Baby Got Back Ribs
There's (arguably) more argument in America about what constitutes real barbecue than about what constitutes justification for declaring war -- unless the war is between differing 'cue factions, in which case just about any difference of opinion is reason enough to start shooting. Some purist pit-fired wood barbecuers even go so far as to ban any use of the word "gas" in their organizations' newsletters.
Miami 'cue guru Steven Raichlen is tolerant enough in his definition to include both pits and grills, as well as sauces from mustard to mojo, plus virtually any possible ingredient, such as pork, ribs, beef, chicken, fish, veggies, pizza, or baked Alaska. But the majority of enthusiasts agree at least that there's more to barbecue than the sauce -- that is, meat roasted or boiled using a regular indoor stove/oven and then slathered with barbecue sauce is not barbecue.
The latter caveat would mean that Dallas BBQ doesn't serve barbecue, according to the description of the place's cooking method given me by the employee whom I grilled (not barbecued, since my questioning involved fast, direct heat). Though some menu descriptions specify slow-smoking, meats are actually, she said after running back to the kitchen to check, initially cooked in an oven, then finished on an indoor grill -- gas, not wood. And indeed, the smell of the cavernous cowboy kitsch-festooned space (not smoky), as well as the taste of the chicken, pork baby backs, and beef ribs I tried (not smoky), confirmed that Dallas BBQ's 'cue has about as much relation to purist pit barbecue as Dallas BBQ does to Texas. The six-restaurant chain was founded, in 1978, in New York City, where the other five remain; this Kendall-area branch in a Hammocks Town Center modern mall "barn" is the chain's only outpost south of the Hudson River.
But though not purist barbecue, the wannabe-Q was not bad. Pork baby back ribs, while petit, were full of meat so tender it slid off the bone with barely a bite. Brontosaurus-size beef ribs were chewier but not at all tough or stringy, just pleasantly challenging with a flavor that, if not at all smoky, was unarguably full -- like great Jewish deli brisket, only on the bone. And chicken -- which does not claim to be barbecued; it's rotisseried -- is much moister than usually found in town and not, for a change, overcooked. There's also brisket (which I didn't try) but no pulled or chopped pork -- which would again disqualify the place for purists. But barbecueish taste is provided to all meats by a very tasty sauce that combines a crisp, tangy vinegar wallop with a little addictive sweetness. And barbecue prices range from reasonable on the high end ($10.99 for a full rack of baby backs plus decent cornbread and choice of starch) to ridiculously cheap, for chicken ($4.99 for a whole take-out bird, $9.99 for two early-bird dinners featuring half a chicken each).
For those who don't care for the 'cue there are many more options than usual at more authentic joints, with sparely breaded crispy shrimp especially recommended. They come with sweet but refreshingly nongloppy fresh slaw and two sauces (tartar and a sort of horseradish remoulade) for $7.99, in a full din with breaded fish fillets ($14.99), or, a new option, generously topping an $8.99 spinach salad that also includes sprouts, raisins, and walnuts, dressed with mustard vinaigrette.
Don't miss the fabulous, lightly floured loaf-style onion rings. And all disagreements about barbecue authenticity become Big Fun over a couple of Dallas BBQ's real specialties: monster margaritas (like my favorite Blue Hawaii with a side shot of 151 rum) and similar indisputably Texas-sized frozen drinks.
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