Larry Lavine may have made a name for himself as the founder of Chili’s, but the restaurateur has found a more recent passion in barbecue. Lavine’s latest venture is Loop 9 BBQ, tucked into Grand Prairie’s growing EpicCentral entertainment district.
EpicCentral is a 172-acre park at the George W. Bush Tollway and Arkansas Lane, and it’s already home to the Epic Waters Indoor Waterpark. A new hotel is under construction, and Loop 9 BBQ is one of several restaurants nestled along the boardwalk to provide a new entertainment and dining destination for locals and visitors alike. Loop 9 will open in a few weeks, but we were invited out to have a look at the space and talk to Lavine about his latest venture.
As we sat over a tray of tortilla chips and delicious burnt-end queso, Lavine shared his excitement at being out in Grand Prairie and told us he was thrilled with the opportunity to be one of the first restaurant tenants.
Ten50 in Richardson was Lavine’s first go at a barbecue restaurant, but he’s no longer affiliated with the restaurant.
“I didn’t know anything about barbecue,” he said of Ten50’s origins. “I studied it for years, and I like to say I sacrificed a lot of cows and pigs to learn it.”
“Once you learn it, it’s not as hard as running a regular restaurant because it's prepped ahead and you’re not cooking to order," Lavine said. "For it to work, for me, you’ve got to start with a great product.”
For Loop 9, great product means prime-grade brisket, a custom sausage from Meyer's of Elgin, Texas, and heritage pork raised in Iowa.
"We buy the best, we cook it right, respect it and try not to abuse it," Lavine said.
While we chatted with Lavine, we had a chance to sample some of Loop 9's fare and came away impressed. We tried both lean and moist examples of the prime brisket, which were melt-in-your-mouth tender. Pork ribs were also solid, with a unique rub that finishes with just a tingle of heat.
"That's why our first burger at Chili's only had mustard," he told us. "I asked my team what mayo is the best, and they said Hellman's, so that's what we use in it, but I'll take their word for it."
Loop 9's cole slaw is a tangy vinegar-based version that we enjoyed, while Lavine admitted that the borracho beans were still a work in progress.
"We had a bunch of stuff in here, and we just started over," he said. "I think we're missing a little salt." We tended to agree, but the base is on point, with chopped brisket and peppers mixed with the beans.
Loop 9 will also sport some unique features in a barbecue restaurant. The first is a line of house-made pies baked by Lavine's wife, Ann. Pies and barbecue can be picked up to-go from a dedicated entrance that has a pie case full of the day's offerings. Loop 9 will also offer a full bar that dominates the center of the dining room, something of a rarity in Texas barbecue.
As is the case at many restaurants, rent and staffing presented some early challenges, Lavine said. It's certainly more affordable to open in Grand Prairie rather than in Dallas, and Lavine and team have made headway on the staffing front and will be ready to roll when the restaurant opens for business on March 6.
Spending time with a restaurant legend like Lavine is a pleasure, as he's seen and done almost everything there is to do in the restaurant business. And his passion for barbecue isn't limited to this new restaurant; we talked at length about other barbecue spots he enjoys across Texas. That devotion to barbecue is on display at Loop 9, and we look forward to adding it to our rotation of favorite barbecue spots to hit up in the area.
Loop 9 BBQ, 2951 S. Highway 161 (EpicCentral), Grand Prairie. Open daily beginning March 6.