Five years ago, we sent our Cockney-accented barbecue critic Gavin Cleaver to the northern enclave of Frisco to check out 3 Stacks Smokehouse. After astutely noting that being forced take a toll road to get to Frisco could serve as some kind of metaphor for the town as a whole, Cleaver summarized his experience by stating that "nothing blew me away, and you'd probably expect a bit more for $8 a half-pound."
These days, nobody seems to bat an eye when we wade through the dining waters of northern DFW, and $8 for a half-pound of barbecue seems more the rule than the exception. But five years is also a long time in the restaurant business, and 3 Stacks rebooted itself, shutting the doors Jan. 22 to revamp the interior and the menu and bring in a new management team. The new look and menu rolled out Feb. 5, so we dropped another $40 into our Tolltag account and headed north to check it out.
Interior changes are apparent as soon as you step inside. Gone is the snaking line to the cutting table where meats were sliced to order — 3 Stacks is now a full-service restaurant, host and all. Otherwise, the interior vibe feels much the same as before, with an abundance of wood-topped tables and wood flooring to remind you that you're still at a barbecue restaurant.
The menu has much bigger changes. Sure, there's still barbecue, but the selections are relegated to the bottom quarter of the page, where the meats are priced by the quarter- or half-pound. The brisket has crept up to $9 for a half-pound, as has turkey breast. However, pulled pork, pit ham and two varieties of housemade sausage are still $8 per half pound, and ribs are sold by the half ($14) or full slab ($26). Sides are $3 to $4 each and come to the table in miniature cast-iron skillets that surely make the kitchen staff feel like giants.
With no provision for any kind of plate deal or combo, we ordered a quarter-pound each of brisket, pulled pork and black-pepper sausage, then added the smoked cheddar mac and cheese and barbecue beans to round out the order. It's a great way to sample a bit of everything, but it's also a great way to make a $20 bill disappear. In fairness to 3 Stacks, this seems to be the going rate for barbecue in DFW these days, but that doesn't mean we have to like it.
Perhaps our resentment would fade if we found some face-meltingly good barbecue, but much like last time, we felt we should've gotten something more. Our brisket sported an impressive smoke ring and thin layer of bark, but it had been completely trimmed of fat before smoking, pushing it to the dry end of the spectrum. The black pepper sausage was a better choice, with a peppery bite and decent snap, while the pulled pork was nothing to write home about.
Each table is equipped with three varieties of barbecue sauce, and with the brisket and pork both in need of sauce enhancements, diners should have plenty of opportunities to pick a favorite. The sides, served in their Lilliputian cast-iron dishes, are solid choices, however. The sharpness of the smoked cheddar stood out in the miniature pasta shells and cheese, and the barbecue beans hit the tangy bullseye as well.
Barbecue influences remain strong in the rest of 3 Stacks' new menu. It includes a Texas poutine with brisket chili, a Cobb salad with smoked chicken, and flatbreads with brisket, chicken or pulled pork. We opened with the buttermilk and bacon hushpuppies ($7), which arrived fresh from the fryer with a side of pimento cheese fondue and jalapeño jam for dipping. An order of six is plenty for the table, and the fried balls of cornbread make perfect vehicles for getting the tasty pimento fondue in your face.
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A sizable section of 3 Stacks' new menu is devoted to "Bread & Bun," again with a heavy barbecue tilt. We settled on the brisket cheesesteak ($13), advertised with caramelized onions, poblano pepper and a housemade queso, served on an Empire Baking Co. hoagie. The chopped brisket shines in this role, perhaps helped by the generous amount of queso poured on top, and the hoagie does an admirable job holding the concoction together.
We imagine that Frisco's dining population will likely celebrate the changes to 3 Stacks Smokehouse; a full service restaurant with a fleshed out menu feels like a good fit for this upscale suburb. But if it's exceptional barbecue you seek, there are other restaurants that may lack the polish of 3 Stacks but offer a truer Texas barbecue experience.
3 Stacks Smokehouse, 4226 Preston Road, Frisco