In Richardson, a suburb of Dallas, Texas, they have a seafood spot called Big Shucks.

This isn’t a place to eat and watch football, unless your game is fútbol. But it does offer some Latin influenced dishes. This shrimp cocktail, rich in cilantro and tasting more like a juiced up salsa, is one of them.

Big Shucks
103 S Coit Rd
Richardson, TX 75080
(972) 231-8202

Big Shucks on Urbanspoon

Going to this place was like stepping into my past. I recall a time when I was in grad school in Houston, in the 1980s, where, if someone really wanted to treat you, they would take you to this chain. The one we knew of was in the River Oaks district, near a Chili’s and not that far from the River Oaks theater. It was fantastic. And when we moved later to Orlando FL, the local Black Eyed Pea was one of the hardest restaurants to get into.

Move forward some years and in Atlanta, Black Eyed Peas weren’t all that good. Service was terrible. Food might be good, but who could tolerate the lousy waiters of the time? It wasn’t too long before all of these in the ATL were converted to Folks restaurants.

Evidently there was a bankruptcy in the chain at one point, and staff at this Black Eyed Pea said that there had been some staff loss to Denny’s, that the improvements in the Denny’s you guys have seen came at the expense of BEP. Hey, I can’t confirm it, but merely can report it.

decent fried pickles.

Chicken fried chicken was excellent. Good green beans. Fried okra weren’t crisp at all.

So, was it as good as we rememberd? Well, entrees, yes. Sides ranged from very good to a very ordinary serving of fried okra. Service was excellent, and the chicken fried chicken my wife got was transporting.

Maybe this chain will grow again. We’ll see.

Black Eyed Pea
7979 Belt Line Rd
Dallas, TX 75254
(972) 490-1932

Black Eyed Pea on Urbanspoon

These are two restaurants with a common name, largely compatible menu, and yet in many ways, these restaurants are markedly different. The Addison Original Pancake House is in a large modern building on the edge of a divided highway and when we went, it was packed. We had a thirty minute wait, in overstuffed chairs and sofas. This eatery were used to their crowds. Once seated, we were offered a choice of rolls and they were good ones. The kitchen area was well separated from the dining areas. There was plenty of staff, and the feeling of substance, abundance, luxury was ever present.

Addison Original Pancake House

Rolls are served in Addison.

The Stone Mountain Original Pancake House is in a modest round building that reminds me of the “mushroom cap” buildings that many older Mellow Mushrooms are found in. There is limited seating, due to the size of the building, and no waiting area. There was a modest staff. The menus were much lighter weight than the Texas menus. No rolls were offered when we sat. If we wanted, we could see some of the goings on in the kitchen. The feel, if I had to compare it, was closer to that of a Waffle House than the Addison restaurant.

Stone Mountain location.

The menus are different not only in look and feel, but also the Texas restaurant has additions that suit the Texas breakfast eater. For example, there are migas in Texas, a selection not found in Georgia. That said, the food delivered to the table in both eateries was of high quality.

Bacon pancakes, from Dallas.

Pumpkin pancakes (Dallas).

Migas. Usually you wrap these in tortillas.

Corned beef hash.

Dutch baby, no dusting of sugar. My wife was curious about this.

Western omelette. Good and enormous. Like the hash, came with a side of pancakes.

We had pancakes and migas in Texas, pancakes, corned beef hash, a dutch baby, and an omelette in Georgia. Serving sizes were ample. There was more food than we could eat at both locations. Service to the table was excellent in Texas, and quite good in Georgia.

Original Pancake House
5220 Belt Line Rd
Dallas, TX 75254
(972) 385-6468

Original Pancake House on Urbanspoon

Original Pancake House
5099 Memorial Dr
Stone Mountain, GA 30083
(404) 292-6914

Original Pancake House on Urbanspoon

Casa Milagro is a highly regarded Richardson restaurant, and checking out reviews by Regular Joe and Bill Hensley, I decided it was promising. It was close enough to the hotel to make it worth a trip, and this eatery ended up being my #1 target while in Texas. There was no guarantee I’d have family, as my daughter and wife were attending a Supernatural convention at the time.

With some luck, my family was available for a late lunch, so we headed up US 75 to this eatery. It’s in a L shaped strip mall, and the restaurant itself is back from the road. Inside, it’s neat, unassuming, clean, and efficient.

Salsa and chips are free with the meal. The salsa here has plenty of cilantro, the red having a bite you don’t get in Atlanta. The chips were dry.

Eight different kinds of “honest to God” chile rellenos.

One of the things I was looking forward to from a Texas Tex Mex eatery was a chance to get a real chile relleno. You don’t see very many good ones in Atlanta. And very often, ordering a chile relleno in Atlanta gets you a ring of bell pepper with 3-4 tablespoons of ground meat in the middle (if Atlanta Tex Mex serves a real chile relleno, they will call it a chile poblano). So, to my great pleasure, Casa Milagro served 8 different kinds of chile rellenos.

