100 Favorite Dishes

100 Favorite Dishes 2014-15: No. 90, Barbecued Salmon Salad at Brooks Family BBQ

Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.

I eat a lot of unhealthy (but delicious) food for this job. I don't turn anything down, and sometimes when I tell myself to just take a few bites of something, a few bites turn into whoops-I-just-finished-that-whole-plate-of-pasta. Because of this occupational hazard, I'm always on the lookout for meals that are both tasty and waistline-friendly.

I found that at Brooks Family BBQ, where the salmon salad is so rich and succulent, I don't feel like I'm denying myself or overindulging when I eat the entire thing. Unless I eat the thick, buttery slices of jalapeño cheese toast that come with it. But I can't let that go to waste...

Brooks Family BBQ is first and foremost a meat establishment. There's brisket, ribs, sausage, beans with bacon, the occasional barbecued chicken and a whole host of sides that pair perfectly with the signature barbecue sauce. I'm honestly not sure how a no-frills barbecue joint that specializes in ribs ended up with a salmon salad on the menu. I wouldn't be surprised if I'm the only person who makes the trek to the University of Houston neighborhood to order that dish. But boy do I appreciate it.

The salad itself would be delightful even without the generous hunk of salmon. It's mixed field greens with slices of brightly colored red and yellow bell peppers, tomatoes, purple onions and fresh strawberries, arranged artfully on the bed of lettuces, a veritable fruit and veggie rainbow.

While that's being assembled, one of the cooks (either the owner, Marlon Brooks, or one of his helpful family members) takes a large filet of salmon and seasons it in a mixture of olive oil and the special house rub. Then it goes onto the hot grill, and while the outside sears, it gets a few ample squirts of the house barbecue sauce, which caramelizes in the heat of the grill. The sauce thickens and coats the salmon in a sweet and spicy armor that holds in all the juices while it cooks.

When the fish is placed still steaming onto the greens, they wilt a bit and absorb some of the vinegary flavor of the barbecue sauce. The residual sauce is all that's needed for salad dressing. Combined with the crisp, juicy peppers, the sweet strawberries and the piquant onions, lettuce becomes dynamic and interesting. Add the salmon (and that rich, spicy toast), and you've got far more than just a salad. You've got a darn good meal.

And it's healthy enough that you'll feel OK about ordering a piece of homemade cobbler for dessert.

The list so far: No. 91, Smoked Salmon Waffle at The Waffle Bus No. 92, Chirashi Lunch at Sushi Miyagi No. 93, Finocchiona Sandwich at Siphon Coffee No. 94, Combo Catracho at Mi Bella Honduras Restaurant No. 95, Tamal de Puerco at Andes Cafe No. 96, Cheeseburger at Sparkle's Hamburger Spot No. 97, Mi Quang at Simply Pho No. 98, Helado de Lúcuma at Pollo Bravo No. 99, Fat Fries at Fat Bao No. 100, Fish Bánh Mì at La Baguette

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Kaitlin Steinberg