On my first visit back in October, I thought that Billy Woodrich of Billy’s Oak Acres was smoking the best brisket in Fort Worth. It was smoky, moist, and perfectly tender showing some real skill from whoever was tending the pit. Since then, my opinion has wandered back and forth a bit over several visits where the restaurant seemed to be schizophrenic. It turns out it was all in Woodrich’s head, but it was just a root canal.
When you take the Las Vegas Trail exit from 820 it doesn’t look like there’s much in the way of barbecue nearby. Just keep driving north past the apartments and around the curve where you’ll likely see a few trucks parked in front of the clapboard building that sits just off the road. Look for the old metal sign that reads “BEER.”
Billy Woodrich opened this place last year in a building that has intermittently housed a barbecue joint since the fifties. That’s when the brick pit was installed that is still used today. I asked Billy how he found himself on the outskirts of Fort Worth smoking barbecue. He said he lived in a fancy neighborhood “with sidewalks and swimming pools.” When he brought in the third smoker the neighbors quit being polite about his backyard catering business. He had to find a restaurant. He found this place and a smaller house not far from the restaurant. In a fit of decisiveness he said he got home the day he found it and told his wife “I bought us a new house and a restaurant.” He says her support hasn’t faltered since then, and neither have the crowds.
And for good reason. During my most recent visit I got the Wednesday pork chop special. Two slices of pork loin cut an inch thick, were served along with two sides for $11. There’s nearly enough there for two, but it’s not just about quantity. Woodrich knows how to cook, and it shows with his thoughtfulness in the pork loin cut. It is notoriously dry, so he smokes it to 140 degree internal temperature before pulling it off the pit and placing it in the warmer. For each order he cuts two slices from the not-quite-cooked loin, seasons it, and finishes it on his steak grill. The result is a smoky piece of incredible pork that is still intensely juicy.
His life hasn’t always been about barbecue. “Slingin’ divorce papers and cookin’ food. That’s all I know how to do” he told me during a lunch visit. His burly build and easy-to-summon scowl make it easy to envision him in his former life as a bounty hunter as well. He still does a few of the bounty hunter jobs for some of his lawyer buddies, but he left doing that work full time because “going to court every day will crush your soul.” He does admit “it’s still fun now and then.” I was surprised to learn he is also a model. Just a week ago he had photographers in the restaurant from a Japanese Dickie’s catalog. He ate ribs while he wore his branded work clothes. A large, goateed white man eating pork ribs is evidently what does it for those in Japan who covet American bib overalls.
The barbecue menu is as blue collar as Woodrich’s clothing. Several meat options including brisket, ribs, sausage, pulled pork and turkey are available as a sandwich, plate, or combo plate (ribs were once excluded as a combo option, but no longer). The sides of potato salad, slaw, pinto beans, green beans, and pea salad don’t get fancy either, but they’re almost all great. Minus the canned green beans, the sides are made in house. Woodrich chops whole heads of cabbage and boils red skin potatoes. While the classic slaw has a nice crunch, I prefer the potato salad and simple pinto beans. And the pea salad is a pretty good way to get your greens.
As for the smoked meats, I’d skip the limp deli turkey and the commercial sausage. The pork ribs are good with a sweet glaze and subtle smoky notes. The texture can get a bit toothsome, but they’re definitely worth ordering. The pork shoulder is also a standout with its sweet, black bark. It takes all night to get that smoky hue, so Billy’s father comes in at 6:00 to stoke the fires and check the meat. Billy himself comes in a few hours later at 9:00am, but doesn’t leave until midnight when the final logs of the night go on the fire.
After four visits, there was only one real hiccup. I ordered the open-faced “Franklin Sandwich” (not pictured) which comes with brisket and sausage. The brisket wasn’t anywhere near what I had on the first visit, and I tweeted as much. Billy’s reply was a cheeky “thanx a lot.” I told him on a later visit that it had seemed like a different restaurant that day. He agreed. He had come in while in a pain medication-induced haze trying to stave off an eventual root canal. The dental work has been taken care of, and since then the brisket just kept getting better. A sandwich piled with moist slices of fatty brisket was served on my final visit last week. The bun was buttered and warm, and the meat inside was tender and smoky. This was brisket worth the drive.
Its not until the dessert course that you feel like you stepped into a swanky downtown supper club. Pecans and caramel are melted under the broiler into the top of a moist pound cake. Pie crust made by Woodrich’s mother is filled with his artful caramel and apple filling, and the rich banana pudding is topped with chessmen cookies rather than the more familiar Nilla wafers. You just can’t go wrong on the final course.
Woodrich isn’t successful just because he can cook. He’s a classic entrepreneur with a case of systematic frugality and an independent streak. He cares about the type of beef he’s cooking, but that won’t keep him from clearing Albertson’s out of briskets (and getting the evil eye from their manager) when they go on sale. He utilizes an ancient water tank mounted above the pit which is heated by the residuals from the pit. The water is hot enough by the end of the day to wash out the pit room floor. There’s also a grease spigot off to the side of that pit where he collects the beef and pork drippings. The local bio-diesel folks give him a couple hundred bucks every month for what others might consider waste.
But that old pit giveth as well as taketh away. A damper malfunctioned a few weeks ago burning up a whole load of briskets overnight. Luckily he’s got a couple fryers and what I hear is a great version of chicken fried steak (Thursday & Sunday only). Fried catfish is on Fridays too, but I’ve only eaten the barbecue. He’s going to have to sell a bunch of all three given his future plans. Billy’s Oak Acres will appear on an upcoming episode of Hungry Investors, and he’s banking on the popularity of the show to bring him the customers he needs for a second location already in the works near downtown Fort Worth. Hopefully that means there will soon be two locations to get the best brisket in Fort Worth, but I’m sure Fort Worth is happy enough, for now, with just one.