Months ago, when Larry Lavine, the founder of Chili's, and I shouted at each other over the sounds of drilling and hammering at his new restaurant's construction site, it was hard to imagine that that restaurant, Ten50 BBQ, would evolve into become what it has today.
Which is, for starters, a restaurant that is finally open, and already full.
Ten50 opened on Monday. This week, they are serving up the goods from 10:50 a.m. until they're sold out. While they iron out the kinks, their initial focus will be on lunch, gradually widening service to include dinner, then to-go and catering.
I arrived there Monday not long after it opened, a little alarmed to see the large parking lot filling up so quickly. It was easy to find a spot, though, thanks to the Ten50 employees standing in the lot, flagging down spaces and directing traffic. If you arrive and the parking lot is full, don't panic. You may still have another chance to satisfy the cowboy-caveman in you. They have two parking lots, and you can pull through the restaurant's "alley" in the back, accessing their overflow lot without having to circle back on to the service road.
A full parking lot equals a long line, of course, but luckily it moved pretty quickly. Although the weather wasn't scorching today, the misting fans in the line area still helped. As a bonus, servers moved through the line with samples of Meyer's Elgin sausage, which helped to tide over the hungry masses.
The restaurant, which takes its name from its address (1050 N. Central Expressway), is a 10,000-square-foot barn-like structure. The atmosphere is casual and fun, with an updated, modern country feel. There are artsy touches everywhere, such as the mural that features Dallas landmarks, located in the back alley area of the restaurant. The dining concept here is a little different from other barbecue places. Outside, you select your choice of meats right off the smokers, where it's weighed and issued a barcode indicating its cost.
Next you venture indoors to select your sides, dessert, drink, and a slab of fluffy white bread, and to peruse the small bar of accompaniments, featuring homemade pickles as well as onion slices and jalapenos. To give you a sense of the cost, 1/4 lb. of ribs, 1/4 lb. of pulled pork, a side of mac 'n' cheese, a side of coleslaw, a piece of bread and an order of banana pudding will set you back about $23.00.
Lavine and his team have placed heavy emphasis on both pillars of good barbecue -- quality cuts and precise technique -- going "through a lot of cows and pigs" in the process. Drawing inspiration from legendary Texas barbecue joints, including Franklin Barbecue and Snow's BBQ, they have set out to provide a real-deal barbecue experience. They smoke with post oak and hickory, making their own charcoal. Their Oyler pits, which are made in Mesquite, are designed to "massage" the meat as it revolves through alternate temperature zones. They cook around the clock, in two batches rather than one. One of the pitmasters, Richard McMillan, says the brisket is the "Queen of the ball. We really don't season it too much. The meat speaks for itself."
The brisket I had was tender, with a thin layer of charred crust, just the right amount of mouth-melting fat, and those beautiful, colorful layers that indicate smoking done right. The pulled pork and St. Louis pork ribs are also flavorful and tender.
We know, we know: Good barbecue doesn't need sauce. But if you want it, you'll find it here. There's a house sauce -- a spoon-coating, molasses-based sauce with tangible bits of spices and a tiny kick of heat. And there's the Carolina sauce, which is a thin, tangy, mustard/vinegar-based sauce.
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There are sides, of course, too, including a chunky potato salad and crisp slaw, and 24 rotating craft beers on tap. The banana pudding is almost like Grandma used to make, smooth and creamy, with slices of fresh banana scattered throughout and topped with a puff of whipped cream.
And they serve one more thing: thick, creamy bravado.
"Franklin's in Austin is the gold standard and we think we've matched that," Levine told me. "We've got a phenomenal product."
Time -- and that line -- will tell.