Jim Buchanan impressed us last summer with Buck’s Barbeque Co. in Houston. He was serving the classic Texas smoked meats along with more creative dishes. Weekly specials like the smoked meat loaf and a brisket debris po-boy brought loyal customers to Lucky’s Lodge, where Buchanan was posted up, but the arrangement was always meant to be temporary. “It was like running a pop-up every week,” Buchanan said, so he was eager to find a permanent spot of his own. The search eventually led him and his wife Colleen to the Texas coast.
Buck’s officially debuted in Galveston on August 1, but the Buchanans had been running the restaurant under its prior name, Farley Girls Cafe, for a couple months by then. The previous owners wanted out of the restaurant business. They met with the Buchanans and came to an agreement soon after. Colleen quit her real estate job in Houston, and they packed up and moved to Galveston the next day. The menu didn’t change at first, but they soon added barbecue specials. Colleen said, “We kept getting asked, when are you going to have more barbecue?” They continued adding Buchanan’s recipes to the menu, and the transition seemed to be going well. Then the name change from Farley Girls Cafe to Buck’s Barbeque came, and there was a minor revolt from some locals.
Folks who loved the old place thought they were losing a favorite restaurant. The Buchanans understood, which is why they’ve preserved so much of the original menu. “There’s a lot of stuff that is literally exactly as it was before,” Jim told me, and that includes much of the kitchen staff. “I’m smart enough to know you don’t try and fix something that ain’t broke. This place wasn’t broke.” Recognizing that requires humility as a restaurateur, and an equal amount was shown by Buchanan’a pitmaster pride when he dropped “Barbeque” from the name. Considering the breadth of the menu, it was causing confusion with potential and returning customers. Colleen said the locals seem to be getting more comfortable with the new couple from Houston. “With the name drop, I feel like people are starting to come around,” she told me. “We’re getting a lot more love.”
The love from local permitting authorities wasn’t so forthcoming when smoking equipment was discussed. The Buchanans bought a large offset smoker from Mill Scale in anticipation of the move, but the county health department wouldn’t allow a pit room large enough to accommodate it. They had to sell the smoker. “That hurt,” Jim told me, with a wince. They now use a smaller Pitmaker Sniper offset fueled with post oak.
The by-the-pound barbecue menu hasn’t changed much from the Lucky’s Lodge days. The smoked meats are included on both the lunch and dinner menus, but not weekend brunch. That leaves Saturday dinner as the lone weekend service where barbecue platters are offered, but there are plenty of brunch dishes that feature brisket and pulled pork. I confess that I didn’t realize this when I arrived at 2 p.m. on a Saturday, but they had most everything ready for the dinner menu. It’s that dinner service that has allowed Jim’s creativity to come out.
“It’s a blast,” Jim said of working on dishes that aren’t just barbecue. He sat a bowl in front of me with perfect cubes of smoked pork belly perched atop hatch chile grits, collard greens, and fried leeks. A drizzle of blueberry barbecue sauce added a sweet and tart flavor to the tender morsels of pork. “It’s nice having a full kitchen,” he said with a laugh as I savored the first few surprising bites. This was “elevated” barbecue without the condescension usually implied by that description.
The lunch menu is more casual, featuring nine sandwiches. The brisket grilled cheese starts with Texas toast coated in garlic butter. House-made pimento cheese is slathered thick onto a single layer of sliced brisket, which is properly cast in a supporting role. The same bread and garlic butter combo is used as the bread for the Brotherton burger as well. It’s named as an homage to fellow pitmaster John Brotherton, who serves a similar sandwich in Pflugerville and taught Buchanan how to replicate it. “Par cook them on the smoker,” Buchanan said, referring to the freshly ground patties. He continued the instructions: “take them to about 100 [degrees internal temperature], take them off, put them in the freezer to shock them, then finish them to order.” Lettuce, tomato, a house sauce, and thick cut bacon top off what is one of the best smoked burgers available in Texas.
Buck’s was my last stop on a barbecue binge of the area, but it wasn’t hard to find room for the Buchanans’ twists on barbecue favorites. Galveston already had a classic Texas barbecue joint in Leon’s World’s Finest Bar-B-Que, and Pennie’s has recently added its Tex-Mex barbecue menu to the mix. Now with Buck’s, Galveston has an accomplished pitmaster pushing the boundaries of Texas barbecue, and the island is better for it.
801 Post Office St., Galveston, TX, 77550
Phone: (409) 497-4454
Hours: M-W 10:30-3, Thur-F 10:30-3 & 5:30-9, Sat 8:30-3 & 5:30-9, Sun 8:30-3
Pitmaster: Jim Buchanan
Method: Oak in an offset smoker
Year Opened: 2019