Melissa Perkins grew up in Colbert, Oklahoma just across the Red River from Texas around the same time that the legendary PO Sam had his barbecue joint along Franklin Street in Colbert. A friend of hers worked at the barbecue joint, so when she took her friend to PO Sam’s after school she’d get a barbecue sandwich as payment for the ride. That’s where Perkins developed an affinity for Sam’s barbecue, and more importantly for his famous brown gravy sauce. Many years later she serves her own version of that sauce at Perk’s, a tiny walk-up joint on the west edge of Savoy, Texas.
“Nobody’s got his recipe,” Perkins says of PO Sam’s sauce, but she uses meat drippings from the smoker just like he did. Drippings from which of the meats she won’t tell, but maybe it’s all of them. I do know those drippings are thickened, probably with flour, then fortified with chili powder and what I thought tasted like pureed jalapeno. Perkins swears it’s just red pepper. That’s just a testimony to the complexity of this sauce. It’s one of the best and most memorable sauces I’ve tried anywhere. It’s not too smoky, to thick, or too thin. This isn’t a sauce shy to call itself hot, but doesn’t set your mouth on fire just for the sake of it. It’s great by itself, but it can certainly elevate anything it touches.
It doesn’t hurt when the pulled pork sandwich is already full of moist black bits of crusty shoulder meat. It sits between a buttered and grilled white bun. Perkins suggested I add sausage for a combo sandwich, but I’d skip the cheap commercial sausage in favor of the superior hot links hailing from nearby Mineola. In fact, I’d probably skip those too. Pork and brown gravy sauce on a bun will be hard to beat, but you have to ask for that brown gravy sauce. If not you’ll only be offered hot or mild tomato-based sauces.
I tried other sandwiches with ham and chopped brisket. They’d be fine as a second sandwich, but focus on the pulled pork. Also, do not go back to your car (there’s nowhere else to eat at Perk’s) without some potato salad. Perkins makes a mayo/mustard version fresh every day, and I was lucky enough to get a batch so fresh it was still warm. I’m usually one to just take a few bites of the sides, but I couldn’t stop until that cup was clean.
That special recipe sauce is also perfect for dipping her stuffed peppers into. Perkins takes whole jalapeños and stuffs them with seasoned ground pork, covers them in a thick batter, and fries them to a golden brown. It leaves most of the bacon-wrapped jalapeños that you’ve tried in the dust.
Down a dozen concrete steps set into the hillside behind Perk’s you’ll find the small smokehouse clad in corrugated metal. Pecan and oak logs burn (hickory is too strong) to smoke pork shoulders, brisket, hams and sausages in a steel offset smoker. Traffic is light in Savoy, so Perkins admits she only fires up the smoker a few times a week. It tasted fresh when I was there on a Friday. With Savoy being just over an hour from Dallas, I might have to check on it again this Friday.