Succulent Samplers and Savory Pies at Gabby's BBQ

Thirty-five years ago I was a twinkle in my mother's eye, and Gabby's BBQ had just begun serving up classic fare to hungry Houstonians. Three and a half decades later, they are thriving and challenging daily that careless assertion I've heard more than once: "Houston has no good barbeque."

Gabby's is one of a handful of BBQ joints in H-town that easily disprove this claim, and while I will make no judgment as to whether they are this town's best purveyor of smoked and grilled meats, I will ardently insist that there are more than a few excellent items on their menu.

Start, for example, as I did, with the pulled pork nachos. Unlike other, lazier establishments, Gabby's layers (key word) the toppings of cheese and meat among the exterior circle of corn tortilla chips rather than simply dumping them on top. Cold toppings (sour cream, pico de gallo, guacamole) are cleverly arranged in the interior center well. This technique produces a superior nacho-eating experience, for not only is every chip almost equally coated, but the partial separation of topping families prevents, say, the cheese from becoming prematurely cold or the sour cream from warming (ugh). And in case you're doubtful (as I was) of the quality of any sort of meat incorporated into nachos, Gabby's will pleasantly surprise you with its pulled pork, which holds its own in terms of seasoning and tenderness.

The terrific pulled pork on the nachos increased my excitement about the Texas sampler, a collection of three meats of my choosing (I went with brisket, ribs and sausage) plus two side dishes or a baked potato. The brisket left something to be desired in terms of active flavors and I found myself leaning too heavily on the sauce for seasoning. (FYI: I am a "sauce" person when it comes to barbecue, but I believe it should only enhance the meat, not make up for its shortcomings.) Far better were the supple ribs and sausage, which projected a unique sweetness I haven't tasted in other links. No doubt some form of sugar is involved, but there's some other savory element working alongside to produce a more subtle umami flavor. By the way, the sides at Gabby's (I tried the coleslaw and green beans) are fine and dandy, but I suggest declining your two choices in favor of the oversized buttered potato with cheese, chives, and sour cream.

I couldn't fit much more in my stomach, but one of my dining companions insisted I try a bite of the "Texas BBQ pie," Gabby's version of the classic Frito pie, created by one of the owners' daughters, Laurie, who has fond memories of a similar version she enjoyed during college. In addition to corn chips and shredded cheddar cheese, the Texas BBQ pie combines beans, barbecue sauce, onions, and sliced jalapeños. After a few strong swirls of a spoon, the "pie" transforms into a buttery, crunchy, oozy confection that screams Lone Star State with every spoonful.

My weekday visit to Gabby's was rather quiet, punctuated only by my loud exclamations of satisfaction, but on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights the place regularly hosts local bands. A little music, plus a happy hour beverage, and barbecue is suddenly quite boisterous. I can't wait to check it out.

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Joanna O'Leary