Yee-ha. A classic East vs. West duel.
Those of you who still watch terrible television might remember Joe Walters, the singing Stetson-wearing Texan, who succeeded in becoming the Levi Roots of beef jerky by gaining investment on the BBC's long running snorefest, Dragon's Den.
But whilst that partnership went down the swanny almost before the episode had aired, the Texas Joe's brand continues to expand thanks to the continued support of their other investor, Brewdog. It will be no big surprise then to learn that Joe's inaugural incursion serving up BBQ to the masses is housed in the kitchen of Brewdog's Shoreditch location.
Boasting a stellar arsenal of beers, Brewdog is fucking awesome. One of the early 'craft' beer vendors to set up a base in London, our affinity with them stems back to the early days of their first branch in Camden, when the burgers served up there were created by Masterchef conquerer Tim Anderson. Thus any food project endorsed by them gets our all attention.
Joe favours the Central Texas style of barbecue, slow cooking the meat over a low heat with aged oak smoke. And the menu, whilst also offering the meats in sandwich form, sells their wares the tried and trusted Texan method - by the pound.
Having spent time in Central Texas ourselves and sampling world-famous 'cue from the likes of Aaron Franklin, J Mueller and many others, the prospect of obtaining it on our doorstep was exciting on paper.
Our standard what-the-hell-do-we-order quandary set in. The BBQ sampler plate coming in at a weighty £23, as well as a burger (because we have to order the burger) seemed to give us a broad mix of Joe's offering. Beef ribs, some pulled pork, I think there was a sausage maybe, and dat brisket.
The brisket was flavourful enough, the thick pink smoke ring round the outside of the slice a good reflection of the deep smokey taste of the meat, mixed with the casual pepperiness of the rub on the outside.
A decent attempt.
But it was cold. Like stone fucking cold.
It had clearly been cut much earlier in the day, so even though it was soft, there was no juiciness to the meat. Rigor mortis dining.
The beef rib had two bones in it, but were also ancient - carbon-dry and the scrag end of the rack. The bits that other restaurants might not send out.
The pork was fine.
But the biggest complaint must come down to a huge un-Texan mistake. One single napkin each, and a tiny miserable wipe of sauce in one of those wee little dishes normally used in Pizza Express to mix olive oil and balsamic. Made more vexing by the fact the sauce is fucking excellent, but you only get enough for a fleeting glance with every other bite.
Colossal oversight and one that hasn't been fixed. There should be bottles of the stuff on the table and kitchen roll everywhere.
So let's move on to the burger.
It wasn't good.
Choosing to serve a burger where the most prominent feature is a few mundane slices of tomato was baffling. Maybe it was deliberate, as underneath them lay a greasy melted unidentifiable cheese and a burnt patty.
Cutting it in half revealed the obvious overcooking of the meat, which only had tiny glimpses of pink. The only saving grace were the flecks of pickle and chipotle that mixed sharp and spicy nuances through the meat. We're not advocates of sullying patties at all, but in this case it was a blessing.
Served up on a tough, crusty and frankly bizarre wholemeal roll that had been given it's time to go stale, even with the smothering of house burger sauce they had given it, the whole concoction was too dry and not pleasurable to eat in any way.
But hang on there partner. We've not reached the bleakest part yet.
The chilli cheese fries
Serving a bland, sauce-less Bolognese with grated cheddar lobbed on it is a proper insult to Texas chilli. Word is they have just introduced Frito pies to the menu - if the chili they use on this as anything like the one on the fries do not fucking order it, because it will not do those Fritos justice. At all.
But soft! What potential through yonder kitchen breaks? While we appreciate the passion to bring the taste of Texas to the uncultured barbecue palates of us Londoners, what is being served up at Joe's is haphazard and the kitchen could probably be better seeing some more discipline and attention to detail. Perhaps with their own proper restaurant which is rumoured to be in the works, they can exercise more control over how things are served.
So with Shoreditch not really yanking our plank, we ride West, to the newest Brewdog and the second Joe outpost. Does it fare better?
What a difference a few weeks and a fresh new location make.
With Texas Joe's cracking open their second kitchen in Brewdog's Shepherd's Bush branch just across the common from one of our offices, and the severely limited lunch options otherwise, it seemed cruel not to give this barbecue another crack of the whip.
This is much bigger than the Shoreditch site, with a bunch ton of seating and plenty of room to boot. Irregular wooden paneling, bare metal beams dug out of brick pillars, corrogated iron, and steel oil drums for tables make the place look like something from the Industrial zone in The Crystal Maze. It's alright.
It's also distinctly lacking in clientele much of the time. This is because Shepherd's Bush is not au fait with Brewdog-style establishments. There are no bearded men with glasses and chambray-lined jackets here. The only other establishment of similar ilk is the Defector's Weld across the way, often used as the defence against comments that the Bush is decidedly un-with it.
Considering we were the only people in the whole pub, the food took a fucking age to turn up. But it looked worth it with the arrival of the brisket plate.
Broad juicy slabs of brisket, replete with a hefty dark bark and wide pink smoke ring adorned the tray. Although it looked suspiciously like it had been pre-sliced and reheated, the meat was easily-pull-apart soft, revealing visibly moist shreds of beef with great texture. The distinct yet subtle smoke had penetrated throughout the meat, making each bite squishy and flavoursome - the good-it-doesn't-need-sauce kind.
The most refreshing surprise? The cornbread that accompanied the plate - maybe a touch dry, but brilliantly crumbly with the desired hints of sweetness and savoury and fragments of jalapenos added for good measure.
The burger still arrived with its frankly ridiculous wholemeal bun, but this time an absolute waterfall of melted cheese encompassed the patty. Much simpler in its construction, the unnecessary tomato slices had been disposed of and the questionable sloppy burger sauce omitted in flavour of a rich, spicy blended tomato sauce with a neat little kick in it. And while the sauce on bottom bun was lacking, an additional dose of the stuff had been included which was liberally spanked on top of the cheese.
While the bun is still ridiculous, the fact that it was earlier in the day and fresh out of the kitchen made it loads softer. And although the burger was still overcooked, it was still moist and all-in-all the mouthful was supple and quite tasty.
It all seems still to be a work in progress, with some things needing more work than others. The wings were smokey, but just that. The soupy bowl of beans only really gave off a bit of heat and no flavour, and the slaw was tasteless.
The pork ribs are solid too, with a lovely salty bark and a generous meat-to-bone ratio. We're also quite fond of the cutesy nachos - each individually filled with cheese, sour cream, chillies, brisket and beans. Almost a Texan canapé.
The stuffed jalapenos sound good on paper but are a disappointment IRL. The bacon wrap falls off immediately and the cheesey brisket centre is oddly tasteless and for want of a better comparison: snot-like.
You go for the beer - the meat and the sides are a bonus. If our experiences with Joe's wares have taught us anything then it is:
- West is, for the first time ever, best
- The menu is still in flux
- Stick with the beef
- Get there early when the food is fresher
- Beg for extra sauce
- Rob & Simon.
They're looking to improve the burger bun
- The Shoreditch burger has since been improved and the man responsible for it has been dealt with