I read somewhere once -- I'm pretty sure it was in Hamburger America, by George Motz -- that Blake's BBQ and Burgers was erected when the street it's on out here in west Houston was just a simple dirt road. I can believe that. Although Jeanetta is now fully paved, the restaurant still looks like a place removed from space and time -- like Blanco's, a honky tonk in a surreal River Oak setting, or as if someone dropped Greune Hall into an office park.
Inside, Blake's BBQ is equally reminiscent of a quieter, gentler time. A time when people painted murals of dusty West Texas towns inside their restaurants and decorated with old wagon wheels. It seems a given that great barbecue should come from such a place -- and from such an esteemed pitmaster as Don Blake.
But what about a great burger?
As the name would suggest, you can get that too. Along with a few scoops of ice cream from another local legend: Hank's Ice Cream Parlor, which sends over a few tubs of its best-selling flavors to Blake's each week.
I do suggest, however, that you follow the instructions laid out by former Houston Press food critic Robb Walsh when ordering a burger at Blake's.
"If you just walk up to the counter and order a hamburger at Blake's, you are apt to get a dried-out piece of meat," Walsh wrote in a review of the joint back in 2007. " The secret was specifying my burger 'medium rare to rare.'"
I failed to complete this crucial step and was presented with a burger that was cooked past the point of well done. This dampened my enthusiasm but -- oddly -- didn't prevent me from enjoying the burger regardless. The well-seasoned meat was to thank for that, thick with black pepper and crusty with a char that reminded me of a finely smoked brisket. Salty strips of bacon and Cheddar fused to the patty, which was placed on top of several layers of cool, crunchy produce. Texturally speaking, it was a joy to plow through.
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I was less impressed with the mealy steak fries served on the side, but the Frito pie I'd ordered as a standby did the trick -- complete with two bags of the corn chips served on the side for extra crunch. It didn't save me room for ice cream, unfortunately, but that's what the next trip out to Blake's is for.
That, and to finally try the barbecue.