An Englishman Reviews the BBQ of Off the Bone

See also: *An Englishman in BBQ Sauce for more of our efforts to fatten Gavin up

Last week my dad emailed me. "As a parent the sheer amount of food you are eating in your food journalism quest is truly frightening. The way that your wife feeds you is slightly reminiscent of foie gras production, but it's not your liver that's growing." He might have a point. I'm starting to feel the same way. I am yet to be anything close to disappointed by Texan portion sizes. I think overwhelmed is a better word. Off the Bone was the largest portions I feel like I can remember. By this point, I mainly miss Britain because I was much thinner in Britain.

I feel like this fine establishment was my first proper BBQ trek. It's not even that far from Dallas, it's in Forest Hill, about 35 minutes away, but we went in rush hour (it closes at 7) so it felt much longer. It's more the principle of driving that far for a specific food. It's alien to me. In Texas, where everything is so far spaced out from everything else, a 30-minute drive is nothing. That's a good commute. In Britain, if it's longer than a 15-minute drive and someone isn't dying, then it's too far. That said, I do like the feeling of isolation you get when you drive out of the built-up metroplex. It all feels so empty. It's much more what I thought Texas would be like before moving here, when I had very little idea about what living in a city like Dallas would have in store.

This BBQ joint is legit in a way that Lockhart's or Sonny Bryan's isn't -- you could easily mistake it for a gas station, building wise, and there are no stylized frills whatsoever. It's not trying to be anything. I find these places more intimidating, because they're not built for city folk like me, they are for locals. I get a lot of funny looks. The worst I've ever had it was in a country-style diner just outside Waco when I was driving to Austin. Some guy had his shotgun leaned up against a table, everyone was wearing non-ironic cowboy hats and I couldn't understand a word anyone said.

This place comes second. The people at the counter stare at me with total incredulity as I'm trying to make an order. I mispronounce okra, and Richard cracks a joke ("You know, like Okra Winfrey!) and the stares we get are really bad news. "No", says the lady at the counter, firmly. Apparently, you don't make Okra Winfrey jokes here.

Nevertheless, this in some way adds to the experience. Whereas I was out of my element before simply because I was faced by Texas BBQ, now I am several levels deep into a situation. I've crossed over from novelty into escaped non-indigenous zoo animal, and a zoo animal that is hungry for BBQ. We struggle our way to ordering a rib basket ($7.99) and a two-meat plate of brisket and sausage, with sides of macaroni cheese and okra (no Winfrey) ($12.99).

I get a raspberry iced tea and can hear my forefathers weeping at this desecration of tea. We go to the fast-food style booths, and it comes out in the adorable little red baskets, fried chicken style. There is a ketchup-squeezy-bottle-dispenser-thing of BBQ sauce, which worries me. I needn't have worried. The sauce is an absolute beauty, kind of spicy and sweet, with a definite tang of vinegar. It was so good. Even okra tasted good in it, and I really have no idea what okra is or what it should taste like.

Anyway, that's quite aside from the meat. The brisket, well, Lockhart has ruined me. It was OK, pretty good, nothing special. The smoky outside is very nicely done, but there's not enough of it. The sausage, again, pretty good. The ribs, though. Christ. They are pleading to fall off the bone; they are burnt crisp on the outside and melt in the mouth on the inside. By the time we are done with them, the once-full squeezy bottle of sauce is one-third full and there are entirely clean ribs scattered around the table. It requires all my restraint not to simply put sauce on the bones and use them as some sort of horrific Popsicle. Richard, stepson and I, and our two BBQ companions, agree that the ribs are untouchable. Everything else is pretty good. Not bad at all. I could eat the ribs from this place forever.

Dessert is suggested. I am intrigued. I have never got dessert at a BBQ place before. Brian, a recent arrival from Indiana who is out with us for the first time, goes up and gets a buttermilk pie. I try a bit, and it's truly great, like eating a milky sugar pie. I clearly haven't had enough awkward interactions for the day, so I go up to get my own. Imagine a British person saying "butter". I pronounce both the t's with a hard accent. When an American says "butter," it's kind of mushed together into a "duh" noise. Budder. The lady at the counter is terrified. She has absolutely no idea what I'm saying to her. The problem is, the less I'm understood, the more I retreat into pronouncing things clearly, but clearly for a British audience. I emphasize the "t" more. It is a losing battle. Eventually I gesture, and she's still bemused.

I got the pie in the end. I am not sure how. I think I got it for free because she wanted me to go away and be British somewhere else. It tastes even more delicious because of the suffering that went into acquiring it. If we've learned anything from this blog entry, it is that. Pie is better when you work hard for it.

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Gavin Cleaver
Contact: Gavin Cleaver