There are some things in life you can implicitly count on, some truths universally acknowledged. One of them? Cousins Bar-B-Q reigns over my favorite ’cue joints. Like Queen Elizabeth II, the joint has aged gracefully since opening in 1983 and retained its loyal subjects — in Cowtown, anyway. I can’t speak to what passes for barbecue across the pond.
The local family-owned chain has been slowly remodeling its restaurants, including the location on Bryant Irvin Road. The Crowley location received a similar treatment last year, and there are plans to eventually do the same at the original smokehouse on McCart Avenue.
Native Fort Worthians, my friend and I were eager to revisit a favorite childhood spot, which reopened last month. We couldn’t have picked a more gorgeous evening. A few wispy cirrus clouds reached across the sky like long strands of wind-blown hair as we inspected the renovated entrance and front patio, and I was pleased to see the Cousins logo hadn’t been altered drastically.
The interior was a different story. Immediately, I noticed that the wall once completely covered in family photos of the owners, the Paynes, and signed celebrity headshots was no more. In place of the iconic “Wall of Fame” hung a large mural and a stunned-looking stag. Later, I was told the photos were boxed up in storage.
While Cousins’ “low-and-slow” smoked fare remains the same the atmosphere certainly hasn’t. It now leans toward modern Western industrial with strands of Edison bulbs dangling just below the untreated wood rafters and dark ceiling. Steel joists stretch down the white walls accented with shiplap and a smattering of large taxidermy. The only hint of the former decor is the red-and-white pattern of the booth cushions, just like the old tablecloths. Even the buffet-style counter where workers would slice the meat right in front of you is gone, enclosed farther back to make room for additional seating. This also made way for a bar, so you won’t hear me complaining too much.
Feeling nostalgic, I opted for German sausage, broccoli rice casserole, and fried okra. It’s exactly what I devoured as a young buckaroo, and I wasn’t about to deviate. With the revamp also came new menu items, like prime ribeye, brisket poppers, “Crazy Pig” pork sandwiches, and charred serrano queso and chips, which my friend and I decided to share.
While she scoped out the airy patio, I moseyed up to the cowhide-wrapped bar and surveyed a series of sepia photos of cowboys and longhorns as the bartendress poured our Shiner Bock and Rahr Iron Thistle into frosty schooners. There’s just something about drinking out of a big-ass icy glass that feels classy.
Speaking of class, even the food presentation got an upgrade. Say what you will about the contemporary shift, but ditching those plastic cafeteria trays for silver platters was a long-overdue change.
I confess, my palate isn’t as discerning as maybe it should be at my age. Still, I’ve tasted bad barbecue, and it was never from Cousins. The German sausage was precisely how I remembered it: juicy and a little peppery with a satisfyingly crisp casing. The broccoli casserole still features the yellowest rice I’ve ever seen, and the fried okra was perfectly crispy on the outside and chewy within. It’s nice to know some things never change. As to the chips and queso, the spiciness of the serrano pepper-seasoned cheese complemented the succulent brisket, and the sweetness of the place’s signature barbecue sauce cut the heat beautifully.
After our meal, the manager dropped by to chat and offered us dessert — on the house, to boot. We sampled the frosted banana cake laced with walnuts and a classic Texas Sheet Cake. Both were moist and flavorful, a delicious way to top off our meal.
To compound the high note our evening was ending on, we “saddled” up to the bar and ordered some specialty drinks. The Whisket lemonade (named for its brisket-infused whiskey), garnished with a big ol’ hunk of the fatty meat, tasted strongly of lemonade with a hint of saltiness, and the berry lemonade with vodka and all manner of smoked fruit was sugary and tangy with a thick, pulpy consistency. Of all the changes, the bar is the best one … bar none.
Even post-makeover, Cousins Bar-B-Q still feels homey to me. Maybe it’s the familiar smoky aroma or the mouthwatering barbecue that locals like me have savored for decades, or maybe it’s the friendly staff who make you feel like family, but the joint has the same heart — and the same famously scrumptious ’cue.