As mentioned in last week's Openings & Closings roundup, Gatlin's BBQ has now taken up residence in the spot on W. 19th Street where the late, lamented Jazzie's once served up some of Houston's best po-boys.
Sadly, while Jazzie's closed up shop one day to "remodel" and never returned, at least Gatlin's lives up to its predecessor's reputation by suddenly and startlingly offering some amazing barbecue. Yes, inside the city limits.
Gatlin's serves up very traditional African-American-style pit barbecue from the confines of the tiny, tidy restaurant in the Heights. The kitchen is larger than the actual dining room, so prepare to make friendly with your neighbors at the two card tables if you want to eat in. But with the friendly, family vibe at Gatlin's, that really isn't difficult. After all, the motto at Gatlin's is "Where the secret ingredient is love."
Unlike many barbecue restaurants in town, Gatlin's offers more "eastern" items like pulled pork as well as more traditionally Cajun side items like dirty rice. And of the three sides I tried last Friday -- a mustard-and-egg potato salad, creamy coleslaw and dirty rice -- it was the rice I fell for the hardest. It tasted like someone had scooped a giant link of boudain out of its casing. This is amazing stuff.
From what I can gather, Gatlin's started out as a catering operation before finally expanding to a storefront. A return visit is in order very soon to find out, as well as to find out how the pitmaster is getting the incredible char on his pork ribs and an excellent smoke ring on his brisket. On the restaurant's website, the claim is that everything is "smoked low and slow." If that's true, Gatlin's -- as new as it is -- just might be one of the best barbecue joints in Houston. The brisket and pulled pork were as tender as you could imagine, with a slight hint of warm spice in the pulled pork. Nutmeg? Cloves? Mace? It was maddeningly good. Even the sausage links were moist and unctuous with a slight bite.
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Although they've only recently opened, the line on Friday afternoon was nearly out the door at lunch. That's a pretty good sign. Or maybe people were lining up to get their Gatlin's fix on one of the four days the place is open; the restaurant keeps some strange hours right now. Wednesday and Thursday, it's open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday, a bit later: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
And if you manage to save room for dessert, Gatlin's makes a wicked chocolate cake. With caramel frosting, pecans and brownie bites -- yes, brownie bites -- this is a cake that your mom would have made, if she'd loved you maybe just a little bit more. Luckily, Gatlin's does.