it's a honest-to-goodness southern soul food kitchen that makes very little pretense toward being Texas-centric. Obviously, when we think of the relative quality of Texas barbecue joints, we're largely judging them on the brisket. This menu doesn't even have an option for sliced brisket. That's out. It's kind of refreshing.
When I think of good southern but not Texas barbecue places in DFW, I think Off The Bone in Forest Hill or Baby Back Shak just south of downtown (or even Mama Faye's in Deep Ellum, potentially), and the only way to judge them is on their pork. Fatman's has got some of the finest smoked ribs I've tasted around here. In fact I'd say the flavor was comparable to the out-of-this-world ribs I ate in Memphis at Central BBQ. A soft crust gives way to a rib with just the right amount of chew, and the smoke flavor is so prominent that these are some of the smokiest ribs I've ever had.
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The sauce is spicy and sweet, almost overwhelmingly so, but not quite enough to mean you don't want more of it all the time. Can we take this moment to give a shout out to Texas Toast dipped in barbecue sauce?
The mac and cheese is clearly a homemade number too, always important for any Southern place, and not gooey but more like a macaroni salad. Pulled pork is divine, so tender it's like a light cloud of pork with a beautiful sauce raining down. I ordered some of the chopped brisket and it was predictably drowned in sauce and overdone, so no concerns there. The ribs are absolutely where it's at here, and that's exactly how it should be. I just hope you live nearby, because you ain't dining in.