Chow, Baby: Friday, September 29, 2004
Stockin’ Up

A couple of weeks ago, when Hurricane Ivan was threatening the Gulf Coast, one of Chow, Baby’s sisters called from New Orleans. “We’re all evacuating now,” she said cheerfully. “You’ve got about 10 hours to get ready for company.” Chow, Baby’s messy house was the least of its concerns. As its immediate family includes two vegetarians, two Weight Watchers, and a diabetic, Chow, Baby had just 10 hours to get a week’s worth of meat, fat, and sugar fixes. Avant le deluge, so to speak.

Time was of the essence, but if Chow, Baby wanted a patty it would remember fondly for days, it had to be Johnny B’s, way the hell up in Southlake (2704 E. Southlake Blvd.). This is not the kind of place Chow, Baby would normally set its dainty toe in — a faux-’50s diner in a suburban strip mall — but word, these are some seriously savory burgers. From the top: The sweet sourdough bun, about the size of a dinner roll, is grill-toasted in real butter; the “secret sauce” is a tangy Thousand Island; the meat is fresh, never frozen, grilled to order and dusted with seasoned salt. The full-of-flavor patties are on the teeny side, 3.2 ounces each (for those who learned math from coaches, that’s less than a quarter pound), so you definitely want at least a double ($3.49). Add a side of handcut fries, and that takes care of the meat and fat. The sugar, lots of it, is in the shakes. Johnny B’s sticks with the basics — chocolate, vanilla, and real-strawberries strawberry ($2.49) — and mixes them when you order.

And that’s about it: classic burgers, fries, and shakes. Classic blues-rock on the stereo suits the space perfectly. The only hip new restaurant trend going on here is one that Chow, Baby wholeheartedly supports: real art on the walls. Local artist Shawn Rees has several mesmerizing pieces on display — dibs on “Middle C,” so don’t get any ideas — and is also currently showing at another Chow, Baby fave, Chef Point Café in Watauga.

The blindingly white cafeteria-like setting of Smokin’ K Barbeque sure could use some of Rees’ pieces. Or maybe a plant. Or just one window that’s not curtained and painted over — on second thought, the cover-up may not be a bad idea. Like Chef Point, Smokin’ K offers surprisingly good food in a corner of a gas station — here, the Shell at Randol Mill and East 820.

The menu is split pretty evenly between barbecue and Mexican standards; Chow, Baby, with now just three hours to go before family arrival, ate pretty much everything. Sliced brisket (plate, $6.25) lacked a red ring of smoke but was tender and tasty nonetheless, and the sweet-spicy sauce was just right. The pulled-pork sandwich ($3) was piled high and was exquisitely tasty. Reinforcing the cafeteria feeling, though, the sausage looked and tasted store-bought, and many of the sides had an aftertaste of five-gallon bucket.

The Mexican side of the menu is all-star, especially the double-fisted breakfast burrito ($2.50) and the soft taco plate ($6.50 for four tacos — the chicken is the best — plus beans and rice). After all that, cramming in the very good peach cobbler ($1.50) was difficult, but worth it. Chow, Baby rolled home just in time to scrubbing-bubble the shower, all ready to face a week of tofu, melba toast, and the Splenda of a family visit.

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