Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Road Trip: Burns Bar BQ and Pierson &Company

I'm prefacing my post with "Road Trip" after I realized that I clearly gone past "The Heights." The drive isn't far (6.4 miles from the center of "Greater Heights" according to Google Maps), and if you haven't explored the areas just north of the Heights on Shepherd, you're really missing out. This drive will put you right past B&W Meat Market on North Shepherd, which is always a great stop for those looking for every cut of a cow imaginable, although I wouldn't go there looking for a well marbled ribeye.

Only 6.4 miles!

Houston really should have a better selection of barbecue restaurants. The Heights is actually lucky in that we have Pizzitola's nearby (much better than average), but I've been disappointed by the others in the area. Burns and Pierson are the class of Houston, and we're blessed to have them so close to the Heights.

At Burns (8307 De Priest St, 77088), the ribs and brisket are the class of the meats. Both are moderately seasoned with an aggressive smoke flavor. The brisket is extremely tender and flavorful; it’s probably the only brisket in Houston that can compete with some of the most hallowed barbecue purveyors in Central Texas. The pork spare ribs are just as exemplary as the brisket; flavorful, with a slight chew.

The hand-drawn and smoke-stained menus at Burns

At Pierson & Company (5110 T C Jester Blvd, 77091), the brisket is the best of the meat offerings. All of the meats are smoked with mesquite, and the brisket benefits the most from this treatment. Tender, smoky, and with a nice seasoned crust, the brisket is some of the best in town. The ribs aren’t quite as solid as the brisket, but are above average.

Both restaurants have above the same style sauce, with Burns having more bite and acidity. The sauce served at Pierson is too sweet for my tastes. I would probably recommend getting it on the side at both places as they tend to drown the meats with the stuff. Both establishments serve the same style of sausage links that have a processed flavor and texture.

I think Burns is the stronger of the two, but that's not a knock on Pierson & Company. Burns consistently serves great barbecue and, in my opinion, is the best barbecue restaurant in Houston. The last time I ate at Pierson, the brisket was roughly sliced and excessively fatty. Half of our ribs were surprisingly undercooked. In the place of an attractive smoked crust was a sludge of rub seasoning that made the ribs inedible.

The one area where Pierson wins is with service. Clarence Pierson and his staff are eager to engage in conversation. Newcomers are always treated to a sampling of brisket. Nice touch. A trip to Burns always takes longer than it should, and the convoluted hand-drawn menu doesn't help. Our first trip early last summer resulted in an hour wait after we ordered, only to discover they were out of brisket. On another trip last July, the owner was on vacation and his fill in staff substituted their own menu, hand-drawn on a torn paper grocery bag. Burns is also only open Weds - Sat and is cash only. Pierson is my pick when I have a wild hare and want barbecue NOW. Burns takes some planning as I'm looking to go at a less busy time, usually early lunch on Weds -Fri.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

MAM'S House of Ice Snoballs

I originally decided to visit MAM's when I heard about their issues with their landlord (Fiesta, more forthcoming), but was so blown away by the quality of their New Orleans style sno-balls I decided it needed to move to the front of the line.

For those only familiar with the pedestrian "snow cone," the Sno-Ball will be quite a shock. The ice—unlike other inferior snow cone varieties—is pillowy soft. All the syrups are homemade and are completely incorporated with the ice. We purchased three different varieties, all of which were excellent. We added condensed milk to the blackberry version, which cut the sweetness and added a smooth dairy richness. For $0.50, the condensed milk is a no-brainer; get if for a true Hansen's Sno-Blitz (a New Orleans institution) experience.

Blackberry Sno-Ball with Condensed Milk

Late last week, I found MAM's Facebook fan page and learned of their lease issues. Recently, a resident in the area complained to Fiesta, and Fiesta decided to pull their lease with only 10 days warning. On Friday, the future of MAM's was up in the air, so it was with this sense of unpredictability that we decided to visit and get the scoop.

Part of my reason for starting this blog was to encourage more quality food providers to come to the Heights. With 10 days warning and all the restrictions the Heights enforces, I certainly wasn't hopeful.

This story will have a happy ending. I talked with the owners, and they were overwhelmed by the support from the community (several people offered their driveways). They also informed me they have secured a new lease and will be moving there at the end of next week. This news, and the beautiful sno-ball in my hand, just made me smile.

MAM's still has a few kinks to work out. The storefront is mobile, and they're not too much in a hurry to make it by their published 12 noon opening time. We arrived at 12:15 only to find their allotted spot empty. Our advice: save the experience for late afternoon or evening. MAM's closes at 9pm, which is way better than Hansen's, where you'll be lucky to get anything past 7pm.

The Heights is lucky to have a place like MAM's. It gets my highest recommendation.