Some restaurants become institutions because of their fantastic food. Others, I've decided, become institutions merely because they are institutions. Take, for example, Goode Co. Bar-B-Q. This place is pretty much the epitome of Houston dining institutions. Since the mid '70s, the iconic spot has been serving up brisket, sausage and ribs, all washed down with a few cold ones, on that wonderful picnic-table-filled patio. The trouble is, it's really not that good.
Don't get me wrong, I love Goode Co. I just don't love it for the meat. Brisket comes out dry and not quite tender enough, the leanness of the meat doing its best to rob each slice of its glorious potential. Ribs suffer from a similar lack of tenderness. Nothing is as smoky as it should be. It's better than your average Southern Pride chain, but it's just not good enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with the greats.
There are a few standouts on the menu, though. The Czech sausage has a nice snap to it, and has a good meat-to-fat ratio and nice spicing. It could be juicier, and I prefer a coarser grind, but those are somewhat minor quibbles for what is a pretty good smoked sausage. The real winner here, aside from the admittedly awesome feel of the place itself, is the duck.
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On a recent visit, we snagged that one picnic table under the tree, swathed in strings of lights. It was a beautiful evening, and I had a cold beer in my hand and duck on my plate. The rest of the meats - ribs, brisket, and Czech sausage - were only so-so, but that duck was fantastic.
Sublimely moist and tender, the duck suffers from none of the fat-shyness that so plagues the brisket. Underneath a spice-coated and burnished skin, the fat takes on a deeply smoky, slightly sweet, utterly addictive character. The connective tissue in and under the skin converts to decadent and sticky gelatin over the course of the duck's long rest in the smoker, and the meat is full flavored and delicious, tasting of spice, smoke, and flesh. It's certainly my favorite thing there, and one of my favorite barbecue experiences anywhere.
I keep going to Goode Co. for Goode Co., itself. It may not be a bastion of Texas barbecue excellence, but it is a bastion of Texas cultural excellence. That's enough to keep me coming back. The duck is just the icing on the cake.