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.
Brenham is a small, awkwardly located Texas town, about halfway between Houston and Austin. It's not quite East and not quite Central Texas. Which makes it kind of the perfect place for a native of Lake Jackson to blend Central Texas barbecue influence with some East-Tex flavor to create on of the best BBQ joints in the state.
Leonard Botello IV and his family once ran the thriving Lake Jackson restaurant, Cafe Annice, before moving to Brenham due to his father's health concerns. It was in Brenham that Botello took up the family restaurant business. With the help of a used smoker hauled all the way from Ohio, plus years spent learning the Austin-based brisket stylings made popular by Aaron Franklin and John Lewis, Botello opened Truth BBQ in July of 2015.
The roadside shack off 290 launched with little fanfare, serving an impressive selection of smoked meats and massive slices of homemade cake — a holdover from the Botello's previous restaurant. Before long though, people were lining up by the dozens, showing up hours before open to get a piece of the not-so-secret local secret. It wouldn't be long before Truth caught the attention of smoked meat aficionados around the state, drawing longer and longer lines outside the tiny shack.
The original Brenham location has been temporarily closed for a few months now, much to the chagrin of local barbecue fans. The reason? Botello has been busy as of late, running his newly opened Houston location off Washington Avenue. The beloved smokehouse opened its second location right here in H-Town not three months ago, and lines have been forming ever since.
Truth Houston is significantly larger than its small town sister location. The sprawling, black brick building at the corner of South Heights and Washington holds a spacious and beautifully lit dining room that opens to an old-school ordering counter and a massive smoker room/kitchen.
The space has a country diner vibe with a chic, urban-rustic twist. The combo of neon signs, well-worn wooden tables and a flood of natural light all give the newly opened restaurant a familiar feeling, even as you walk in for the first time. Outside patio is ample, with an intoxicating aroma of wood smoke and brisket wafting over it throughout the day. On smokehouse aesthetics, Truth BBQ scores a 9/10.
Aesthetics aside, it's Botello's famous smoked brisket that earned his small Texas BBQ shack such wide acclaim in such short time. That smoky, well-rendered and peppery creation that Daniel Vaughn so readily compared to a Franklin's brisket.
While an expansion like theirs could easily take the quality out of a barbecue program, the brisket at Truth remains as mouthwatering and impressive as ever. Thoroughly marbled prime beef comes apart effortlessly with the slightest nudge of a fork. The flavor profile is salty and fatty with a clean beefy finish that nearly dissolves on the tongue. The bark, though far too chewy, is well peppered and holds plenty of flavor. On quality of brisket Truth BBQ scores an 8/10.
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If near perfect brisket and housemade sausage are a result of Botello's central Texas influences, his pork ribs, and pulled pork are a nod to East-Tex barbecue that do not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Made with high quality Duroc pork, both are worth ordering and would even merit their own trip. Not to be overlooked are the massive beef spare ribs available only on Saturdays, and the tender and delicious smoked turkey available daily. On non-brisket proteins Truth BBQ scores an 7.5/10.
Too often overlooked by great pitmasters, too often over emphasized by lousy ones, sides can be the perfect finish, a disappointing add on, or a sad silver lining to a barbecue meal. The sides at Truth are well executed. They hold up on their own but don't over shadow or disappoint their smoked meet counterparts. A standout is the corn pudding, an often forgotten southern classic that falls somewhere between corn bread and creamed corn.
Of course, while not a side, we'd be remiss not to mention the incredibly moist, incredibly large slices of homemade Truth cakes — an item so popular they merit their own service counter and side entrance at the new Houston location. We cannot in good conscience suggest dining at Truth without ordering a slice. On quality of sides (and dessert) Truth BBQ scores an 8/10.
Houston is currently enjoying its very own barbecue renaissance, with several home grown concepts opening in the past few years and an enthusiastic focus on Asian and Central American barbecue traditions. While Truth is an out of town import with heavy Austin influence, it is an welcome addition to our local scene. The Botello's presence in the city undoubtedly raises the profile of Houston barbecue and adds one more world-class joint to our ever-growing roster of outstanding smokehouses.