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 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 famous entertainers, sports legends, and A-list celebrities alike. Sonny's seasoned chefs also cater heaps of smoked brisket and jalape?o sausage 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 101 Tastiest Places to Chowdown, 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.
In 1961, J.B. Wilson founded his own barbecue eatery and populated the menu with recipes of his own design. These recipes remained unchanged throughout the years, as did his signature welcome—greeting customers in a top hat and cane. When he fell ill in 2004, he passed the business’s reins to his close friend Amos Adetula. Afraid that J.B’s recipes would otherwise be lost forever, Amos graciously agreed to lead the restaurant into the future. His legacy now secure, Mr. Wilson passed away three days later.
Today, Amos still makes all the original sauces for the restaurant's ribs, brisket, and pork himself, including the sweet sauce that adorns the restaurant’s signature baked beans. Savory dishes complement sweet-potato or buttermilk pies, which the staff makes by hand from scratch each day. A number of longneck brews stands at the ready to cool diners’ tongues in the wake of smoked meats, hot baked potatoes, and periodic fire-breathing competitions. Inside the original location on Apache, large plasma televisions adorn the exposed log cabin–style walls, hanging above booths bedecked in the original black and red checkered style. Outside the eatery's confines, breezy outdoor seating around an original built-in concrete fire pit encourages frequent fresh-air feasts. When lovers of Wilson's require the food to come to them, culinary crews transport the eatery’s fare with full offsite catering services for events such as tailgate parties, where staffers set up and break down after the meal.
The scent of barbecued meats fills Railhead Smokehouse, the aromas of chicken, sausage, and beef all blending together. Those meats appear in the dining room on platters alongside staple sides like slaw and potato salad or on sandwiches dripping with sauce. That sauce is so well known that the restaurant sells it online all over the country, though they also sling smoked turkey, jalapeno sausage, and ribs dry rubbed in the Saint Louis style. Neon signs and framed photos above the bar encourage diners to stay a while for a beer after their meal, though there's also a sunny patio ideal for post-lunch chatter.
Cousin’s Bar-B-Q’s sauce-soaked menu teems with classic dishes made with chopped and smoked meats, plus a medley of hearty sides. Carnivorous concoctions including pulled pork ($7.99) and chopped beef brisket ($8.99) join sides such as sweet ranch beans and carrot-raisin salad, giving jaws a workout while toning tongues’ six-pack abs. Sandwiches stack one protein ($4.89) or two ($5.99), and a cavalcade of smoked meats including boneless chicken breast ($10.99/lb.) offers unadorned taste that far surpasses an all-dough pizza or an ice sandwich. Cousin’s Alliance Town Center location, known as Cousin’s Urban BBQ, boasts additional sandwiches and eclectic entrees, such as the Texican tacos plate, a border-blurring pile of chipotle-mango salsa, coleslaw, and cilantro atop brisket, pulled pork, or chicken ($7.99 for 2, $8.99 for 3).
A community institution since 1956, Vance Godbey’s all-you-can-eat Sunday buffet promotes festive feasting across four sprawling dining rooms in a historic converted ranch-style house. Spirited family gatherings and incorporeal families of spirits can refuel with as much high-quality homestyle cooking as each eater desires. Grab a juicy filet mignon or sidle up to some tender brisket meat and adorn it with a side of sweet potatoes, sautéed spinach, or buttered corn. The salad selection abounds with corn, pasta, and crabmeat, and sweets-loving patrons can munch on flaky peach cobbler or run their hands through an endless supply of banana pudding.
Dickey's Barbecue Pit may have expanded into hundreds of franchises throughout the country since first opening in Dallas in 1941, but each restaurant's dedication to creating the best Texas-style smoked meats remains the same as the original's. Every new franchise goes through a training process called Barbecue U, where owners learn the ins and outs of food preparation and customer service as founder Travis Dickey practiced more than 70 years ago. And considering two of Travis's primary tenets were authenticity and barbecue sauce, it's not surprising that both of those things rank high on Barbecue U's curriculum.
Yet despite all these other points of focus, pit-smoked meats—from beef brisket to fall-off-the-bone pork ribs—are still the core of what makes Dickey's great. Because these tried-and-true staples never fail to keep customers coming back for more, Dickey's changes very little about its menu. In fact, the first major change in 50 years happened just recently: a spicy cheddar sausage intended to be a limited-time offering was so popular that it was inducted onto the menu permanently. Aside from that, Roland Dickey, Jr. (Travis's grandson) stays true to his family's original vision, aiming for a friendly, down-home ambiance where guests can help themselves to free extras such as buttered rolls, soft-serve ice cream, and breathable oxygen.