Back in September-ish, one of my kiddo’s school situations became untenable after several years of tucking and rolling. I have one of those boys who just wasn’t created to sit still, who wasn’t created to be super-organized at the age of 11, who is smart and funny and who is, much to the dismay of a string of teachers, noisy. But he is incredibly smart, an 11th-grade-level speller, and a whiz at all things computer. Without going into gory detail, it became a story about the failings of adults of every personal and professional stripe, including me for not intervening sooner, and a kid who was falling through the cracks. Falling through the cracks is something you should never have to pay extra to do at a private school, by the way. I have a family chock full of teachers. I love teachers. Some of the greatest advice I received this year was from teachers. This was just one of those situations that wasn’t working.
Having explored every imaginable option up to and including moving, we took a path that up until the moment it came out of my mouth seemed previously unimaginable. Homeschool. It even sounds weird now. But, boy, we all held hands standing at the edge of the cliff, took a deep breath, and jumped. It looked like it was a mile down to the rough water below and I assumed it would be a painful entry. It turns out it was just a short, happy cannonball into a warm lake. It worked. I went into executive-mom mode and got some great encouragement and advice from a stellar mom who took the same path, though for different reasons. I researched and cobbled together a workable fifth grade curriculum, finding textbooks and workbooks and computer programs. I’m glad I wasn’t trying to do this even ten years ago. Now, the resources are endless.
And the world did not end. And we had a good time doing it. And we still love each other.
The biggest, runaway success story of the homeschool year was BBQ Thursday. I thought that if my friends at Texas A&M can teach a college level class on BBQ 101, then I could do a 5th grade version. When my kid was looking at me and couldn’t seem to figure out if I was crazy or brilliant about simply not going back to school on the following Monday, the most inspired thing popped out of my mouth.
I said, “Every Thursday we will go to a different BBQ joint around Dallas and have a chopped beef sandwich. We can do that because we are in charge now. And, you won’t have any homework, because, well, it’s all homework now.”
His response, “We can go get BBQ EVERY THURSDAY?”
“Yes, we can. Every Thursday,” I replied.
“Sounds good to me. Let’s do it,” he said.
And just like that, we were homeschooling. Somehow, we managed to get through a stack of textbooks, watch a thousand educational videos, visit a handful of museums and zoos, spell everything under the sun, talk about all manner of things, look at things under a stereoscope, TAKE NAPS, laugh, and heal from a brutal couple of years that should never, ever, have been so miserable for any of us. And, we ate loads of BBQ.
Well, because we love it. But, also, these are the places you remember going with your parents or grandparents when you are 70 years old. When I walk into any BBQ joint that smells right, I remember Callaway’s BBQ in Wichita Falls and meeting my dad there for a lunch now and again. I remember the mustard potato salad and exactly how the sauce tasted. And, I haven’t been there…they haven’t been open…for decades. But I remember the paneling on the wall and how the line went and the sound of Clarence chopping brisket on the block. We needed a dose of that. We needed a tradition, a positive experience. And, we needed to create memories of something wonderful that we could use to prop up this bizarre year.
And, because some of you asked, here is the list of the BBQ joints in and around Dallas that we made it to this year. I suggest that you hit the road and start a BBQ tradition with your kids or your friends or your spouse or total strangers, for that matter. BBQ people are nice. We tend to gripe at each other about sauce and temperatures and the snap of sausage casings, but deep down people who eat loads of BBQ are people who you want to know. Plus, we purposefully stuck with chopped beef sandwiches all year. A place really has to be off their game for a chopped beef sandwich to be bad. Often places with completely doable chopped beef are places where I wouldn’t necessarily order a plate of sliced brisket. I’ve admittedly gotten a bit snooty on that count. But for me, at least, most chopped beef sandwiches are heavenly. Plus, if a place does great brisket, then the sandwiches are usually off the charts great. Win-win.
In no particular order:
I am no kind of critic. There is not one spot that my son didn’t say was “awesome.” He said it about every single place…even when I tried to talk him off the assessment. “Awesome.” I’ll go with this. I have my favorites. If you run into me in person, I’ll share my short list. I’ve listed all of the spots we went to and you can go and judge for yourself. We generally avoided chains. Hopefully, you will think that most of them are awesome, too. Also, the lack of a photo doesn’t mean that our chopped beef sandwich wasn’t lovely or good, it means I took a lame photo. All of these are from my iPhone. I only posted the decent photos. Finally, if it weren’t for my friend, Daniel Vaughn and his work on TMBBQ and Full Custom Gospel BBQ, I wouldn’t have known about several of these spots. If you want an honest review, see his work.
Peggy Sue BBQ: This is over by SMU across from Kuby’s. It’s an old favorite in the neighborhood and they make a great chopped beef.
Lockhart: Technically doesn’t do sandwiches, but they give you a big pile of Mrs. Baird’s, so, that’s pretty much workable. Did I tell you that owner Jill Bergus turns out to be my 3d cousin (or so)? Ancestry.com is a trip. Some of the best BBQ beans in the biz for my money.
Mike Anderson’s BBQ: When I practiced law five million lifetimes ago, I worked over by I-35 and this was our go-to BBQ. Anderson’s is still a favorite of mine for chopped beef.
Sonny Bryan’s (Lovers): So close to home. It happens.
Sonny Bryan’s Original: Different in every way from above. Great old joint thing going on that makes it worth a go.
Pecan Lodge: Angels singing. Say hi to Diane and Justin. Say hi to Rolando. Eat some greens. Get fried chicken, too. If you don’t have the time to hang in the line, learn the Express Line rules and take a whole bunch with you. Take your leftover mac ‘n cheese home with you and fry it up in a skillet like some twisted cousin of french toast. Lord help us all.
