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When Jeffrey Met Thelma

A Vogue foodie takes on an East Texas mess o' meat

Thelma returns and sets some barbecue down in front of the skeptical gastronome. After a few bites, the movement of his eyebrows indicates that he is having an epiphany. I try to steal a piece of beef off his plate to see what sort of jubilee is taking place in his mouth, but he nearly stabs me with the plastic fork. Finally, he passes me a little bite. I smile from ear to ear as I chew it: Thelma is having a good day.

The ribs on the two-meat plate are also excellent, but you can get good ribs in many parts of the country. Thelma's wet and winsome extra-smoky brisket is something else altogether.

"This gives me a new perspective on brisket," Steingarten says reverentially, still clad in his blazer and regarding the shrinking pile of beef with something approaching awe. "Now I see what people in Texas have been talking about for all these years. I've had only 40 or 50 briskets in my entire lifetime, but Thelma's is on an entirely different level." He is also impressed with the crisp, greaseless catfish, and he takes an instant liking to mashed potato salad, which he has never eaten before.

Thelma's barbecue brisket eats better than any in the city. How she gets it so soft is a head-scratcher.
Deron Neblett
Thelma's barbecue brisket eats better than any in the city. How she gets it so soft is a head-scratcher.

Location Info

Map

Thelma's Bar-B-Que

3755 Southmore
Houston, TX 77004

Category: Restaurant > Barbecue

Region: Third Ward

Details

713-228-2262. Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

One-meat plate: $6.75
Two-meat plate: $7.50
Hamburger: $3.50
Catfish: $4
Pie (Friday only): $2.50

1020 Live Oak

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After a quick sampling of the barbecue here, I figured we would visit several other Houston restaurants. But as much as I try to hurry Steingarten up, he won't budge. Evidently, once the New Yorker has empirically ascertained that a given foodstuff is of exceptional quality, he unleashes a wildman's appetite. He grunts contentedly as he eats, and I sit back to watch the soap opera. Might as well relax -- nothing is going to separate him from that Styrofoam plate heaped high with Thelma's brisket.

On SFA's Central Texas barbecue tour, Steingarten will see all the celebrated places: the meat markets that appear in the barbecue guides, the smoky temples from the magazine stories and the quirky haunts that make Jane and Michael Stern's books. But Thelma's supplies a heartwarming illustration of the true beauty of Texas barbecue: In the Lone Star State, you might find the best smoked meat you've ever tasted under a shade tree by the side of the road, at a Baptist church supper or in a ramshackle little joint nobody has ever heard of smack-dab in the middle of the city.

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