Barbecue for Purists

Adrian Cooper, 33, is a third-generation restaurant man. He learned to cook working beside his grandmother Vivian and his mother, Val, who both ran "bean houses," as he calls them, in the Fifth Ward. Since that neighborhood boasted Houston's most famous barbecue back in the days before integration, I ask Cooper what advice he would give to visiting barbecue fans.

"Get out there off the beaten track," he advises. People who are serious about smoked meat should seek out some of the Fifth Ward's fabulous hole-in-the-wall joints and trailers by the side of the road, he suggests. "They make barbecue the old-fashioned way, the way it was back in the day."

Here are Adrian Cooper's top five for true barbecue hounds:

J&J Lounge, 3303 Lee Street, 713-222-7104

J&J Lounge doesn't have lunch ready until two or three in the afternoon, but it stays open until 10 p.m. Get a brisket sandwich and some ribs, Cooper suggests. Be forewarned that this joint -- with its ramshackle pool room and cocktail lounge -- is not a place for small children, old ladies or the faint of heart.

Two Brothers Smokin' Oak Kitchen, 3001 Ennis, no phone

Leroy Wilson smokes meat seven days a week and sells great chopped brisket sandwiches and ribs out of the window of his trailer in a parking lot near Texas Southern University. The ribs are firm and meaty. Sides are available on weekends. There's a second truck in the Sam's parking lot on 610 South on the weekends.

Kozy Kitchen, 1202 Lockwood Drive, 713-673-7830

"The fatty part of the brisket is the best thing at Kozy Kitchen," Cooper says. Opened in 1946, Kozy Kitchen is the last of the Fifth Ward's once-famous black barbecue joints. It's a no-nonsense place with plastic forks and Styrofoam plates. There's no tea, and don't bother asking for peach cobbler. Order an "in and out" brisket sandwich, a mix of inside and outside cuts, and specify meat from the fatty end. This may be the only place you'll ever see barbecued veal.

Guy's Meat Market, 3106 Old Spanish Trail, 713-747-6800

"Ask for the sandwich they call a 'cardiac arrest' at Guy's. It's got lots of fatty bits from the end of the brisket on it," Cooper says. If you get there before noon, you might also try one of Guy's famous barbecue burgers. (Be sure to order it with barbecue sauce and jalapeños.) "The brisket at Guy's has been pretty good lately," Cooper says.

Davis Meat Market, 2204 Lockwood, 713-672-1803

"When I'm just picking up something to take home, I get the barbecue at Davis Meat Market," Cooper says. "The barbecued chicken is excellent." The smoked meats are stored cold here. You can heat them up later, or have the folks behind the counter microwave the brisket or ribs and make you a sandwich. Also available: cracklins, boudin and pickled pigs' lips.

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Robb Walsh
Contact: Robb Walsh