Cattleack BBQ: More angels singing. North of 635 in the warehouses, this place is stellar and an easy top 5 on this list. And, maybe, just maybe, tied with PL for the best single sandwich we had. Beautiful is not a word that gets used with chopped beef sandwiches very often. This sandwich was beautiful.
Railhead: Easy, just off the highway in Fort Worth.
Swiss Pastry Shop: Enough serious beef indulgence on the menu, such as the Fort Worth Cheesesteak, to make my list. Plus, miles and miles of desserts. Get the black forest cake. We made it an honorary BBQ Thursday establishment after a visit to the Fort Worth Zoo.
Angelo’s: If you are the beer drinking sort, they have the big icy schooners and enough taxidermy to open a museum of natural history…of bass. There’s a bear by the front door. I have a kid, as I mentioned. Angelo’s is therefore a hit. Plus, it takes me back to when my hair was still red and I lived in Fort Worth with a handsome young man…who is my husband.
The Slow Bone: Don’t skip the greens or the sweet potato casserole. Look at all the cool stuff hanging on the wall. Get some of the hot sauce from the bar for your greens. Yes.
Mac’s BBQ: Have you been here? You need to go here, and get the French fries. Little. Sweet. Lunch room. The perfect paneled walls. Awesome sandwich. Happy little place, most like my sweet BBQ memories.
Big Al’s Smokehouse: Ask them to hand chop your sandwich if you don’t like pre-sauced.
Smokey John’s Bar-B-Que: Good sides, homemade desserts.
SMOKE: Qualifies as more of a restaurant than a joint. Holy goodness. Great fries. Come back for dinner for the beef rib and hominy grits.
Bone Daddy’s: Seriously, forgive me. I was lulled by the Slow Bone into thinking that an establishment name being slightly suggestive doesn’t mean it isn’t a fantastic BBQ joint that is perfectly family friendly. My bad. Don’t go to this one with children, or your mother. It is a breastauraunt. Ha ha. Funny, right? Not really. There I stand in a sea of dudes gawking at skin baring (truly nice, lovely, women) thinking, “If I grab my kid and run does that make me a good feminist or a bad one?” Nice young women scatter, covering their cleavage with a menu in the face of a kid. Can’t let the Hooter’s boys scare us away from good BBQ (touted to be “prime” beef ), though, right? Let’s just say that I have my own boobs, so I don’t need to go back. There were enough monster truck rallies on the generous assortment of TV’s to keep a kid from dying of embarrassment. Clearly, we are not the target demographic for this particular spot.
18th & Vine: Not a joint, but you’ll forgive them. Must go back and get burnt ends and fried okra. Good stuff.
David’s BBQ: Good place to meet a brother in BBQ and his darling kiddo who live out that way.
Hard Eight BBQ: Big BBQ production. Good sandwich. Nice folks. We liked it.
Hutchins (McKinney): Go here now. Then go back again and again.
Ten 50 BBQ: Way up on Central. As the name says, big. Just fine. Quite tasty.
Babb Bros BBQ & Blues: Go over to the Cake Bar after and get some coconut cake if you can still walk.
Sammy’s: Homemade pie. A la mode.
Baby Back Shak: Boudin as a side. Count me in.
Meshack’s Bar-B-Que Shack: Awesome little joint. Foodways Texas sticker on the window. Knew I’d be at home. Walk up. Talk to the happy people in line. Don’t be in a hurry. Really. The sign says if you are in a hurry you ought to try another place. Eat in your car. Smile. Try not to fall asleep and wreck on the way back to town.
Lakewood Smokehouse: Good cheese fries.
I’m sad that we didn’t make it out to BBQ on the Brazos in Cresson, as I tagged along with Daniel Vaughn one day a few years back and it is great. I also want to make it to Heim BBQ as soon as their permanent location opens. We have those to look forward to visiting.
Between the BBQ, homeschooling, and the fact that I was writing a manuscript for a novel (that is a whole other post), I haven’t had much time for posting recipes this year. I figured, maybe you have been busy too, and you might appreciate a BBQ road map for the Dallas area so you can enjoy the cooking of some talented pitmasters and sidemasters (seriously, I love the sides) for a change.
I might not be able to teach a junior in high school anything. But, 5th and 6th grade, I’ve got that covered. As long as we can have BBQ Thursday I’ve got that covered, anyway. I now fully fall in with the evangelicals and the hippies and the classical homeschoolers and the un-schoolers. In other words, I fall in with parents who will do anything in the world, to give their kids the education they deserve in an environment where they feel valued and supported. If that’s in the walls of a school, wonderful. I’ve got one of those kids, too. And, she has stellar teachers. But, if it is at your kitchen table, that is awesome too, and it is your prerogative. And if it includes great BBQ, all the better. Kids come in all shapes and sizes with a billion different ways of learning. Some schools are great with this biological fact. Some simply cannot or will not deal with that simple truth. Some desperately wish they could but don’t have the resources. I feel lucky that I was able to turn on a dime and do this. I have a good man to thank for that. And I have a great little man who really put in the effort to make this experiment work. And I have an amazing daughter who gave a good amount of her due portion of maternal attention over to her little brother and gave us both a world of encouragement at every step along the way. Not every day was perfect. We both had our off days. But I never took away recess when that happened. And, he never fired me. So, we’ll try it again for another year.
I suggested to my son that we could switch to fried chicken or chili Thursdays next year if he was getting tired of BBQ. But, being my very own son, he declined. He said, “Can’t we just keep doing BBQ Thursday.”
Yes. As long as he’s willing to go eat BBQ with me, I’ll happily keep going.
You should join us for a chopped beef sandwich one of these Thursdays.