Whatever the dreary setting may do to your psyche, whatever hope may fade at the sight of cellophane-wrapped meat and kitchen staff trotting bags of frozen okra from the walk-in, you have to grant Cobb Switch a plus or two.
Their brisket shows far more character than you generally find in Dallas barbecue joints, for one thing. Texans brag constantly about the glories of the tough cut, rubbed with secret seasonings and slow-cooked, though local examples tend toward dry and dull. But this stuff—tart, piercing smoke crests from the plate and rolls through your mouth, pulling behind it the savor of beef—it's the essence of meat cooked over an open flame and under a heavy lid, catching all those primordial flavors. Although it's far too easy to rhapsodize on the allure of barbecue, the scent of it must reach for that urge residing deep in our souls, buried by modernity and assailed by healthy eating advocates, to experience the ruggedness of nature.
Then again, good barbecue may just have a universally compelling taste. However it works, the pulled pork touches the same triggers in our minds. And their turkey is surprisingly tender, reeking with juices. But there's something missing—something you notice walking into the building. For those who yearn for a visceral barbecue experience, the omission is nagging.
At least the few times I visited the place, all around dinnertime, a plain meaty smell enveloped me upon entering, broken only by the faint (and now unfamiliar) aroma of tobacco floating from the bar. There were no invisible hands of wood smoke, beckoning guests toward the counter like you see in old Warner Bros. cartoons, no flickering reflection of burning embers—nothing but a cafeteria line and guys waiting to chop up each order from lumps wrapped loosely in plastic.
The folks behind this effort apparently put more thought into the end result—a pile of meat on a disposable plate—than atmospherics, which is fine. Cobb Switch is a star-powered joint, named for some Texas railroad junction as well as owners Phil and Janet Cobb. Phil started the Black-Eyed Pea chain with Gene Street, and Janet once had Mi Piaci before turning the reins over to her son, Brian Black. The Cobbs enlisted longtime friend, barbecue cookbook author and former Dallas Morning News food critic Dotty Griffith to consult on the setup and placed son Blair Black in charge of the operation. Chris Andrews—you know him from Holy Smokes—is also part of the team, an array of talent that should be more than adequate to wow Carrollton crowds.
The restaurant sits on the northern side of the Bush Turnpike, one of the few Anglo holdouts in a center stocked with Korean-owned or targeted shops.
The 'burbs are so white and sterile, right?
Ambience and location aside, it all sounds good. But I've tried Griffith's barbecue—we are friends, just so you know, and she's one hell of a fine cook. This stuff falls somewhat short.
Not that they were aiming to replicate "foreign" tastes, but the pulled pork reads like some Texans' interpretation of the Carolina-style classic. "They do brisket with pig? Well, hot damn, so will we." Although presenting the stringy texture associated with pulled meat, they chop it short and drench it with sauce instead of slaw.
Ah, yes—the sauce. Some of those behind this operation speak highly of the tomato-heavy sauce, but it rides like marinara across the palate, a startling and oddly unpleasant contrast to richly imbued meat. At the very least, it is far too sweet to handle the pleasant smoky sheen. My dinner companion one evening experimented like some maniacal scientist locked in a dark, secret laboratory, mixing in contents from hot sauce, vinegar and other condiment bottles from a service counter. A dash of this, a squirt of that until a slop with the countenance of Thousand Island dressing and mud formed on her plate, which she labeled a success.
You know, it would be better if the restaurant offered some sauce options. Or, when guests nod in response to the "do you want sauce?" question, they spooned it into a ramekin on the side—well, not ramekin—too fancy. Maybe one of those paper pill dispenser cups. They dumped some on my Frito pie order before I thought to stop them, but the Italianate flavor was lost in a sea of salt released from the rapidly dissolving chips. I know it's a Texas thing, but best to think twice before selecting this from the menu. A sign atop the cafeteria line sneeze guard warns that they fry okra to order. It's a wise precaution, as the oft-maligned vegetable softens into mush when left untended. But the texture and flavor (and guy walking from freezer to fryer with a ready-made bag) suggests prefab.
Still, as far as local barbecue joints go, Cobb Switch spoils the curve. I skipped the ribs, but if they adhere to the old Holy Smokes recipe, these will be a popular item. Their sausage has a nice, peppery background. The green beans and coleslaw are just fine, the latter with a welcome crunch. Pinto beans carry just enough heat to make them interesting—not bad for stuff left sitting in serving trays. (On the other hand, the scalloped potatoes I tried one evening were a logic-defying mass of steaming hot, creamy spuds under a congealed mat of cold orange stuff, presumably cheese. How they managed this, I really couldn't say. Hell, even McDonald's failed in their multimillion-dollar attempt to market their hot side hot and cold side cold containers.)
For dessert, there's really only one attractive offering—the fried pies. Yes, they sit out, too, so timing is once again important. Catch them right, however, and you end up with a heavy thing filled with tinny fruit that you just can't stop reaching for, no matter how stuffed you feel, thanks to a sugared crust that collapses on your tongue like good shortbread.
This restaurant is all about the meat: hearty, smoky brisket, clean and tender turkey and the like. Should Cobb Switch fail, it will not be the result of sides allowed to die in cafeteria serving trays, the curious sauce, the halfway pulled pork, the overt West Texas chic décor (complete with a soft-serve machine and cans marked "Sysco" stacked on an open shelf) or other minor annoyances.
No, what's missing is that smokiness that clings to your clothes and lets you and everybody else know you've ventured into the culinary wilderness. Instead, it's just a clean, homey place serving decent barbecued meat.Cobb Switch Barbecue 2625 Old Denton Road, Carrollton, 214-483-3600. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday. $-$$