I ended up ordering the brisket and honchos relleno. My wife had a pair chicken enchiladas with a tomatillo sauce, and my daughter had enchiladas de guiso, cheese enchiladas on which pork guiso, a Mexican pork stew, was poured.

A real chile relleno, stuffed with brisket and mushrooms.

Inside of the relleno.

Enchiladas de guiso, the hit of the meal.

Chicken enchiladas with a tomatillo sauce. Brown rice was the side.

The favorite dish of the meal was the enchiladas de guiso. We all thought it had more flavor than anything else we ate. My relleno was pretty popular as well. The tomatillo sauce on my wife’s enchiladas ran a little more sour than what she was used to, but they ended up being finished as well. All in all, Casa Milagro served a really fine meal. We left happy we had been to Casa Milagro.

The Impalas. Supernatural fans will know what this means ;).

Casa Milagro
1403 East Campbell Road
Richardson, TX 75081
(972) 234-6999

Casa Milagro on Urbanspoon

PS – for those unfamiliar with pork guiso, the Busy Gourmand has a nice article on this Mexican stew.

The Atlanta barbecue scene is badly underestimated, it appears, even by bloggers who blog in this city. From this perspective, it’s merely a boring repetitious set of chain eateries, whose products are predictable and monotonous, and whose only differentiating factor are the sides or perhaps the sauce.

I have news for ya’ll: this also is Atlanta barbecue.

Stuffed with barbecue

See that dumpling? It comes from Canton House, the famous dim-sum place on Buford, and yes, it’s full of barbecue.

In this city, perhaps you didn’t know, but the Koreans have barbecue, the Chinese have barbecue, and the Vietnamese add barbecued meat to their banh mi.

meat on the "barby" at "Iron Age"

Honey BBQ from Ming's BBQ


Since the work barbecue itself comes in part from the Taino people of the Caribbean, it also appears that the Southern style of cooking meat is also a direct descendent of the Caribbean barbacoa.

That suggests strongly that jerk chicken, from Jamiaca and smoked, is also a style of barbecue.

Tastee's (Snellville) jerk chicken: Is this a kind of barbecue?

Is it or isn’t it? I’m not claiming barbecue expertise. I’m merely a student in this genre.

What about pastrami? It’s a smoked meat, isn’t it? How closely related is pastrami to barbecue?

Even restricting the point of view to “Southern barbecue”, I’ll note that there are two common ways to prepare meats in this “style”, and that is to smoke the meat indirectly (leads to a smoke ring and great smoke flavor), or to broil the meat and then finish it on the grill (grill lines, and fall off the bone tender). The latter is indeed favored by chain restaurants. It’s easier, and you’re in no danger of running out of product around 3 pm in the afternoon. They’re easily distinguised, by the presence or absence of smoke rings on the meat.

"Steve's Sampler" from Big Shanty Smokehouse

Getting back to Texas style barbecue: using Robb Walsh’s book as a reference, I counted 6 kinds of Texas barbecue. Using the same source, the Wikipedia counts four. Looking over various Wikipedia entries (like this one on US barbecue, and this one on Texas barbecue), the Wikipedia missed the Caddo Indian style (not common anymore), and I counted the Southern Texas style perhaps twice. So, four styles are extant currently. To note, as Robb Walsh says:

When visitors from Carolina and Tennessee come to Texas, they are generally astonished to find that we eat a lot of pork here as well as beef brisket. That’s the problem with the beef generalization. Yes, we barbecue beef – but we’re fond of other meats.

I know this to be true, for when visiting relatives in Granbury, Texas, I had some good pork ribs over in Glen Rose.

Pork ribs from Glen Rose TX. The smoke ring is clearly visible on these ribs.

If you talk to bloggers who actually smoke meats in their spare time, they’ll note a merrily promiscuous character to Atlanta barbecue. The city doesn’t appear to care what is good, it just adopts any style that tastes good. So I’ll reiterate the question that comes to me after all this:  just how many different kinds of barbecue can you count in this city?

I’ve spoken of Uncle Julio’s before (also here), in a more formal sit down mode. This is more a report of both the restaurant and the bash, and as we were served buffet style, it doesn’t represent what Uncle Julio’s can bring to a diner’s table. It does say something about how the eatery can handle an event.

The Texas Independence Day Social is an alumni event that pools the graduates of all the Texas schools in the Atlanta area. It’s often heavily attended by UT and Rice alumni, and schools like SMU, TCU, Texas State, Houston were there. I didn’t see any Aggies but I can get my A&M fix from my father. To be plain, I was focused on my own school, largely. The Rice alumni, being a clever lot, managed to score a set of tables right by the buffet line.

This Uncle Julio’s is a lot more spread out than the one on Peachtree Dunwoody. The Sandy Spring location is largely vertical. This one sprawls like a ranch style building.

