Westbound on U.S. 380, the pavement sweeps to the left as we crest a hill, and wind turbines sprout from the horizon. In our travels across the state, we've come to recognize wind farms as the surest sign that we've escaped the clutches of the big cities. But for the paved roads, the landscape looks today as it did 50 or 100 years earlier when times were perhaps simpler.
It was that desire to move away from the hustle and bustle that lead Jack Nichols, his wife, Ashley, and their three children to Jacksboro. Jack worked in the oil and gas industry and Ashley was a trauma nurse in Fort Worth, but the opportunity to live a quiet country life was too great to pass up, so they sold their home in Aledo and bought a large chunk of land in Jack County.
Then COVID came and Jack was laid off. He recalls a Sunday morning when he found inspiration for his next career, Mesquiteville Bar-B-Q.
Ashley's response was somewhat more pragmatic.
"He told me that Jesus wanted him to open a barbecue restaurant," Ashley says. "I said 'Jesus didn't say that; Jesus wants you to get a job!'"
Jack, however, was already persuaded. As he saw it, he already smoked with mesquite wood, his new home was surrounded by mesquite trees, and he was living in Jacksboro, which was known as Mesquiteville in the 1850s. The name for his new barbecue venture was at hand.
Mesquiteville Bar-B-Q's home is a 1950s camper that Nichols bought off of Facebook that was being used on a nearby deer lease. Nichols gutted the interior ("It was wall-to-wall green shag carpeting," he recalls) and turned it into the kitchen, then stripped the exterior paint and christened the side with the Mesquiteville name. He bought a small offset smoker on a trailer, which resides under a shed behind the camper.
"We opened right before Snowmageddon, then spent most of the spring getting rained on, and now summer is in full force," Nichols says, as we dine on his fare under the already blistering late afternoon sun.
For someone with no background in barbecue (save a six-month stint working at Cooper's Barbecue when he was younger), Nichols' food already epitomizes Central Texas-style.
"I just use salt and pepper and that mesquite smoke," he says. "People say mesquite is overpowering, but it's not as long as you're running a clean fire."
We're just a few bites in, and it's clear Nichols knows what he's talking about. Using slices of brisket as examples, the smokiness from mesquite is noticeable but not oppressive, and the simple salt and pepper rub formed an impressive bark on each slice. The flavor is noteworthy, especially when most places in North Texas lean towards post oak, which produces a milder smoke flavor.
At just $15.99 and including two sides, our three-meat plate reflects the economics of the small-town location, serving out of a trailer and sitting outdoors. We're keenly aware that this level of quality would surely cost more back in Dallas.
There's something relaxing about the drive out west, as Fort Worth melts in the rearview mirror and the sprawling beginnings of West Texas stretch out the windshield. Mesquiteville Bar-B-Q is a reminder of that easier more relaxing lifestyle, and is something Jack and Ashley Nichols are happy to share with visitors.
"It all worked out how it's supposed to," Nichols says of leaving a steady job and moving away from the city. "I'm here, I'm happy, my family loves it, and I'm doing something that I love."
Mesquiteville Bar-B-Q, 501 S. Main St., Jacksboro. Open 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday
Road Trip Details
From our downtown offices, the shortest route to Jacksboro involves getting to the west side of Fort Worth, then taking State Highway 199 west until it merges with U.S. 281 just south of Jacksboro, for a one-way trip of 95 miles. If your journey starts from north Dallas, Interstate 35E north to U.S. 380 is a better bet. Regardless of your starting point, once you're off the major highways, the drive is scenic and enjoyable.
Making A Day Of It
Admittedly, Jacksboro is a small town without much in the way of attractions, serving more as a home for people looking the peace and quiet of rural life. That said, Mesquiteville Bar-B-Q is hosting the Mesquiteville Music Series on Saturday nights. Jack Nichols cooks up extra food and stays open later while local musicians play for patrons. The events are BYOB. Eating barbecue al fresco, adult beverage in hand, while enjoying live music is the essence of Texas summer. Details about the upcoming acts are on Mesquiteville's Facebook page.
After the Civil War, Fort Richardson was once the largest Army installation in the country and protected settlers along the Texas frontier. Today, Fort Richardson State Park honors that history with interactive tours of remaining structures, with tours that can be taken on foot, bike, or horseback. Swimming, fishing and camping are also options.