If you want to picture Marty B’s, in Bartonville, imagine the opposite of Snow’s BBQ, in Lexington. While the number one barbecue joint in Texas is quaint—with picnic tables for seating and a kitchen of only steel pits covered by a tin roof—Marty B’s is massive. A second-floor dining room is reserved for adults. Diners sit around gas-fueled outdoor firepits to roast marshmallows, while others enjoy live music performed on the stage next to the building (which the restaurant’s neighbors aren’t all that happy about). What Snow’s and Marty B’s do have in common is barbecue, long waits, and the family that runs them both.
Marty B is Marty Bryan, who was born in Lexington. He’s the cousin of Kerry Bexley, who owns Snow’s. Bexley is also a fan of the steaks at Marty B’s and urged me to drive up to the fifteen-month-old restaurant built right across Farm-to-Market Road 407 from the upscale Lantana development. Be prepared to wait for a steak if you show up on a Saturday night, like I did.
My family and I put our name on the list and left our phone number for an estimated wait of an hour. The hostess was off by forty minutes, on the wrong side of that hour, and by then we were starving for the 44 Farms steaks. The high-quality cuts of Angus ribeye ($40 for twelve ounces), tenderloin ($38 for eight ounces), and strip ($30 for twelve ounces) arrived quickly. They were cooked close enough to the medium-rare we had all ordered and were covered in a thick layer of salt, pepper, and garlic seasoning plus positively drenched in melted butter. Now, I like SPG and butter. Loads of both can make a lesser steak punch above its weight, like cream and sugar in hotel-lobby coffee, but when I’m paying for expensive coffee or beef, that’s want I want to taste. Not leaving well enough alone became a theme across three visits to Marty B’s.
“I think our barbecue has gotten better since we opened,” said Bryan, a restaurant veteran of Outback Steakhouse and Cotton Patch Cafe. He noted the dedication of his pitmaster, Jerry Lisby, who also arrived at Marty B’s from outside the barbecue profession. He worked for pharmaceutical giant McKesson but enjoyed food service so much he cooked in restaurants like Babe’s in Carrollton and Victor’s Wood Grill, in Coppell, as side jobs. Lisby is a Texas barbecue nerd in the best sense of the word. In 2006 he documented his barbecue road trip through Central Texas. He led Bryan on another to prepare for the restaurant’s opening, with stops that included Stiles Switch, in Austin, Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue, in Pflugerville, and Southside Market, in Elgin. At the last of those, they were convinced that an Oyler rotisserie smoker was the proper equipment for them. Lisby runs two at Marty B’s, fueled with oak.
Lisby knew how to cook, but figuring out barbecue in a rotisserie involved a learning curve. He would get the meats started and the fire going, and after leaving, he would hope the smoker wouldn’t use too much heat in the hours he was gone. It was a potential disaster early on. “The first couple weeks we were open, I would get here [in the morning], and it was down to one hundred degrees,” he said. He asked Bryan to install cameras trained on the thermometers that he could monitor from his phone. “If it’s down below thirty degrees [outside], I’m setting the alarm for two o’clock in the morning so I can get up, look at the camera, and check where my mark is,” Lisby said. Unfortunately for him, I bet he’s had some really early mornings during North Texas’s recent cold snap.
Once the meats come off the smoker, they are out of Lisby’s hands. Another staff member prepares them for plating. The expensive Compart Duroc pork ribs, for example, are seasoned and smoked to tenderness then sent to the cutting block, where a dry rub is heavily applied just before they’re sent out to the table. The raw salt, sugar, and pepper provide a crunch reminiscent of sand on the otherwise well-cooked ribs. They’d be better without the extra flourish. So would the green beans, which are freshly cooked then topped with a heavy coating of SPG just before serving. The seasoning isn’t even mixed in. Street corn starts with sweet kernels shucked from the cob, but then they’re covered in so much crema, butter, cheese, and spices that the use of good corn is lost. And don’t get me started on the Hershey’s syrup that sullies the warm chocolate sheet cake.
A smoked quarter chicken was juicy, but the heavy rub didn’t allow the skin to crisp or absorb much of the smoke. That’s a shame when the restaurant is spending extra on antibiotic-free, cage-free chickens from Red Bird Farms. Thankfully, the brisket from 44 Farms is the exception. The beef flavor comes through, along with a good balance of smoke and salt. Nothing additional is poured, dusted, slathered, or melted over the brisket slices, other than its own decadent fat. I’d go back just for another slice, especially if it comes with the not-your-average barbecue sides of grilled asparagus and buttery au gratin potatoes.
The briskets are well sculpted before going into the smoker, and the scraps are put to good use. While Marty B’s forebears in Central Texas grind the trimmings from their briskets to make smoked sausages, Lisby grinds them up with house-made croutons for smoked meatballs and bacon-wrapped meat loaf. The smoked meat loaf is available only on Mondays. It’s a rich slab of meat and fat with a subtle smokiness. The meatballs are offered as an appetizer. After smoking, they’re dropped in a deep fryer to crisp the exterior, then they’re served with barbecue sauce and jalapeño ranch. The same ranch sauce is served with the whole smoked jalapeños. They’re stuffed with a cheese mixture, wrapped in bacon, and smoked again. The outer layer of bacon melds with the jalapeño to form a cohesive layer of smoke and spice.
There are a few Tex-Mex offerings like tacos, nachos, fajitas, and brisket-topped queso. Lisby said the sleeper of the menu is the Texican Tamale Cake. Freshly shucked sweet corn is used to make corn griddle cakes topped with barbecue and coleslaw. I chose the pulled pork, which came out in juicy strands hidden beneath too much slaw. When I gathered some of the sweet corn cake, smoky pork, and crunchy slaw into one bite, I understood why Lisby was taken with the dish.
I’ve happily waited an hour and forty minutes for the best barbecue in Texas at Snow’s BBQ. I can’t say I’m willing to do the same at Marty B’s. Skip the dinner crowds, and go at lunchtime. The restaurant was nearly empty during my two weekday visits. It’s worth a trip to try the brisket and a few other creative items, but don’t expect the best barbecue in Texas. Even Bryan said he knew his inferior place in the barbecue firmament when he made a joke referring to Bexley at Snow’s. “I only want to be second to Kerry.”