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Barbecue Stop: Danny’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que, Athens, TX

A selection of food from Danny's
A selection from Danny's.

by Andrew Chalk

I once did a cooking program at a junior college at which the class discussed what should be on the customer table at service time. When the subject came to salt and pepper, one student, the scion of a respected Dallas restaurant family, stated categorically “No. The food should arrive correctly seasoned”.

Despite recognizing that this hospitality denizen likely knew far more than me on good restaurant practice, I strongly take the other side of this issue of opinion: seasoning is a matter of taste. Take the case of barbecue. A mouthful of brisket can change totally depending on the amount of salt on it, particularly in the rub. So if a pitmaster doesn’t apply the amount of seasoning that I like, I can’t criticize him, it is up to me to season it to taste after I receive the food. Add to this the fact that restaurants nowadays are constantly criticized for adding too much of “bad things” to the meals they sell (too much salt or sugar. Too many trans fats, not enough hetero fats, etc.) the easiest defensive manoeuvre is to omit seasoning and leave it to the customer.

That brings us to Danny’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que. It’s prominently situated on Corsicana, a main drag through Athens, and has been in business 'a long time'. I could not ascertain the exact founding year but the sprightly lass who served us was just starting her second quarter century there.

Mahogany brown slices of brisket were so ready to disintegrate under just the squeeze of my gums that I plan to take all my family members who have lost their teeth to lunch there. Don’t misinterpret me, the meat was not structureless, it was just ready to succumb. Add to that a viscous moistness to the composition, and burnt ends that exemplified that thousand mile deep pit of smoke flavor true brisket lovers quest, and you have one precisely cooked piece of beef. I had just one thing to do, add salt to taste (usually a fair amount), and that really showed Danny’s brisket to the best.

Pork ribs’ meat fell off the bone under the force of only thought waves (and maybe a touch with a fork). Usual seasoning caveat. Hot links could do with more of whatever it is that makes them ‘hot’ (napalm?). They were fine links as they went, but just not hot. Pulled pork was a nice touch to see on the menu.

Among sides, the potato salad was chunky, and tasty after a liberal dashing of salt and pepper. Cabbage (the thinking rabbit’s alternative to coleslaw) welcome to those who want their green veg. However, macaroni cheese had a bland sauce. This is a situation that calls for ladles of ketchup to turn cheese into rivers of tomato. The one uncorrectable disappointment was the barbecue sauce. It was just too insipid to generate much excitement. It was served on the side and stayed at the side.

Go back? You bet I will, plus TARA Vineyard and Winery 10 minutes up the road, for something red to pair with it.

Close up of the burnt ends at Danny's
Close up of the burnt ends at Danny's

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