Craft Beer. Barbecue. Chocolate. Three words painted on signings hanging over the porch of the charming cottage that houses Tejas Chocolate Craftory should warm all but the stoniest of hearts.
But those gently swaying signs are the only clues that indicate the restaurant with “chocolate” in its name also makes barbecue — that and the delectable smell.
People first took notice of the company in 2011 when owners Scott Moore Jr. and Michelle Holland started making chocolate from scratch in the latter’s home kitchen — really from scratch, as in from roasted cacao beans — and selling it by the bar. Some of the chocolate is 70 percent “single origin” (derived from beans that come from only one source or country). A few additional ingredients are included in others, like the black lava sea salt and black pepper in the exquisite Dark Matter bar. When Tejas Chocolate outgrew Holland’s kitchen, it moved to a warehouse in Spring. Moore’s brother, Greg, a professional chef who worked at the now-closed Mancuso’s Italian Table, joined the operation in 2013.
According to The Courier of Montgomery County, Moore had already been roasting cacao beans on a barbecue pit, so after the move to a renovated cottage in Tomball, it made sense to start throwing meat on there, too.
The oblong pit is made of two big decommissioned propane tanks. Both are painted black, and they’ve been welded together so that the vertical one is farther from the firebox and acts as a slow smoker, while the horizontal unit runs hotter and faster. The overall missile shape earned the barbecue pit the nickname “Black October.” A line of five-pointed Texas stars runs the length of the “stick burner,” a term for a manually operated pit that someone has to keep an eye on and reload with post oak as needed.
It pays to arrive early on Saturday mornings. From 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., it’s breakfast time, and that’s when Tejas serves meaty breakfast tacos, so full of scrambled eggs, smoked sausage and pulled pork, the stuffing threatens to tumble out. There might be a few boxes of doughnuts sitting around from a nearby bakery, too, free for the taking. At the end of breakfast, Tejas stops serving food for 30 minutes and prepares to feed barbecue to the masses. By the time the clock strikes 11, there’s a line of would-be patrons ready to sate their cravings for smoked meat.
Tejas deserves that line of fans. Once it’s barbecue-serving time, the same pulled pork and sausage that made an appearance in the breakfast tacos are now available by the pound, along with brisket, pork ribs and slices of slightly briny turkey breast so juicy that the slices might drip a bit when picked up.
There are a few extra goodies on Saturdays for the early birds that aren’t necessarily available on weekdays, such as pastrami burnt ends. (Tejas makes and sells pastrami, both by the pound and on Reuben sandwiches, on Thursdays. The briskets for the pastrami are brined for a week and then smoked for a day.) “It’s like a truffle of meat!” said one dining companion — a brilliant description.
Folks who find it tiresome to pay $25 or more for a single giant beef rib at other places (the typical cost starts at $20 per pound, with the average rib weighing well over 16 ounces) will be gratified to know that Tejas is using short ribs. The smaller, bone-in hunks are one-third of a pound and only $7 each. More surface area means more seasoning and more of a crust all the way around the meat.
The rub on these gorgeous hunks of beef is more complex than what’s used on the brisket: salt, pepper, ancho chile, cocoa and coffee. (Moore sources his meats, including his sausage, from Ruffino Meats in Bryan.)
The cocoa used in the rub is just one example of how being both a chocolate maker and a barbecue company has its advantages. Texas barbecue purists will sometimes declare, “Real Texas barbecue needs no sauce!” Perhaps not, but when it’s as lush and seductive as the mole barbecue sauce at Tejas, it doesn’t have to be a need. It’s kept in a small slow-cooker and is exquisite with the brisket. The “regular” sauce is tomato-based, with a liberal dose of cumin and coriander, and is a fitting companion for the pulled pork and sausage.
One meat to absolutely, positively buy enough for leftovers is the pulled pork. The texture is like silk thanks to the unabashed fattiness. The next day, fry the leftover meat in a cast-iron pan in a single layer until it forms a crisp, brown layer on the bottom. (Mix in some leftover diced, fried potatoes if available, or even some roasted red peppers.) Serve with fried or scrambled eggs for an exquisite breakfast.
Perhaps the weakest link in the beer-barbecue-chocolate triumvirate is the craft beer. The selections are on the lighter side and fairly ubiquitous: Karbach Love Street, Cycler’s Domestique Wit and the like. That said, none of them clash with either the barbecue or the chocolate. Tejas keeps a Mexican lager called Montejo in stock, mainly to combine with the outstanding michelada mix created from smoked tomatoes and onions. Surprisingly, we found the Karbach Love Street, a Kölsch, was the better michelada choice. The very mild hop character seemed to add a little more intrigue to what’s otherwise a workaday beverage.
Our only other complaint is that sometimes Tejas is hesitant with salt, an issue that appeared in the brisket rub, the potato salad and the cornbread pudding. (The potato salad might need more than salt to remedy it, actually, since the dressing is more mayo than mustard and was a bit taken over by raw green onion.) Salt acts like a transmitter and carries flavor all around the taste buds. Without it, other flavors, like the beefy character of the brisket, seem a little flat.
It’s not a universal problem, however. If anything, the ranch-style pinto beans, a blissfully savory rendition in contrast to the sweet variety, leaned just a touch too far in the salty direction. Regardless, there was an herby, peppery punch that marked these as a terrific recipe overall.
Another side dish that could serve as a lightly sweet end to the meal: warm carrot soufflé. The texture of the smooth, sunset-orange pudding is like dense flan. It’s a must-try item at Tejas and could possibly change the way a person thinks about carrots forever.
And speaking of dessert, pass up the dry, lackluster plain churros in favor of the caramel-filled rendition. Better still, choose the decadent bread pudding topped with dark chocolate sauce, or meander over to the glass dessert case, which is filled with about a dozen varieties of truffles. Some are bittersweet, made from chocolate coaxed from Ecuadorian cacao beans. Others are infused with whiskey, Fireball liqueur or beer, like The Cycler’s Domestique Wit variety, which is rolled in dusty cocoa powder as a finishing touch. The truffles are $3 or $4 each, depending on the variety, but they are huge — big enough to split with a knife, eat one half and keep any chocolate cravings at bay for a while. That’s the magic of high-quality chocolate: It doesn’t take much to satisfy. With all these great choices, the smart move is to eat a prepared dessert at Tejas and buy a box of truffles to take home.
Tomball seems to be at the beginning of a culinary revival that hopefully will continue to grow, and clearly Tejas Chocolate Craftory is at the forefront. It has proven that while Texas barbecue is unpretentious by nature, that doesn’t mean it can’t be finessed with the help of a little chocolate.
Tejas Chocolate Craftory
200 North Elm, Tomball, 281-892-1700. Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays; 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. (breakfast) and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (barbecue) Saturdays.
Pinto beans (single serving) $2
Potato salad (single serving) $2
Pastrami burnt ends $6 per small tray
Beef short rib $7 for 1/3 pound
Smoked turkey $16 per pound
Pork ribs $18 per pound
Smoked sausage $18 per pound
Brisket $20 per pound
Chocolate bread pudding $6
Ecuador 70-Percent Single-Origin Truffle $3
Fire Ball cinnamon whiskey truffle $4