Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Spoiled By Fame

Virgie’s BBQ
5535 Gessner Dr.
Houston, TX

Sometimes too much success can be a bad thing.

Really? Did Suit757 really just say that?


Now, before you go all Sean Hannity on me for turning into some Obama-loving pinko Commie, hear me out here.

Good barbeque is almost always smoked at small family-run roadside joints like Virgie’s in Houston.

Brisket and ribs slow smoked over mesquite for hours out back, one batch at a time.

That’s how great barbeque is done.

This isn’t McDonalds or Cracker Barrel. These places aren’t equipped for busloads of tourists pulling off the interstate for preheated, ready-to-serve fast food.

That’s why I always get suspicious of any mom and pop restaurant that advertises its catering business, as Virgie’s does on the sign out front.

You can either serve top notch home-cooked food to a small loyal clientele or you can serve the masses.

Few can do both well.

Unfortunately the day I happened to stumble into Virgie’s, this little barbeque joint in a black neighborhood on the northwest side of Houston was facing just such a trial by fire.

Unbeknownst to me, Texas Monthly Magazine just released its twice-per-decade list of the top 50 Lone Star State barbeque places just a couple days before I got there.

And, yes, Virgie’s made this list.

Now, to truly understand the implications of such an accomplishment, you have to understand that the publication of this list is anticipated in Texas about as much as Sports Illustrated’s Swim Suit Issue.

Maybe more so.

Understand, to a Texan, a list of the top 50 barbeque joints in Texas might as well be titled The Top 50 Barbeque Joints on Planet Earth.

It’s the same thing.

Texas Monthly takes its responsibility seriously, utilizing 16 barbeque-palette refined experts to spread out across the Lone Star State’s 268,000 square miles to sample the smoked meats at over 650 restaurants.

I mean, this is serious as a sausage-induced heart attack.

The freshly laminated article touting Virgie’s best-in-Texas brisket was proudly displayed on the front door.

Turns out I had plenty of time to read it because the line at 11am on a Friday was already out the door.

The gravel parking lot was packed, requiring me to illegally park my Ford Focus rental car.

The family running Virgie’s seemed to be a bit overwhelmed by their newfound fame -- and the hordes of white people piling into their suddenly famous little joint.

The line moved fairly quickly but there was a general sense of disorganization once I got to the friendly, but frenzied ladies taking down all the rapid-fire lunch orders.

The next challenge was finding a place to sit in this cozy little lunch room.

Fortunately, I spied one lonely dirty table in the back next to a ten top of suit-wearing office dwellers all commenting and critiquing Virgie’s suddenly on-the-spot smoked meat.

I could picture them 45 minutes earlier all sitting around their high rise cube farm excitedly perusing the new Texas Monthly issue like a pack of Cub Scouts who discovered a clandestine stash of Play Boys.

“Ohh, wow! There’s a place here in Houston that made the list! We have to check this place out -- right now.”

Then they all piled into their SUVs, plugged the address into their GPSs and ventured out to a part of town most of them never knew existed.

Clearly, Virgie’s wasn’t prepared for the fame.

After wiping down my table, I waited for my order.

And waited.

And waited.

After a half an hour, I started to worry that I was going to miss my flight home out of Houston Intercontinental.

Finally, some guy came out of the kitchen, cut through the chaos in the lunch room and delivered a Styrofoam box to my table.

He mumbled something about sauce and then disappeared. Assuming he would reappear momentarily with the aforementioned sauce, I waited.

And waited.

After another five minutes, I got up, worked my way through the crowd back to the ladies at the order counter and managed to retrieve some sauce.

Unfortunately, the meat needed that sauce, which is considered something of a badge of dishonor in the Lone Star State.

The best brisket in Texas needs no sauce.

Virgie’s brisket had as much fat as meat, yet still managed to be dry and lacking in flavor. Hence the necessity of that good tomato-based sauce.

The sausage was better but not spectacular.

My sides of baked beans and green beans were as uninspiring as any you’d get out of a can.

As I wolfed down my lunch in five minutes, I couldn’t help but feel a bit let down.

Maybe success has spoiled the mojo that made Virgie’s famous.

Maybe my expectations were just too high after learning about Virgie’s Texas Monthly accolades.

Maybe I should just come back another day when the glow from barbeque fame has faded a bit.

So, can too much success really be a bad thing?

All I know is they say success has a thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan.

Too bad all those hungry fathers had to show up on the same day.

Rating: Would Wear a Free Shirt.

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