Smoked Out: Feges BBQ

Photo by Carlos Brandon
Feges BBQ inside the food court in Greenway Plaza
I have been annoyed, perhaps irrationally so, by Feges BBQ since it first opened in early 2018. It is, by all accounts, a beloved, dual-chef-run, locally-owned barbecue joint with the supposed quality and creativity to lead a new generation of Houston smokehouses — and they put it in Greenway F*****g Plaza! You know, the megalithic corporate complex that's about as convenient a lunch destination as IAH and as culturally vibrant as a tax audit. Sure, if you're one of the thousands of people who work at Greenway you're probably loving it. The place has a daily lunchtime queue of at least a dozen customers at a time, with a steady flow of business until it closes at 3 p.m.

Without weekend hours and only a four-hour window for lunch service (plus a shorter breakfast service in the mornings), Feges BBQ is doing absolute gangbusters business. They're also killing it as a smokehouse. They've made all the best-of lists, been positively reviewed by every local outlet and some national. By their own merits, and under the promotional wing of Patrick Feges' old mentor and executive chef Chris Shepherd, Feges has become a household name in Texas barbecue circles. And still, I had not been.

click to enlarge Three meat plate with elote salad and Moroccan spiced carrots. - PHOTO BY CARLOS BRANDON
Three meat plate with elote salad and Moroccan spiced carrots.
Photo by Carlos Brandon
A lunchtime trip to Greenway Plaza for anyone with a full-time job outside Greenway Plaza is, quite frankly, a big ask. Putting aside the time it takes to find parking in the labyrinthian underground structure, and with the knowledge that Feges does validate parking (if you remember to ask), you're still looking at a time commitment beyond what most working folks can, or are willing, to give. But as the weeks passed by and this column kept going, an inevitable trip to Feges hung over my head. I knew I had to go.

Despite my apprehension about its location and frustratingly sparse hours, I went in with high hopes and optimistic expectations. Anyone who's seen photos of those colorful sides and beautifully marbled brisket knows they're in for a good meal walking up to Feges. On first sight, the large gray counter inside the Greenway food court jumps out as a well-decorated, minimalist and urban barbecue joint.

Naturally, no matter how well decorated, a food hall won't carry the same nostalgic barbecue charm of an old school country smokehouse, or even a modern standalone building. Yet thanks to the building's natural light and the restaurant's crisp color palate, the small open-face concept carries several elements of both contemporary and traditional barbecue culture. Even with the competing aromas of its neighboring restaurants, the smell of brisket fat reached across the hall to greet us right away. On smokehouse aesthetics, Feges scores a 7/10.

click to enlarge Brisket is heavy on the fat and extremely tender. - PHOTO BY CARLOS BRANDON
Brisket is heavy on the fat and extremely tender.
Photo by Carlos Brandon
In recent weeks this column has failed to highlight a smokehouse with really outstanding brisket. Despite the influx of new talent and the growing popularity of fatty, prime, Central Texas brisket, Houston barbecue joints are still extremely hit and miss when it comes to smoked beef. But Patrick Feges' reputation as a self-taught pitmaster with Le Cordon Bleu training precedes him, and the outcome, while not perfect, did not disappoint. With a thorough, well-baked and deeply flavorful bark, the brisket at Feges only disappointed in that it was too fatty up top. On both slices, a half-inch layer of fat sat atop perfectly fork tender, salty and umami smoked beef that melted on the tongue and soaked up sauce like a sponge. On quality of brisket Feges scores a 8/10.

Feges made a name for himself in Houston cooking circles with his popup barbecue and catering company years before launching a brick and mortar alongside his wife and business partner Erin Smith. Back then he wasn't exactly known for his brisket. In fact, the Houston native cut his barbecue teeth smoking whole hogss, a Southern tradition uncommon in the world of Texas barbecue.

Over the years Feges has applied his culinary education and fine dining pedigree to developing a menu of fine smoked meats that incorporates the traditions of Central and East Texas, along with some elements of traditional Southern cooking. The boudin link in my three-meat platter was smoky and well-seasoned. While it could have used more spice, it was not overly greasy nor overwhelming in its saltiness. While getting to the meat on the pork ribs took some gnawing, they were a sweet glazed delight and took beautifully to either the Alabama White Sauce or traditional BBQ house sauce. On quality of non-brisket proteins Feges scores a 7.5/10.

It has been the sides, perhaps more than anything, that have made Fege's BBQ the buzz-worthy must-try concept that it is. Since its debut, critics and reviewers have raved ceaselessly about the elevated and sophisticated sides at the food court barbecue stand. The sides menu, like the concept itself, is a joint effort by Feges and Smith. While Feges' barbecue credentials have shaped the meat program, Smith, the former executive chef and culinary consultant, can be credited with shaping the impressive sides menu. From Asian cucumbers to sweet & spicy sprouts and spiced cracklin, the menu is a combination of internationally and domestically inspired small plates that pair excellently with hearty smoked meat.

click to enlarge Elote corn salad is one of many chef-created and internationally inspired sides at Feges. - PHOTO BY CARLOS BRANDON
Elote corn salad is one of many chef-created and internationally inspired sides at Feges.
Photo by Carlos Brandon
The Moroccan spiced carrots topped with yogurt were lightly charred and had a perfectly tender bite. The elote corn salad satisfied, but lacked the creamy consistency of the real thing. Spiced cracklins were light and airy — more like the Mexican chicharonnes than the thicker pork rinds of Creole American cuisine. The explosive finale was a decadent and impossibly rich PB&J chocolate cake. Three layers of dense chocolate with jelly spread between them, topped with a creamy peanut butter icing. Rumor has it the folks across the hall at Burger Chan will take that incredible piece of cake and put it in a milkshake for you — if you're looking for a a delicious way to kill yourself this week. On quality of sides (and dessert) Feges BBQ scores a 9/10.

I can't say my experience at Feges did anything to assuage my frustration with its location — if anything my newfound love only made me curse the inconvenience even more. But I do get it. Restaurants need to make money. A low overhead, high traffic location like Greenway Plaza is a business owner's dream. I only hope their success will lead to an expansion in the near future to a standalone, more neighborhood friendly location. And if you do work in Greenway, don't take your incredible lunch options for granted.