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There is a lot of tradition in Houston surrounding barbecue. In Texas, we take it very seriously. Which is why reviewing any sandwich that has the words "smoked brisket" in it means it better live up to Texas-sized expectations. Most brisket sandwiches are fairly simple creatures. They want to allow the meat to stand alone since they are almost always served at barbecue joints. It's plain bread, meat, maybe onions, pickles and some sauce.
The Smoked Brisket at Pop & Pan (1710 W. 18th) has all the beefy smoke flavor you might expect from a barbecue sandwich, but this is a panini place, so it can be a little more creative with its add-ons. Even still, the meat is the star.
Pop & Pan is the evolution of what used to be Houston Panini & Provisions and, prior to that, was a popcorn shop that had been in Oak Forest at the same spot on 34th for 30 years. After a re-construction where the original had been, the new owners moved this year to their current spot a couple miles south.
First, their paninis are fantastic. It is an incredibly popular lunch spot in the Oak Forest/Heights/Timbergrove area. And because they are just barely open again, the wait can be longer than you might expect. But, it's worth it.
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Despite not having to pay more than a cursory nod to Texas barbecue given what kind of restaurant it is, Pop & Pan does an excellent job of delivering the goods in its brisket. It is smokey and tender, just like you would expect. But, they do more than just throw meat on toasted white bread. The white and cheddar cheeses are an appropriate pairing for barbecue, but the smokey gouda brings even more of that wood-fired flavor. To cut the richness, there are pickled red onions and finally a crust of parmesan to provide even more crunch than the toasted white bread gives.
The blend is smokey and tangy and exactly what you might expect from a great barbecue sandwich. But, I encourage you to make liberal use of the sweet and vinegar-y sauce on the side. It has a slightly looser version of East Texas sauce with plenty of tang, almost like au jus for a roast beef. Perfect for dipping.
It's probably not competition brisket, but in a city where every joker has a smoker, this more than holds its own and the blend of additions makes this one of the best barbecue sandwiches in a city full of them.
If you have a sandwich you think is one of the best in town, hit us up. We're always looking for new options.