For the first several years I wrote about food for the Weekly, fellow columnist Christy Goldfinch served as a gracious mentor to me. During the time she helmed the opinion column Chow, Baby, she had a cadre of Gentle Readers, who suggested various places to visit or dishes to try. She’d go, try the thing, and give feedback via her column that was by turns savvy and savage. I’m not Chow, Baby, and I rarely get emails, so I was delighted when Gentle Reader Mark H. wrote in after my review of Goldee’s Bar-B-Q (“Goldee’s Goodies,” Mar. 9).
“After the Goldie’s [sic] review, send Laurie James by Roy Pope Grocery on Saturday mornings. Best BBQ there is. Thanks to Chris Reale.”
Challenge accepted, Mark.
Shortly after the Arlington Heights mainstay store reopened as Roy Pope Grocery & Market last spring, Weekly writer Sue Cheffington wrote, “This may not be your grandfather’s Roy Pope, but that’s a good thing.”
When I walked into the sunny, open space that acclaimed chef and local son Lou Lambert (Dutch’s Hamburgers, soon-to-be-revamped Paris Café) and owner-operator Chris Reale carved out of what I remembered to be a dark and slightly dusty enclosure, I wasn’t prepared for the change. This is a dadgum fancy bodega, which is what Lambert and Reale intended. On a gloriously warm Saturday when the moody March weather was suitable for al fresco dining, I set out to sample the Reale goods.
I hadn’t been to Roy Pope since 2008 or 2009, when I was writing for a Texas-based music magazine. I had the fortune to befriend Leonard Callaway II, one of the most interesting people on the planet. He would eventually go on to graduate from Texas A&M University decades after some youthful indiscretions got him shown the door out of College Station, but in 2008 Callaway was managing a bar.
Callaway grew up in the Fort, and he was scandalized that I’d never been to Roy Pope, so we went and decided to agree to disagree about the food there. For him, and for many Fort Worth natives, Roy Pope Grocery was a throwback to the time when King Ranch chicken was the best thing for dinner, everyone drank Coors, and nobody made whiskey locally. Callaway died earlier this year. The guy had the biggest heart in the world, and I’m still in shock that it’s not beating anymore. But I’d like to think he would also love the changes at one of his favorite places.
The brisket is sold only on Saturdays, purchased by the pound or as part of a meat-and-two plate that runs an astronomical $20. I ordered my lean brisket with its perfect, slightly glistening coat of peppery rub and a good one-eighth inch of cherry smoke ring, along with pinto beans and grilled mixed veggies. I took the plate to the register, where I added a glass of the house cabernet, then took myself outside to the generous covered patio, where a half dozen people were enjoying lunch, brunch, coffee, and goodies.
If we’re comparing the two briskets, Reale’s version is prettier than the one at Goldee’s. The delicious rub is slightly less salty at Roy Pope. The lean brisket wasn’t as tender as the fatty point, but it wasn’t chewy. And it didn’t need the robust, tart sauce to dress it up. Roy Pope’s sauce was slightly thicker than Goldee’s and a little clingy and, oddly, had chunks of tomatoes that were a bit unappetizing.
The beans were actually vegan (so no brisket debris in the mix) and surprisingly tasty –– more tomatoes and some secret spices packed in the flavor. The veggies came served room temperature, and the carrots, squash, mushrooms, and onions had been roasted until caramelly and slightly sweet.
The cab was delightful. The wine smelled like warm plums and was medium fruity with a little bit of bite on the finish. I’m only mentioning this because it’s a luxury to drink a nice glass of wine on a patio in the middle of a Saturday and not have to wait in line for barbecue.
As for the free accoutrements –– at Roy Pope, there was no homemade bread. There were some fancy dill spears and a bit of sliced white onion. However, the brisket slices stood alone without the need for any augmentation. And the $20 plate served two: I brought half home to my personal ’cue expert, the Grillmaster, for his opinion.
So, Mark H., in answer to your challenge, I liked Reale’s brisket just as much as Goldee’s version. Perhaps more importantly, the ’cue expert in my home agreed with you that it’s better. Should we let the brisket experts at Texas Monthly know? Maybe not. They can get their own Gentle Readers to help with research.
Roy Pope Grocery & Market
2300 Merrick Rd, FW. 817-732-2863. 7am-9pm daily. All major credit cards accepted.