By the time I made it, the buffet line was pretty long and when we got to the fajitas, all the beef was gone. They were stocking up on chicken. The chicken they supplied was moist and grilled at the same time, and delicious. The roasted Jalapenos and roasted vegetables in general were very good. Service, given the crowd and the noise, was actually quite decent.  Waitstaff made routine stops to fill drink orders and top drinks off.

Most people seemed to enjoy the meeting. Just the chance to air your stories in a sympathetic crowd made for a superb afternoon.

Verdict: Not only capable of sit down, Uncle Julio’s can handle a bunch of cowboys with ease. Highly Recommended.

Uncle Julio’s
1860 Peachtree Rd NW
Atlanta, GA 30309
(404) 350-6767

Uncle Julio's Fine Mexican Food on Urbanspoon

The Ranch House isn’t the best known barbecue restaurant in Glen Rose Texas, but the time we arrived in this small town it was one of the few still open. It’s a brown building on the side of Big Bend Trail (Highway 67) and has a huge sign to welcome you to the premises.

Inside there are plenty of picnic style tables, funny T-shirts and posters on the walls, longhorn and deer heads, and above the cash register are various paper currencies all taped to the roof.

The day we showed they had a $10 special, ribs with 2 sides. That sounded good and almost all of us got the special. Soda glasses were Texas sized. My daughter got chicken fingers, which were moist and tender and also plenty large.

Given the size of the ribs, they were almost certainly pork ribs. You could smell the smoke in the ribs before you could ever taste them. The smoked taste was there and the smoke ring easy enough to find. There was a smoke smell on our fingers an hour after we ate there. My brother said they were the best ribs he’s had in years. Then again, they don’t cook ’em in Shanghai like they do in Glen Rose.

In my opinion these were first class ribs, would be no matter where they were made. The beans were good and the cole slaw was okay, but ribs this good would be worth going back for.

Service was very good. I never felt neglected in this eatery.

Verdict: Great ribs, good sides. Highly recommended.

Ranch House Barbecue
1408 Big Bend Trail
Glen Rose, TX 76043
(254) 897-3441

Ranch House Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

Pearl Street Station is an eatery recommended by Tiberia of Barking Rocks, and as the owners were thoroughly familiar with my extended family, this isn’t the usual critique. The owners were present and actively suggested food, talked about their business and mentioned their preference for catering as opposed to managing a storefront.

The eatery is not far off the town square of Granbury, and carved out of an old Sinclair gas station. The remnants of the station are all over, and variations of the green dinosaur appear on Pearl’s hot sauce bottles, for example.

Suggested often were their sandwiches. The best were the smoked turkery sandwiches, of which there were only 4. I ended up getting a beef brisket sandwich, along with a bowl or two of Pearl Street’s gumbo.

Lighter and drinkable.

smoked turkey sandwich

Chicken gumbo is on the left; seafood gumbo is on the right.

The sandwiches were good. Because the brisket in the sandwiches was delivered with plenty of sauce, it was impossible to judge how smoked the brisket really was. My wife raved over the smoked turkey sandwich, and my brother said it was the kind of sandwich he’d come back for. Opinions of the gumbo were a little mixed. I thought the gumbo had a lot of good ingredients, started a little thin and finished well.

Throughout the meal various cousins and aunts were recognized, people dropped by, hugs and handshakes traded. Granbury is a small community and the people at my table were clearly the most recognized group in the store. The owner and his wife had a big catering job up coming and so apologized a number of times for prepping for the catering job, but I never felt we were ever ignored. In fact I’d say the warmth and character of the owners are one of the real plusses here. If regular customers get half of the care we did, then they would be very well cared for at Pearl Street Station.

Pearl Street Station, a Cajun and Bar-B-Q Eatery
120 West Pearl Street
Granbury, TX 76048
(817) 579-7233

Pearl Street Station, A Cajun & Bar-B-Q Eatery on Urbanspoon

It’s not often you go to visit relatives and find yourself in a winery. But as it turns out, one of my cousins married a man who has indeed set up a small winery in Granbury, Texas.  The name of the winery is Barking Rocks, and this isn’t any kind of critique, but has to be seen as a journey, driven by surprise and wonder.

Compared to the Atlanta area in which I live, this section of Texas is spare, dry, rocky and rather pretty. That said, you can grow grapes here, though Barking Rocks creates most of its wines from grapes they purchase.

The grounds are attractive enough that people have held several marriages here. Walls of the buildings are mostly made of the stone so common in these parts. Inside is a bit more homey, more comfy.

Later I managed to have a couple glasses of Barking Rocks wine. I liked what I had, but I am a biased judge of their product. The rest of you should try it and judge for yourself.

Barking Rocks Wine
1919 Allen Court
Granbury, Texas, 76048
(817) 579-0007