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The Barbecue Ward

The no-nonsense Kozy Kitchen is the last remnant of the Nickel's once-proud barbecue tradition

"How long have you been eating here?" I ask him.

"Around 20 years," he says. Kozy Kitchen and Luling City Market on Richmond Avenue are his two favorite joints in the city, he tells me. That list used to include Lockwood Inn, until it burned down. Rice agrees that more white folks ate at Lockwood Inn than at Kozy Kitchen. But unlike many white folks, Rice likes beef links, although the "in and out" brisket is his favorite.

Kozy Kitchen's brisket is juicy and tender and the beef links are the best, but it's the veal that really gets my attention. I've never seen the meat in a Texas barbecue joint before. It's served in shreds that include a little of the spicy black coating from the outside and long strings of juicy meat held together with plenty of fat. I stuff a big wad onto a piece of white bread and slather it with the mean-looking homemade hot sauce for a sublime sandwich.

Artist Bert Long has been eating at the Kozy Kitchen since he was a baby.
Deron Neblett
Artist Bert Long has been eating at the Kozy Kitchen since he was a baby.

Location Info

Map

Kozy Kitchen

1202 Lockwood Drive
Houston, TX 77020-7300

Category: Restaurant >

Region: East End

Details

Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. 713-673-7830.
1202 Lockwood Drive

"That's the difference between white and black barbecue," says Long. "White people don't cook it as long. And they doctor it up with marinades. Blacks slow-cook it -- and they cook everything to death." At Goode Co., every piece of meat is served in a perfect slice, he says. At Kozy Kitchen, they don't mind serving you a messy pile of meat debris.

The sliced pork looks like a slow-smoked shoulder, judging by the deep red smoke ring. I pile a few slices on some white bread. The Kozy Kitchen isn't stingy with the white bread. The pile on the table must be a foot tall. "Old-fashioned barbecue," says Long with a smile, "nothing but meat and white bread."

Actually, Kozy Kitchen's two-meat plates come with beans and potato salad, plus pickles and onions, but evidently this wasn't always the case. Long dismisses the beans as canned and he regards the pickles suspiciously as some kind of innovation. "They never used to have pickles," he says. He figures the potato salad is okay since it's homemade. It's the extremely soft style known as mashed potato salad. This version is made with pickle relish and mustard.

I remark on how slow business is. It's one o'clock in the afternoon, and Chuck Rice and the three of us are the only patrons in the restaurant. "We used to play hooky from Phillis Wheatley [high school] and come over here and eat lunch," chuckles Long. But the Fifth Ward's younger generation seems to have little interest in black food traditions like barbecue, Long says. "Kids today don't frequent barbecue places. They eat at Mickey D's."

Like many black Southern restaurants, the Fifth Ward's historic barbecue joints were the unwitting victims of integration. Once blacks were free to patronize any restaurant they wished, they deserted the old neighborhood joints in droves. With the simultaneous spread of fast-food outlets and drive-thru lanes, black Southern cooking nearly disappeared from the restaurant industry. Bert Long remembers a different time, when everybody in the Fifth Ward seemed to be out getting their barbecue on weekend evenings. "There was a line out to the street on Saturday night," he says, pointing to the shattered glass doors of the empty restaurant. "You couldn't get in this place in the old days."

I'm sorry I didn't know about Kozy Kitchen when I wrote my book; it would have made a great addition. And I will probably spend the rest of my life hearing about such mistakes. When it comes to Texas barbecue, controversy is part of the territory. But if "getting set straight" always includes a trip to a barbecue joint as good as this one, I'll look forward to the complaints.

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