My conversations about local barbecue restaurants often turn cantankerous. Why? People ask me where I go for barbecue. I tell them Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, the chain that was started in 1941 in Dallas and now includes about 600 restaurants in 43 states. And then their responses are some version of this: “Dickey’s? My god, man, don’t you know anything about barbecue? Dickey’s sucks compared to [insert name of their preferred barbecue joint here].”
The dissenters I face typically focus on the brisket, ribs, and sausage. Meat, though, isn’t what draws me to Dickey’s. It’s the free condiment bar with all the great extras waiting on ice. For my money, nothing makes a barbecue plate taste better than supplementing it with a big pile of cold, juicy, freshly chopped onions and a smattering of jalapenos and cilantro.
More often than not, people tell me Angelo’s Bar-B-Que beats Dickey’s every time. Well, it’s true the ’cue rocks at Angelo’s. I especially love their ribs. But today, we’re talking condiments, y’all. Order a lunch plate at Angelo’s, and you’ll get wondrous meats and sides –– and what looks like a space no bigger than a saltshaker allotted for a skimpy little ring of lukewarm onion and sliced dill pickles. Oh, boy.
From my workplace, I can drive to Angelo’s, Dickey’s, or Railhead Smokehouse quickly and easily. Yet, almost every time, I choose Dickey’s, mostly because of the condiments.
The same goes with fast food. If I’m hungry for cheap Mexican fare and see a Taco Bell and a Taco Bueno side by side, my belly will wind up at the Bueno nine times out of 10. Taco Bell condiment bars typically offer nothing but pre-packaged salsas. At Bueno, the condiments include all the aforementioned favorites, along with several varieties of salsas, both green and red, ready to be ladled liberally. Slathering a dinner with salsa is much easier with a ladle rather than opening 17 individual plastic packages and squeezing them one at a time onto my grub.
Pancho’s Mexican Buffet can be hit or miss on its entrees, but that chain has traditionally understood the importance of a well-stocked condiment bar. Maybe that’s why they’ve been around since 1958. Angelo’s, too, has prospered since 1958 even without a proper condiment bar, so perhaps my rant lacks proper research and context to make this column meaningful –– but since when has that stopped Chow, Baby?
I’m seeing more restaurants adhering to my condiment commandment. Not long ago, I stopped into the new Fort Worth eatery Los Taco H’s on East Rosedale Street. The tacos were plenty tasty and reasonably priced just like many other places selling the soft-shelled oily delights. But what a condiment bar! The tacos went from merely tasty to mucho tantalizing after visiting what I consider one of the better condiment bars around. Four different salsas, including the hard-to-find creamy avocado, are available, along with a fresh onion and cilantro mix, sliced radishes, pickled onions, and fresh-cut limes.
To all of you current or future restaurateurs out there: Don’t build a beautiful cake only to forget to put the icing on top. If two joints offer similar entrees and prices, the one with the fully stocked condiment bar is going to pick my pocket almost every time.
Editor’s note: Your regular Chow, Baby columnist is off but will return soon.