Erin Smith and Patrick Feges were never going to be satisfied running a conventional barbecue joint. When they opened the first Feges BBQ in 2018, tucked inside Greenway Plaza’s subterranean food court in Houston, the duo made good on a promise to make the sides as important as the barbecue, an unheard-of notion at the time. In June, their vision for a second restaurant became a reality, in a newly refurbished strip mall in Houston’s Spring Branch neighborhood. With both lunch and dinner service, an even more ambitious menu than the first, and a wine list rarely seen in Texas barbecue, the new Feges barbecue is one of the most appealing places to eat barbecue, or not, in town.
If the barbecue and sides were costars at the first location, the new menu features an ensemble cast. “Barbecue plus more” is how Feges describes it. The “more” includes new entrees (available all day) such as fried chicken and wood-grilled steak. The latter is a hanger steak coated in a rub of brown sugar, spices, and powdered porcini mushrooms, grilled to a perfect medium-rare. Bursting with juice and lots of umami, the sliced steak is served with romesco sauce and roasted cauliflower, and at $24 it’s a well-priced dish. Smith and Feges have also added a nicely seared double-meat, double-cheese smash burger that’s topped with caramelized onions, shredded lettuce, and “riot” sauce, yet remains tidy. It comes with fries, but better yet, ask for the Money Cat Potatoes instead (more on them later).
A few sides have been added to Smith’s already-stunning array. Her chilled elote salad, made with fresh sweet corn and browned on a hot flattop, is still a stunner, as are the Moroccan spiced carrots. They’ve been joined by chana masala, a heartily spiced Indian garbanzo bean dish; fluffy and rich hog-fat cornbread; and Money Cat Potatoes. The latter were developed by Houston chef Justin Yu, and named after the Japanese cat figurines (“maneki-neko” in Japanese) with the waving paw, which are meant to bring good luck. The dish starts with small Kennebec potatoes that are boiled, halved, and cooled. When you place an order, cooled potatoes are deep-fried until golden and crisp, tossed in gochujang (a fermented Korean chili paste that’s spicy, savory, and a bit sweet), and topped with Japanese mayonnaise and green onions. It’s an incredible combination of flavors.
Spicy Korean braised greens is another addition, and the most memorable dish of greens I’ve enjoyed in some time. It was developed by chef de cuisine Marco Coleman. He built a broth with gochujang and kale leaves, which, unlike collard or mustard greens, still retain some integrity in a completed dish. The potlikker that remains at the bottom of the bowl should be enjoyed on its own as an elixir, or sopped up with some of that cornbread.
Other greens are treated just as carefully. I’ve had so many wilted grilled salads that I’d sworn them off, but Smith encouraged me to try the charred Caesar. A half head of romaine is lightly oiled and charred over coals inside the smoker’s firebox. It’s topped with a spicy serrano Caesar dressing, shredded jack cheese, and what Smith describes as a “sh-t ton” of buttery toasted bread crumbs. It pairs well with the steak, and I’d imagine it goes nicely with a slice of brisket, which can be added to the salad for an additional charge. It took only a bite for me to realize Smith had proved me wrong about grilled romaine.
I mentioned the brisket, so let’s not forget that part of the ensemble menu is a straightforward selection of smoked meats by the pound. Thanks to a glass enclosure around the pit room, diners can see the smokers in action. The smokers produce barbecue whose quality exceeds my memories of the meat at the Greenway location, but it’s been a while since I’ve been to the original. Tender ribs had a tangy glaze. Brisket burnt ends tossed in sweet barbecue sauce and Big Red syrup were boldly colored and tender. The sliced lean brisket on my first visit was impressive, with a well-rendered fat cap and smoky bark. The only hiccup was on a second visit, when an inexperienced slicer served a dried-out brisket slice that “should have been put into the chopped beef bin,” Feges said. With meat prices so high, the temptation to cut corners is understandable. Then again, I’m not comfortable paying $26 per pound for scrap slices.
I’ve long been an advocate of wine with barbecue, and it’s a focus here. “Six years ago we were talking about barbecue and wine,” Smith said of the duo’s early plans for the restaurant of their dreams. Now she’s assembled fifteen wines for what is the most thoughtful wine list in Texas barbecue. “The intention was to select smaller producers, and producers that had a story,” Smith said. That includes, for one, a “badass father-daughter team” in Armenia producing the Keush Brut ($13 per glass), a dry sparkling wine that pairs beautifully with smoked meats. She considers the Stolpman La Cuadrilla syrah ($14 per glass) the best bargain on the list, but I snagged an excellent Soter pinot noir (half off the day I visited), whose jamminess was a perfect foil for the spicy greens. All the red wines are stored at 55 degrees, and the chill on them seemed just right in the Texas heat.
If you’ve already tried the desserts at Greenway, the Spring Branch options will be old favorites. A fluffy banana cream pie with a caramel base was like an elevated banana pudding. The famous PB + J Chocolate, composed of alternating layers of chocolate sheet cake, thinned out grape jelly, and peanut butter buttercream, is a ribboned cube of pure decadence.
The new Feges is also a comfortable place to enjoy a long meal. The handsome build-out was designed and executed by the local firm Collaborative Projects. Artist friend Laura Goodson painted artwork of stylized cowboys, both inside and out. Old black and white movies (sans audio) are projected onto a long wall of the dining room. There’s even a kids’ play area outside, complete with a metal pig head named Cupcake, a gift from local pitmaster Russell Roegels.
Feges and Smith should be commended for the restaurant they opened in the midst of such an uncertain time. They signed a lease for the space in February 2020. They had just raised capital from investors, but none of the deals were signed when the pandemic hit. They didn’t know if they’d be on the hook for what Smith describes as “a personal guarantee for more than Patrick and I will ever be worth.” Thankfully, none of the investors backed out. The restaurant opened just three months later than originally projected, and since then they’ve taken risks in a situation where it had to be tempting to play it safe. Instead of beans, coleslaw, and potato salad, Feges and Smith have given us chana masala, charred cabbage slaw, and Money Cat Potatoes. And they’re not done yet.
Feges is waiting on a cooker delivery, after which he’ll resume serving whole hog barbecue. “We want to make our own sausage. We want to bring back pork belly,” he said of the restaurant’s future plans. They’ve had to press pause on a wings menu while chicken wing prices remain high, but hope to ramp up during football season. Even without all that, Feges and Smith have opened one of the most exciting barbecue restaurants in Texas, and did it in the midst of an ongoing international crisis, all while keeping their first location profitable inside a mostly empty office building. “We’ve taken on a lot,” Feges said. “It’s a big menu and a big restaurant. We love it, but don’t ask me when we’re going to do a third one.”
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 11–9, Sunday 11–3
Pitmaster: Patrick Feges
Method: Oak in a wood-fired rotisserie
Year opened: 2021