A group of Texan expats finds authenticity at a new BBQ joint.
My first trip to Percy Street Barbecue—a Texas barbecue joint from the genius minds of Philly’s most whup-ass culinary partners Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook of Xochitl and Zahav—was mostly exceptional once the sticker shock wore off ($19 for a pound of brisket?!), I happily report.
It’s just a few minutes into one of the first meetings of the newly formed Texas Beer and Gun Club, and already talk has turned (as it inevitably does when two or more Texas expats gather) to what they miss eating in their home state. The club was founded to help Texa-delphians meet over Yuengling while dreaming of Shiner Bock.
The spare ribs, I tell them, were thick and meaty, well-seasoned and smoked until fall-off-the-bone tender. The “moist” brisket is just that, and speaks to the power of the winning trifecta of Texas ’cueing—smoke, salt and pepper—when wielded properly. (Or, as I put it to them, “It's pretty fucking great.”) Their coarse ground sausage is an almost to-the-letter recreation of what you’ll find at places like Kruez Market in the Texas hill country, right here in Iggles Country. Spicy, smoky, none-too-fine.
TBGC founding members Brian and Margeaux (from San Antonio and Houston, respectively) are both freshmen at Temple Law, so the deep-seated, ravenous and very real withdrawal from the foods they love is strong in both. I myself moved from Houston to Philadelphia in 2005; as a somewhat senior member of this young clan, it’s up to me to offer solutions or antidotes where there usually are none.
So, it’s back to Percy Street I go, this time with TBGC.
Percy Street is posh by Texas barbecue standards. There’s top-shelf liquor; there’s a host stand. And waiters are happy to tell you about the origins of Texas barbecue and cooking, even when they have to lie about it. Our waiter’s explanation of Percy’s not having cornbread was some nonsense about a Texas corn embargo in 1859. (When pressed, he admitted he’d made it up.) All of this is as foreign in a Texas barbecue joint as the Michael Jackson and Run-D.M.C. pounding from the jukebox when we arrive.
We’re five deep and so we choose to order the Lockhart, a sampling of Percy’s entire menu, sides and all (plus dessert), that is available to parties of four or more at $24 per. In Texas, a trip to Smitty’s or Black’s in Lockhart is as serious a rite of passage as listening to Willie Nelson, and it’s where Solomonov, Cook and chef Erin O’Shea (who wowed Philly with her Southern wiles at West Philly’s Marigold after cooking in Houston kitchens for a decade), found the just-right brisket to export back east.
Everything comes out at once, and we struggle to make it fit on the table. Pass and chew. Pass and chew.
The smoky chicken is tender and juicy. The “moist” brisket, ribs and sausage are indeed as “pretty fucking great” as I’ve lead my fellow expats to believe. The sides vary from spectacular (creamy macaroni and cheese) to ho-hum (collard greens with no evidence of ham hock), and most are above average (tangy, vinegar-spiked German potato salad, fragrant pinto beans and fried onion-topped green bean casserole).
But it doesn’t all come up smelling of (yellow) roses. Margeaux dismisses the “root beer chili” as “made by a hippie,” and we all talk a bit about the pumpkin pie spice we taste in it. Is that clove and cinnamon? Or is it just the Yards root beer (specially made for Percy)? Either way, it lends an earthy note that’s not only not-Texan, but also odd.
The vegan chili is black beans cooked in chili powder with rubbery bits of seitan floating around like little billboards espousing the glories of real meat.
The “lean” brisket, just as in Texas, isn’t worth your time. Absent a healthy (that word seems weird here) fat cap, it’s as dry as shoe leather. I find the pork belly unappealing; mushy, it looks and tastes as though it’s been steamed instead of smoked—but TBGC’s Brian is happy to scarf it all.
And “happy” is as good a word as any to describe my (and TBGC’s) experiences at Percy Street Barbecue. “Full” is another.
You won’t find anything like Percy Street Barbecue in Texas, but you won’t find anything as Texas in Philly. ■
Next week, Adam Erace reviews Hawthorne’s. For more on Philly's food scene, visit blogalicious-adam.blogspot.com.
Xochitl 408 S. Second St. 215.238.7280. www.xochitlphilly.com Cuisine: Mexican. Hours: Sun. and Tues.-Wed., 5-10pm; Thurs.-Sat., 5-11pm. Prices: $7-$26. Sound advice: Easy listening. Atmosphere: Sombr...
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