In this weekly series we're visiting the many smokehouses that call Houston and its surrounding suburbs home, along the way testing their mettle and judging their brisket (among other things). This column aims to highlight both the restaurants and pitmasters that define Houston barbecue.
There's been much written lately about the intersection of Texas barbecue with other cuisines. Our Smoked Out column opened with a look at Blood Bros. BBQ, a brand made famous by adding Asian influence to its Texas brisket and ribs. In the past two years both Goode Company and Killen's have ventured into barbecue-infused Tex-Mex concepts — to mostly rave reviews.
The combinations have been inspired, though in a way obvious. Barbecue meats are found throughout various Asian cuisines as well as in traditional Mexican food. Mexican culture, in particular, has influenced Texas barbecue for decades — particularly in South and West Texas.
It is therefore neither a surprise nor any kind of reach for Bramwell Tripp — executive chef and pitmaster at The Pit Room — to have incorporated south of the border influences so heavily into his barbecue menu. Along with owner Michael Sambrooks, Tripp has created an exemplary Texas smokehouse that, without advertising itself as such, doubles as an authentic Tex-Mex kitchen.
Sambrooks, a Baylor grad who is now building himself quite the impressive restaurant empire, opened The Pit Room in 2016 with Tripp's help. The two have made the Montrose smokehouse one of the most respected in the state, earning a spot in Texas Monthly's Top 50 Barbecue Joints in Texas just a year after opening.
The Pit Room shares a building and a patio with its sister business, The Patio: a sprawling open concept bar that gives the barbecue restaurant an irresistible weekend day drinking vibe. That plus the country decor, rustic tables and huge stacks of firewood projects a stellar smokehouse ambiance up there with the best in town. On smokehouse aesthetics, The Pit Room scores an 8/10.
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The true measure of any self respecting Texas smokehouse, the brisket here is given sufficient attention and detail to rank it among the best in Houston. With a luxurious black peppered bark and the potential to be incredibly moist and tender, its only weakness (as noted by other reviewers) can be a lack of consistency. In this writer's experience, a plate with three slices produced one near perfect piece of fall apart tender brisket and two dry, extremely lean pieces. It's apparently necessary to specify moist lest you end up with slices too dry to enjoy. On quality of brisket, The Pit Room scores 7.5/10.
If the brisket left us wanting, the tacos brightened our day. A pulled pork taco with picked red onions, salsa verde, cilantro and cojita cheese on a housemade flour tortilla drips beautifully down your arms and provides the perfect amount of kick with smoky pork flavor. The brisket taco, dressed with cheddar cheese, sour cream and salsa roja, proved delicious as well, though would have benefited from less burnt end and more moist cuts. Housemade venison sausage, while tough and gamey, impressed as well with a bold kick of salt and heavy spice. Other notable menu items include the beloved pork ribs, Texas chili, Czech-style beef sausage and tender beef ribs. On non-brisket proteins The Pit Room scores 8/10.
Sides are by no means exempt from authentic Mexican influence. In fact, it may be where that influence shines most brilliantly. From a fully dressed cup of Mexican street corn (elote) complete with crumbled queso fresco, crema Mexicana, cilantro and hot sauce, to the housemade charro beans and chips with white queso, The Pit Room shines with genuine Tex-Mex credentials. On quality of sides the Pit Room scores 8.5/10.
All in all, this is a Houston barbecue joint that embodies the recent H-Town barbecue renaissance, proving why executive chef is a role every smokehouse should strive to fill. An inspired menu of craft butchery products, authentic Mexican fare and outstanding Texas barbecue, The Pit Room may have its weaknesses but they are far outweighed by its strengths.