Only last week, I was lamenting the lack of truly good barbecue within the Houston city limits. The fourth largest city in the nation, the largest in Texas, and host to an annual barbecue championship that pulls in the greatest talent in the world should have a larger selection of solid 'cue joints to choose from than just places like Pierson's, Thelma's and Burns BBQ.
As if in answer to my plaintive question, whichever part of the universe that is responsible for 'cue karma sent me to The Brisket House (5775 Woodway) this afternoon. I emerged 30 minutes later absolutely redolent with the scent of oak, pecan and meat, glorious meat.
I know very little about The Brisket House except that it opened about a month ago, and that I saw a menu flyer for it in the break room here at the Houston Press offices. I liked the look of the menu: compact, short and sweet. And on the cover, it simply states: "Our BBQ is smoked with a combination of Oak and Pecan wood and a lot of TLC. Come see us soon!"
After my disastrous trip to Dickey's, this had to be better. Right?
The Brisket House is incongruously located in an upmarket strip center at the corner of Woodway and Augusta, down the street from my beloved Post Oak YMCA and surrounded by lush lawns and stately homes. Plainly stated, it's not the area of town you expect great barbecue to come from.
It was quiet inside, perfect for basking in the strong scent of pecan and oak that permeated the air while I contemplated the menu. I saw an enormous smoker to the right of the counter along with two smaller smokers to the rear and, finally, an enormous oven mounted into one wall. Things were looking up.
I ordered a two-meat plate -- brisket and hot sausage -- for $10. It came with two sides, so I chose the standard cole slaw and a baked potato salad that intrigued me. I noted at the bottom of the menu that The Brisket House smartly outsources both its sausage and pies to two Texas institutions: the sausage comes from Slovacek in Snook while the pies come from Houston's own Flying Saucer Pie Company. I watched as the pitmaster carved off six slices of brisket and sent his knife flying quickly through the link of sausage.
My plate arrived shortly after that, piled with meat and plenty of sides. I wasn't a fan of the coleslaw, although I admired the simple, unfussy construction. The creamy baked potato salad with small bites of smoky bacon and shavings of Parmesan, on the other hand, sent me reeling. This stuff could be dangerous in larger doses. No one wants to be known as the person that OD'd on potato salad, right?
The hot sausage from Slovacek was reliably peppery and delicious; I inhaled it in a matter of seconds. The brisket underneath was the final part of the test. It looked good -- a slight smoke ring around it that indicated it truly had been smoked, although it wasn't as thick as I normally prefer -- and glistened with fatty promise. And the brisket didn't disappoint.
It was juicy, tender, smoky, hazily unctuous stuff -- the kind of brisket you'd truly make for yourself if you had a Saturday to yourself in the backyard. It barely needed any sauce, which was for the best, really; the stuff on the table was far too sweet for my tastes. I walked over to the pitmaster when I was done to compliment him on the meat. Paul, as he introduced himself, was tending the largest smoker in the joint (seen above).
"We smoke it for 18 hours," he smiled broadly, "Normally we go through six briskets a day, but I've already gone through eight just today." He threw open the doors of the smoker wide so I could see inside of it. The interior was gloriously blackened and charred and hung with thick stalactites of smoke-hardened fat and drippings. This was a smoker.
Pete closed it up and I went on my merry way, marveling that I'd just eaten a really good brisket in Houston, and in Woodway no less. Let's see if The Brisket House can keep it up and -- if the brisket stays moist and smoked to perfection -- take a place in the small but noble pantheon of great barbecue joints in Houston.