With more than 6,000 square feet of grilling goodness, BBQ Island is a 'cuers paradise stocked with award-winning rubs and savory spices. Lovers of slow-cooked treats can spend a meaty summer debating the merits of Kansas City versus East Texas after packing their pantries with regional blends from across the nation. Many of BBQ Island's specialty seasonings can't be found at local grocery stores, giving browsers an opportunity to stock up on premium flavor-boosters such as Bad Byron's Butt Rub ($14.99, 24 oz.) and John Henry's Texas Brisket Rub ($9.99). BBQ Island also carries an ample supply of MSG-free, gluten-free blends for the health-conscious seasoner, including the award-winning Dizzy Pig's Dizzy Dust ($9.95), as well as offerings from locally owned Fast Eddie’s ($7.99) and Anthony's Spices.
For one afternoon each year, Lettuce Entertain You transforms one of its famed eateries into a mecca for brides-to-be, collecting the wares of both local and national retailers. Ladies linger over tables laden with dresses and invitations—categorized into vignettes such as elegant and vintage—as gown experts divulge their wisdom. To avoid being cut out of wedding photos, male counterparts sequester themselves in the Groom's Room, where man-friendly vendors toss out wardrobe and preening tips. Lettuce Entertain You disperses appetizers and drinks from a handful of their own top-rated eateries to prevent patrons from drooling over the dossiers of custom cake.
Few foods are as surrounded by controversy as barbecue. Disputes over the styles prominent in Texas, the Carolinas, and Kansas City can get serious. That's why it is for the best to let professionals handle the delicate art of smoking meats and mixing sauces. At Ribshack BBQ, all of the staples are accounted for, from racks of ribs to pulled pork. These are all accompanied by the requisite greens, coleslaw, and mac 'n' and cheese that one might expect to find in a road-side barbecue joint or lazily written country song. Thanks to a new liquor license, cold beers fuel the chatter that drifts up between bites of food.
An award-winning country-and-western hotspot, Handlebar-J serves up an invigorating menu of steaks, ribs, burgers, and more. Drooping dancers and wilting wallflowers can get perked up by protein thanks to dishes such as the Cattleman Cut, a 16 oz. porterhouse ($29), or full slabs of baby-back ribs ($19) (both served with various sides). Free country dance lessons every Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday night (at 7 p.m.) fill the air with rotating fringe, cooling off crisp chef salads ($12) and fanning piping-hot plates of fried chicken, served alongside corn on the cob, french fries, and biscuits with honey ($14). Finish dinner with a piece of chocolate cake ($4) or another round of homemade chili and beans ($10) depending on your dinner's chocolate-to-chili ratio.
Inside Allison’s Texas BBQ, a symphony of tantalizing smells dances in the air, rising from plates of tender meat that’s generously slathered in housemade sauces. Diners can tear into chopped brisket or pulled-pork sandwiches, demolish slabs of ribs with sides of beans or potatoes, and finish their meals with a slice of pecan pie. Allison’s Texas BBQ also sells brisket, chicken, and pulled pork by the pound, so you can build the meaty wedding cake of your dreams.
Each slab, slice, and link of Notorious’s meat spends three days tenderizing, flavorizing, and smokifying itself for you. Rubbed down in a secret mixture of spices, this barbecue mellows before diving into a pecan and mesquite-fired smoker for hour after hour of soaking in a veritable taste sauna. Cooked slowly overnight, it then falls apart tenderly on your plate in the form of delicious dishes such the eponymous Notorious P.I.G. sandwich, a massive pile of pulled pork topped Carolina style with blue-cheese coleslaw ($10), and the more traditional Texan, chopped brisket layered between thick slices of Texas toast ($10). Meaty platters of barbecued jalapeño sausage, pulled chicken, and hot links ($15 for all three meats) and wise-cracking full racks of loin back ribs redolent of paprika and brown sugar ($19) fulfill your belly's wildest dreams without having to fund its get-rich-quick schemes. If you're not in the mood for barbecue, reach no further than a catfish po’ boy ($9). Vegetarians can breathe a sigh of relief, since assorted grilled vegetables (with red-pepper dip, $6) get equal quantities of care from the meat makers.