Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Smoked Meat: Texas Que Smokehouse in the Heights

I'm always on the lookout for new BBQ spots.  A thread on a message board pointed me to a place in its bbq infancy: Texas Que Smokehouse.  Naturally, I headed there with Andrew and Wes to try it out as soon as I got the chance, even if that chance happened to be on a Meatless Monday (oops).

TQS was started by Rocky Torres and Mark Jimenez, friends who have been smoking together at cookoffs and benefits for years.  They finally decided to try their hand at making money at it and acquired the small dining room on Airline a few blocks north of N. Main to dish out their cue.

The dining room is small: only about 8-10 tables cram into the small space.  It looks to be the reincarnation of a Mexican restaurant: most of the decor looks to be leftover from a previous tenant that served food from south of the border.  Much of it is covered up with BBQ trophies from several different cookoffs, giving it more of a BBQ joint feel and also giving customers confidence that these guys know what the hell they're doing.  The centerpiece is the sign bragging about their 2010 Championship Brisket at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Cookoff, standing out above all of the 2nd and third place trophies the way that a World Championship banner makes division championship banners look puny.  (You'll still find Rocky and Mark at the Rodeo this year at the "Here We Are" tent.)

The menu is your typical BBQ menu: 5 different meats (brisket, ribs, chicken, sausage and turkey) available on combo plates, sandwiches or baked potatoes, along with a burger, salad, and sides.  All of the options are named after Texas cities, i.e., the 3 meat plate is the Houston, the two meat plate the Dallas (which we all agreed was genius, who wouldn't want to upgrade from the Dallas to the Houston), etc.  The three meat is $11.29 and the two meat is $9.79, not a bad value in my opinion.

All three of us wanted to sample as much as we could and got the Houston.  I ordered brisket, sausage and turkey, but Mark went ahead and tossed the last few ribs on my plate as well.  He did warn us that we got some of the last meat of the day (we got there about 15 minutes before they close at 7:00), so I knew that we might not get the best quality cuts, but I always like to hear that there is a limited amount made: that shows the first thought of the pitmaster is the quality of the meat, not making money.

The meat is smoked over mesquite, the flavor of which can sometimes over power the meat, but that wasn't the case at TQS.  I would separate the meats into two tiers.  I could eat the ribs and brisket without the sauce, but needed it for the turkey and sausage.

The ribs got high marks from all three of us.  They had a nice hint of smoke to them to go with a pretty good crust on them.  They were tender, but not to the point that they fall apart as soon as you pick them up.  Good stuff.

The brisket I felt like had a lot of promise, but I have to grade it an incomplete.  It was very moist, almost to the point of falling apart, which I was fine with (this actually did lead to an argument about whether or not brisket should fall apart).  Like the ribs, it had a pretty good but subtle smoke flavor.  The problem was the lack of bark.  I attribute this to timing and availability rather than quality of the meat or the ability of the smokers, so I definitely want to come back for lunch when the meat is fresh and try it again.  I do feel, though, that with a nice bark this may be the best brisket in town.

The turkey wasn't bad, maybe a tad dry but had a decent flavor.  I would order it but it won't keep me coming back.  The sausage was very forgettable.  I like a coarse, Central Texas style sausage and this was a very finely ground link.  It was a little bland and I didn't detect a hint of smoke flavor.

As you could imagine, it's no Lockhart.  As is, TQS would probably be the 3rd or 4th best BBQ joint there.  Of course that by default probably makes it at least the 3rd or 4th best place in Houston.  Keep an eye on these guys though.  They are less than a month old and this is their first go round at the restaurant business, but if they trend upward (and maybe if I time it a little better), this could be the tops in town.

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