A few months ago I asked my BBQ muse, The Goat (a former resident of Texas) what he thought of D.C. favorite Hill Country. He replied, “Oh, that’s dog food.” Fair enough, I thought. Like Caine in “Kung Fu,” my search for enlightened BBQ – both good and affordable – in Northern Virginia continued.
The wife and I came close with Texas Jack’s Barbecue, which replaced the shuttered high-end Tallula Restaurant about a half-mile east of Clarendon in Arlington County.
We visited Texas Jack’s two weeks after its grand opening, so the tables and bar area were still packed with curious diners looking to try the neighborhood’s newest restaurant. After a 20-minute wait, the hostess seated us at a wooden table and chairs that were surprisingly comfortable. The interior was warehouse chic, with exposed rafters and jet-black walls. No booths, but lots of tables, benches, high-tops and stools.
I used my command voice to be heard over a hundred patrons. After supplementing it with a little sign language and lip-reading, the wife and I agreed on three items for dinner – the “87 Cutlass Supreme” pork nachos as an appetizer (left half of the above photos), a half-rack of “St. Louis-Style” spare ribs, a spicy sausage link (upper right), and a brisket sandwich (lower right). It took a half-hour for the entrees to arrive, so they comp’d our appetizer after profuse apologies from our sleeve-tattooed server. (Really, who doesn’t have a tattoo these days?)
When I think of nachos, I remember the cold, stale garbage served at the local bowling alley, but Texas Jack’s were close to perfect. Just enough hot, dripping cheese sauce covered the tortilla chips. I feared the chef would screw up the pork, but I was pleasantly surprised to find every bite moist and savory. A few chunks of diced tomatoes and scallions provided color and texture.
After smearing the remaining cheese residue on my bare torso, the entrees finally arrived. My ribs sang like Adele, and the meat dripped off the bone. The sausage link was mediocre – it was too spicy for my palate and its texture was surprisingly rough. My sides of potatoes and beans cooled while I lavished attention on our protein. The wife’s brisket came nestled on a bun and a white queso, but I’d be happy to enjoy the brisket by itself. Neither of us whined for sauce; the dry rub for the brisket and ribs gave us plenty of flavor.
During a different visit, we came back with The Goat and his doe. I ordered the brisket sandwich with a fried egg on top, which might be one of the five decisions I’ve made in my life. (Best decision: I proposed to the wife; it was so-o-o romantic). Meanwhile The Goat, a BBQ snob without peer, made sweet love to his meat.
So the good news is it’s very good. The bad news is it’s expensive. The aforementioned brisket sandwich is 10 bucks with no sides – and it’s a Chairman imperative to have sides. A half-rack of ribs costs 23 bucks – $5.75 per rib. Add beer (mandatory) and it could become an unhealthy habit for your heart and wallet if you visit too often, but an occasional indulgence is OK now and then.
Texas Jack’s gets an overall grade of B+/A-. Improve the sides; the potatoes were tasteless mush. The Politburo is watching.