Thursday, May 13, 2021

Smiley's BBQ, Roanoke


sampled 5/13/21 about 11 am

This is a joint we had sampled at Red Dirt a couple of weeks back and we decided we wanted to try a little more of the menu.  Their brisket sample I had in Tyler was well rendered but I didn't notice any smoke flavor.  Smiley's is located inside a small food court called Oak Street Food and Brews.  The small parking lot next door was full, but I had no problem finding a spot on the street.  

I placed my order but was soon called back to the counter.  It seemed they had a special reduced menu on Thursday.  No sliced brisket, just chopped.  No sausage.  No brisket balls (their specialty item).  I settled for a couple of spare ribs and half a pound of chopped brisket.  Scott and Roy arrived and I gave them the bad news.  They drove from Dallas and were as disappointed as I with the limited menu.

Despite lots of bark on the chopped brisket I could not detect any smoke flavor.  Probably because all the fat had been trimmed off.  It reminded me of chopped roast beef.  It was tender and moist.  The ribs were under cooked and very tough.  The peppery rub reminded me a bit of Louie Mueller's and added a nice flavor.  

I would think in these modern times with websites and social media, both of which I checked in advance, any alterations to the menu would be made public.  If we do make another trip to Roanoke we will call first to find out what they are serving.

Hard 8 BBQ, Roanoke


sampled 5/13/21 about 11:45 am

After visiting Smiley's we walked a couple of blocks down Oak Street to Hard 8.  They have several other locations but my past experience found my two favorite items were their central Texas style beans and their brush poppers.  There was zero line at 11:45 am and I ordered 2 pounds of chicken brush poppers to go.  By the time we checked out there were about 20 people waiting.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Red Dirt BBQ and Music Fest 2020/2021


Well, it took awhile, but the VIP tickets we purchased back on February 7, 2020 finally turned into BBQ on May 1, 2021. After two postponements due to the Cooties from China, the fest finally happened.  At each postponement, they offered refunds for those that wanted them but we held tight to our tickets.  As this was the first major BBQ fest to happen since the shutdown a few minor glitches were to be expected.  I heard the fest has also changed hands and that probably didn't help, either.  Previously, we had considered this one of the best run BBQ fests along with Houston.

In early 2021 the website still listed 34 BBQ joints.  In the past, Red Dirt had many Texas Monthly Top 50 participants.  Black's, Kreuz, Snow's, Louie Mueller's, Miller's Smokehouse, Lockhart Smokehouse, Micklethwaite, Schmidt Family, Riverport, Stanley's Famous, Cattleack, Country Tavern, and others were regulars.  None of those joints participated this year.  It is particularly strange that Stanley's did not participate as they are only a few blocks away from the festival site.  Of the 21 joints I counted, I only recognized 7 of them.  I'm not really sure what was going on there, but it seems there may be some dirt to dig up on Red Dirt.  There were still some top joints in attendance.  Heim, Hutchin's, 2M Smokehouse, Tejas BBQ & Chocolate, Roegels, and Meat Church were there and serving.

The first sign something was weird this year was a notice on their rules and FAQ.  For some reason they banned trays.  Since the very first BBQ fest we ever attended, we have brought along some beer flats to use as trays for gathering our BBQ samples.  With VIP tickets it is more efficient to hit a bunch of booths, gather a bunch of samples, then sit down and enjoy a bunch of BBQ.  It is also better if you like to take pictures of the samples, which I do.  Some folks have gone to the next level and built or crafted their own wooden or metal trays which they take to BBQ fests all over Texas.  A lot of people asked about this new rule on their Facebook page and I sent them an e-mail myself asking why they had made that rule.  No reply ever came.  

They re-arranged the site this year and moved the entrance to the southwest corner of the square.  The stage for the music part of the festival was moved over to the east side.  That was fine except for the drive through bank lanes who had no way to exit onto a street full of people.  I think there may have been some cussing from those bank customers.

We arrived about 10:45 am, about 15 minutes before VIP registration began, and found ourselves a place about 60 people back from the front of the line.  They set up 3 lines going down the street with VIPs going down the sidewalk and general admission and music only lines down the street.  They had a beer coupon tent set up on the other sidewalk where you could get your beer band ID and extra beer tickets, if you needed them.  Almost no one in line was wearing a mask including most of the workers.  That was not a problem for us, as we have had our shots, but I had to wonder how many of the thousands of participants didn't.

After about 30 minutes the ladies came down the line and scanned our tickets and put on our VIP wristbands.  After a long wait, I asked someone if they were going to scan for beer IDs and give us our 2 VIP beer tickets.  The lady said she had no idea what was going on.  Hmm.  Around 11:45 two more ladies came down the line with a big bundle of envelopes in their arms.  The envelopes contained our t-shirt coupons and beer coupons.  Still no sign of a scanner for beer IDs or bands.  I asked the envelope lady about that and she did not know either.  

The gates opened on time at noon and we were off to the BBQ races.  There was no temperature check at the gate despite a notice that was going to happen.  Since we hadn't gotten our beer ID scan in line we stopped at the first beer ticket tent inside and got that done.  After that it was all about the BBQ.  

As usual I fasted for 24 hours before the fest.  With their stupid no tray rule I decided I'd just eat in line.  Scott got creative and brought a big bag from the Houston BBQ fest which he filled with BBQ boats.  Nobody bothered him because a bag is definitely not a tray.  Kudos Scott.  

My favorite bites of the day were the brisket and pork belly from Brisket Love, Heim's bacon burnt ends, Hutchin's beef rib slider and Texas torpedo slice, Smiley's brisket, and some interesting tamale sausage which I think was from Hill BBQ.  There was a lot of non-BBQ on offer.  Chicken wings, steak, several joints had tri-tip, fried boudin balls from Sunbird (which were tasty), turkey, and more.  The only 2 desserts I saw were Tejas Chocolate and BBQ's always excellent chocolate mousse and some tasty banana pudding from Brett's Backyard BBQ.  I heard later that one spot had some chocolate cake, but I must have missed that.  

As usual there were lots of pulled pork tacos, plenty of sausage, but only one place had ribs (and they didn't last long).  Less than half the joints had brisket, which I find a bit strange at a Texas BBQ festival.

After gnoshing my way through all 21 booths I stopped off to get my t-shirt at the Red Dirt booth.  Too bad, they were already out of 3X only 30 minutes after they opened the gates.  Now come on, really?  That's some piss poor planning.  Houston sends out an e-mail to all their VIPs to ask them what shirt size they will need.  It's not exactly rocket science.  Anyone want a 2X Red Dirt shirt?

The new set up also cut back on the tables and eating space.  At previous Red Dirt fests they had a large tent with lots of tables.  This time most of the tables were in the open and in the VIP area.  Fortunately for us, the rain held off until later in the evening.  There was one small tent with about a dozen bar tables with no seating.  Not an improvement.  There were also lot more non-BBQ vendors on site.  

Overall, this fest was a bit of a disappointment.  We have purchased VIP tickets for all but one of the Red Dirt fests so we are used to a much more efficient operation than we saw this year.  We're also used to a lot more brisket at the booths and a lot more booths.  With a new operator and being the first major fest since the pandemic a few minor glitches were not really surprising.  However based on our experience this year I suspect next year we will not be making the drive to Tyler.  For $145 I can buy a lot of great local BBQ without the drive.

Two sets of photos of booths and food follow.  As always, clicking on any photo will give a larger view.

Red Dirt 2020/2021 booth and food photos, part1


Red Dirt 2020/2021 booth and food photos, part 2