In 1941, Travis Dickey decided his barbecue was too good not to share, and he lit the fire in his inaugural pit to craft brisket and ham for hungry folks. Over the years, his menu grew and his sons took over and expanded the operation, but those first recipes remained, sauce and all.
The chefs at the Rowlett location still hickory smoke each tender piece of meat behind a brick serving counter, which clatters beneath plates of polish sausage and glasses of iced tea. Black-and-white photos bedeck walls of corrugated metal siding and hardwood walls, and powder-blue checkered tablecloths re-create the feeling of dining in a rustic farmhouse without all the hours spent trying to figure out what a cornucopia is for.
Succulent smoked meats dominate the menu at former Dallas Cowboy and Pro Football Hall of Fame–inductee Randy White’s restaurant. The cooks rely exclusively on wood-burning pits to sear all of their sliced beef, pulled pork, and baby back ribs, avoiding any gas burners or lightning bolts entirely. Seven pieces of fried catfish don cornmeal crusts for the Big Catch platter, and two patties of 100% Angus beef add heft to the Tough Man burger. Stained wood of different shades pervades the dining room's décor, from the light-brown vertical boards that form the walls to the dark-gray planks that compose the booths and act as a backup in case the fire pits run low on logs.
The tradition of Sonny Bryan’s award-winning barbecue started more than a century ago on February 13, a date that would become circled on the calendar again and again throughout Bryan’s Barbecue history. February 13, 1910, marked the opening of Elias Bryan’s Oak Cliff restaurant, Bryan's Barbecue. Exactly 20 years later to the day, his eldest son, William “Red” Jennings Bryan, launched his own restaurant. When February 13 rolled around again 28 years later, Elias’ grandson, William "Sonny" Jennings Bryan Jr., and his wife, Joanne, opened another restaurant, the first Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse.
Although a different Dallas family now manages multiple locations of the restaurant chain in Utah and the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the legendary barbecue lives on. Sonny Bryan's original barbecue sauce spices up its savory pulled meats and ribs, which have been devoured by US presidents, famous entertainers, sports legends, and A-list animated Disney characters alike. Sonny's seasoned chefs also cater heaps of fresh brisket and smoked chicken to parties and events.
Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse has been on the culinary radar since 1989, snapping up awards and publicity from Food Network, the Travel Channel’s Man V. Food Nation, and Emeril Lagasse’s The Originals with Emeril. The modest joints have also earned some highbrow epicurean chops through a 2006 Zagat rating and a 2000 James Beard Foundation award for Culinary Excellence and Achievement.
Like the pumpjack from whence it gets its name, The Nodding Donkey Texas Sports Saloon exudes an air of industry and the feel of Texas. Corrugated metal siding lines awnings that shield garage-style glass doors and a red-brick patio as aromas of barbecue brisket and tex-mex tacos vie for dominance with the sound of the game. The game will win out—sixteen flat-screen TVs, including three that measure 83 inches across, display as many games as they can muster, creating a roaring backdrop for tailgate parties and feasts of classic Texas comfort food. Weekend brunch continues the Lone Star theme with reinventions of classic morning dishes such as brisket breakfast tacos and salsa-infused scrambled eggs.
Ever since opening in 1981, Mike Anderson has personally cut each piece of hickory-smoked meat plated in his restaurant. His cooks mix rubs from scratch to create a top-secret barbecue-sauce recipe from all-natural ingredients, earning a Best Barbecue nod from the Dallas Observer in 2010. The restaurant serves its menu cafeteria style; plates in hand, diners can sniff out such hearty meats as hand-pulled pork, spicy sausage links, and succulent brisket that spends the night being tenderized by Golden Gloves competitors. Homespun sides, freshly baked desserts, and a condiment bar full of pickles, peppers, and edible bibs help accessorize meals. In addition to the booth-filled dining room, the restaurant supplies a heated and covered seating area aptly named Mike's Big Deck.