On Pecan Lodge's Last Day at the Farmers Market, Smoky Tears Were (Almost) Shed

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It was 11 a.m. on Sunday, and customers who had been waiting, some for hours, were expecting Justin Fourton to emerge any minute from the kitchen of Pecan Lodge, and ask the first in line to ring the triangle that hangs near the register. The clanging iron has announced the arrival of "brisket time" with reasonable punctuality since the Farmers Market barbecue restaurant first opened in 2010, but this day, Fourton was running late.

"I had to collect myself for a second," Fourton said later, his voice wobbling slightly before an extended silence. He and his wife, Diane, are clearly excited for their new home in Deep Ellum, but their departure from the Famers Market is not without emotion. When they got started four years earlier, they were two consultants with dreams of running a successful catering business. Now they were barbecue legends, recognized across the state as award-winning pitmasters, and preparing to shutter the doors on their first location, permanently.

Most expected a deluge of customers on this last day of business -- a television camera captured the first plates of brisket as they slid across the counter -- but the line was the shortest it had been in some time, barely running the length of the restaurant. It was Mother's Day, and Mom trumps all -- even smoked meats.

Pecan Lodge wasn't running at full capacity, either. In preparation for the move, some equipment had already been taken to the new location. There was no deep-fried chicken, and no hot messes loaded with chopped brisket and chipotle cream. And there was no baked and oozing mac and cheese, to fill the cheese-shaped hole in at least one customer's barbecue-addled heart. (Actually, maybe that was heartburn. I did order the jalapeño cheddar sausage.)

There was plenty of barbecue, though, and the customers that did show up ordered brisket on sandwiches and brisket in thick, floppy slices. There were wrinkly sausages in shiny, glistening wrappers and cups of coleslaw and pinto beans. And there was a feeling of nostalgia that hung heavy in the air at Shed 2, because most understood that Pecan Lodge will be a completely new animal when it reopens in Deep Ellum soon.

Fourton will be working at least three smokers, for instance, increasing his capacity and diminishing the line and the subsequent multi-hour wait that many had come to know as a part of the Pecan Lodge experience. Most weekend days, when the barbecue supplies had started to run low, Fourton walked the line counting heads against his meat supply. If he handed a customer the Slim Pickins sign, everyone behind was likely out of luck. Mr. Pickins is just one of the traditions and idiosyncrasies that may be lost in the move.

But there's a lot to look forward to. Fourton likens his excitement to that of a college kid who's moving from a college dorm into a first real apartment. The new dining room will have more seating so more customers can take a load off after they've placed their order. There will be dinner service for evening barbecue lovers who want their dose of heartburn right before they go to sleep, and for those who need to squelch the flames, there will be beer flowing freely.

Fourton says he hopes to open May 23, but acknowledged nothing is for sure until he gets his certificate of occupancy. He's still dealing with contractors and upcoming inspections that have delayed the opening of other restaurants for up to weeks or months. When Pecan Lodge does open, though, Dallasites will let out a collective sigh of relief. When the Fourtons announced they'd be moving, neighboring cities courted the couple with cheap rent and prime locations, and while they didn't stay in the Farmers Market neighborhood that helped hatch Dallas' greatest barbecue restaurant, they did stay loyal to the city.

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