At four month old Gas Monkey Bar and Grill, I thought I was walking into a made for T.V. joke where barbecue was going to be the punch line. Muscle car makeover maestro Richard Ray Rawlings started in the business world with an advertising and printing firm in Dallas. He sold that for a bundle and used the money to build a hobby – Gas Monkey Garage. From that shop came the merchandise line, the reality show Fast N’ Loud, and now a restaurant. On a recent episode of Fast ‘N Loud he even visited the Slow Bone, so Rawlings as least knows where to find good barbecue.

I guess restaurant doesn’t quite describe it. The place is more like an entertainment complex. There’s a long bar area with a dozen flat screens surrounding the long oval of a bar top and a huge outdoor stage for live music shows like Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Cody Canada, and the Reverend Horton Heat. Think Stubb’s in Austin, but with better barbecue. There’s also a merchandise store on one end of the dining room which my server invited me to peruse while the kitchen prepared my order. No worries as my purchases could be rolled into my lunch bill. That’s a first.

The menu is basically burgers and barbecue. There is pulled pork, chicken, and hot links (which will all have to wait for another visit) along with brisket, and both beef and pork ribs. The menu says they’re all oak smoked, but Victor came out from the kitchen to tell us that they use a lot of mesquite these days. From speaking to Victor it seems the barbecue has been evolving since they opened. They weren’t expecting such large demand for smoked meats, and are therefore on their third Southern Pride smoker, with each version increasing in size and capacity. One thing that hasn’t changed is their brisket method. Certified Angus Beef briskets are rubbed with salt and pepper and smoked all day long. The finished briskets are then cryovaced and kept cold overnight. For service, the meat is placed in a warmer to get back up to temperature, then unwrapped, sliced and served. The result was better than I expected, but the process has its flaws.

A generous amount of fresh cracked black pepper created a bold first bite of brisket. The smoke was prominent and the meat was more moist than it looked. I appreciated that the server asked if I preferred lean, fatty, or both. I went with both, and the fatty end came with a huge chunk of attached fat that should have been trimmed off. This was moist flavorful brisket, but both my dining companion and I thought it tasted a bit less than fresh. After talking with Victor, we knew why.

I tried to find a way to add some ribs onto my brisket plate, but the only way to try any of the meats here is to order a full dinner with two sides. There are no combo plates. The pork ribs are available by the half and full rack, and they suffered more from the reheating than the brisket. A generous application of sauce provided most of the character, and the meat beneath was a bit mushy with a washed out flavor. The unsauced version that came out of the smoker the day prior was probably pretty damn good.

There are a good amount of inventive sides to choose from. Fried green beans (no batter), red chile grits, and well seasoned, crispy fries were all worth ordering again. Pasty mashed potatoes and a scant serving of asparagus were less successful, and for God’s sake get the truffle oil out of the otherwise good mac & cheese.

The surprise of the day was the beef short rib. At $16.99 for a very large rib and two sides, this might be the best value beef rib in town. The one on my plate was easily a pound, which at Pecan Lodge would cost you $18 without the sides. The texture was also spot on. The meat pulled easily away into tender, moist strips. The rib was smoky, and a light glaze of sauce (not as heavy as on the pork ribs) didn’t overpower the beef. This was a good enough beef rib to warrant a return trip. More amazingly, it too had been smoked the day before.

A commendable slice of buttermilk pie finished off the meal. It was coated a bit heavily with a lemon drizzle, but the crust was buttery and flaky and the filling was rich without being too sweet. It was a good conclusion to a better lunch than I was expecting.

The bottom line is that Gas Monkey Bar and Grill serves better barbecue than they have to. The draw here is the bar, the music, and the chance to rub shoulders with a local reality television star. Regardless, it was packed with diners during a routine Monday lunch hour and I doubt anyone was expecting Rawlings to drop by. When he does, I bet he gets the beef rib.