People often assume being a food writer for the Observer comes with a laundry list of secret restaurant perks. High among them is a notion that we can get a reservation at any spot in town on the busiest of nights, followed quickly by the assumption that we know all the best new spots and get to try them out before they become famous.
Quite frankly, neither of these is true. We wait weeks for our turn to get a table at Lucia, just like you. And in the case of Derek Allan's Texas BBQ in Fort Worth, this new spot was already wildly popular before we ever set foot in the door.
Derek Allan's Texas BBQ is the venture of Brittany and Derek Crudgington, who opened the brick-and-mortar spot in Fort Worth's hospital district at the end of May after operating a food truck for two years. In short order, the restaurant has become a bona fide hit, and early sellouts of meats are the norm.
We learned that lesson firsthand when we stopped in on a recent Saturday at 12:30 p.m., only to find that pulled pork and sausage were the only meats left to order. Shortly after we availed ourselves of both, along with some sides, the sold-out sign was hung on the door, less than two hours after they opened for the day.
"Some guy came in first thing and ordered 10 pounds of beef ribs and a bunch of brisket," Brittany told us that day. "It's hard to guess what will happen each day."
We planned a second visit during a weekday, and made it a point to arrive right at the opening bell. In fact, we were 5 minutes early, and a brief line had already formed. Between the two visits, we've realized Derek Allan's popularity is rooted in the fact that they only serve barbecue of the top-shelf variety.
Let's start with the brisket. Derek Allan's is serving only wagyu beef, and both the lean and moist brisket slices ($22/lb.) are impressive examples of the fare. There's a peppery bark, gobs of moist beef, all kissed with smoke from Derek Allan's oak-fired smokers. Some joints will hide a tough brisket with paper-thin slices, but the slices we got here were finger-width and almost impossibly tender.
Wagyu beef is also used in Derek Allan's sausage ($19/lb.), which is made in-house daily. Count us as fans of the links, which have a coarse grind of beef, a twinge of garlic flavor and a delightful spicy finish, all wrapped in a snappy casing.
If you're not a beef fan, there's pulled pork, turkey breast and pork ribs ($19/lb.) to satiate your barbecue needs. We tried the pulled pork on our first visit, and came away suitably impressed. Rough pulled chunks of pork still sported plenty of tasty bark, while still allowing the pork flavor to shine. Meanwhile, Derek Allan's ribs may be our new favorite standard to measure against others. There's plenty of peppery and spicy rub, and each rib was smoked to perfection, with near pull-off-the-bone tenderness.
Top off your meal with any of the sides, and you won't be disappointed. We stuck to our center with mac and cheese and coleslaw, which will set you back $3 each. The mac and cheese has a crunchy crumb topping with a touch of chipotle for a spicy finish, and the creamy slaw nails its marks nicely, as well.
Once you've enjoyed your meal, you might ask yourself how you could get some of Derek Allan's flavors at home.
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If that question gnaws at your brain, Derek Allan's has the answer. While waiting for his restaurant to open, Derek Crudgington started selling his own barbecue spice blends under the name Dirty Dalmatian, and an assortment of the rubs are sold in the restaurant. The rubs are made with ingredients such as Tellicherry pepper and Hungarian paprika, with no added sugar or preservatives in the bunch. There's also a homemade vanilla extract, which is used in Derek Allan's two desserts: a pecan pie parfait ($5) and a creamy banana pudding ($5) that Brittany makes from scratch daily.
As if we needed a reason to come back again, Derek Allan's offers a pair of Saturday-only specials we're anxious to try: wagyu beef ribs and smoked meatloaf. Both were sold out on our first Saturday visit, so plan accordingly if you want to try them.
The possibility that you may miss out on Derek Allan's fabulous barbecue unless you show up early is the only flaw we could find. It's a problem that Derek Crudgington is aware of, and he's got the smoking capacity to serve more meat, once he has a handle on just how busy the restaurant will be on a given day. It's a good problem to have, and Fort Worth is fortunate to add another star to their stellar barbecue scene.
Derek Allan's Texas BBQ, 1116 8th Ave., Fort Worth. Open 11 a.m. until sold out Tuesday-Saturday.