You can get into some intense arguments over the merits of barbecue joints in this town. There's the Goode Company faction, and the Drexler's faction; there are Otto's aficionados and those who favor Luling City Market. There are even Luther's partisans. But for old-fashioned, chow-down barbecue, I don't know of any place that serves better grub than Pizzitola's Bar-B-Cue. It's on Shepherd hard by the Katy Freeway, a stretch of road that wasn't even on the drawing boards when legendary pit man John Davis started the place as Shepherd Drive Bar-B-Q.
That was in the early '30s. Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House, the Great Depression was clobbering the country and, in Houston, blacks and whites were seriously segregated. Davis, an African-American, complied with the Jim Crow laws -- he served blacks in the front and whites in the back. Anglo barbecue lovers didn't complain. They were too busy scarfing down the master's slow-smoked meats basted in Davis's secret sauce.
More than a decade after the patriarch's death, the recipe for this gorgeously peppery, sweet and zesty concoction remains a Davis family secret. During his lifetime Davis turned down big bucks for that recipe, but when longtime customer Jerry Pizzitola offered to take over running the restaurant, the bereaved family didn't mind his attempting to replicate it. The result isn't exactly the same, but as far as regular customers are concerned, it's close enough for government work.
Pizzitola still slow smokes the meats in open pits, just the way his mentor did, then serves them up with a choice of two traditional side orders: beans, potato salad or slaw. To these he has added a choice of grilled vegetables -- perhaps a concession to the health concerns of his lunchtime crowd, which is mostly white-collar downtown folks.
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They throw their ties over their shoulders and dig into huge plates of excitingly spicy links ($7.95) or a mess of smoky ribs, with plenty of lean meat to gnaw on ($8.95). The half chicken comes deboned; it makes a perfect platform to show off the intricacies of the Davis sauce. And just in case you can't get enough of that ambrosia, dinners are served with a metal creamer of it beside the plate, piping hot and ready to pour. This is wonderful for sopping up with the white bread that's an essential accompaniment to true barbecue, or for building your own sandwiches.
Pizzitola's puts the emphasis where it belongs: on the meat and sauce. It's a true temple of barbecue, and a credit to its founder.
-- Joanne Harrison
Pizzitola's Bar-B-Cue, 1703 Shepherd, 227-2283.