Terry Sullivan has worked in restaurants for over thirty years. Until a decade ago, he was the executive chef and partner at Dallas Cowboys great Walt Garrison’s eponymous steakhouse in Flower Mound. Sullivan partnered with Garrison again for the Walt Garrison BBQ truck that was regularly stationed at Klyde Warren Park in Dallas. In 2019, Sullivan decided to put his own name on a brick-and-mortar barbecue joint when the building that housed Old Town Meat Market in downtown Lewisville, northwest of Dallas, became available. After an extensive renovation, Sullivan Old Town BBQ opened in January 2020.
The meat market, established in 1977, moved to nearby Double Oak, but Sullivan kept its exposed-brick walls and the ghostly images of ice cream advertisements from the building’s original use as a Cabell’s Dairy Mart. He also kept the former meat counter. “It’s part of the fabric of Old Town Lewisville,” Sullivan said of the building. Everything was in place when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the restaurant’s dining room. He hadn’t yet built up a local following, and he was selling just two briskets a day for weeks. “Those were dark days, especially being a start-up restaurant,” Sullivan said.
Even though business was down, Sullivan worked on community outreach. The Walt Garrison BBQ truck sat unused, since Klyde Warren Park stopped hosting food trucks in March 2020, so Sullivan used it to deliver free barbecue meals to the elderly. Sullivan saw others in the community who were hurting financially and introduced the “Whatever” bucket. Any customer could drop whatever they could afford into the bucket and get a barbecue sandwich, chips, banana pudding, and a bottle of water. The program received recognition, and it led to folks across Texas donating to help the cause. “We made great friends who are still coming in, but today they’re buying off the menu,” Sullivan said.
By the end of 2020, takeout orders had increased and Sullivan could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Today, Sullivan Old Town BBQ is thriving. It was hard to find a seat during a recent Wednesday lunch. I had been there months earlier and enjoyed the smoky sliced brisket, juicy turkey breast, and hand-battered onion rings, fried to order. I was back to try a few items that had been featured at the food truck, like the brisket Cuban sandwich and the turkey melt.
Sullivan imports the bread for his “Barbecuban” sandwich from a bakery in Miami. The ingredients are what you’d expect—pork loin, ham, Swiss cheese, and pickles—plus sliced brisket and barbecue mustard. It wasn’t stuffed too full, and the layers had become cohesive under the pressure of the sandwich press. Another pressed sandwich, this time on Texas toast, was the turkey melt, with bacon, Swiss cheese, and barbecue mayo. I think I liked it even more, especially after a dip into Sullivan’s slightly spicy habanero barbecue sauce. He sells bottles of it, along with the original sauce and a bourbon whiskey flavor.
I also wanted to try the barbecue again, as Sullivan had recently received a new thousand-gallon smoker from HDM Smokers, in Brookshire. The post oak flavor came through in the brisket, and Sullivan left the flavorful bark on every slice, unlike his barbecue mentor, Garrison. I preferred the fatty slices to the lean, which were on the dry side. The pork ribs could have used more time outside the foil to get a good bark like the brisket, but the meat was plenty tender. Like the meat market that came before, Sullivan uses the beef and pork trimmings in the sausage that’s made in-house once a week by employee Bobby Kubin (pronounced like the sandwich, but no relation).
Sullivan’s 87-year-old mother still makes every one of the restaurant’s pecan pies from her grandmother’s recipe. The secret behind the rich flavor is using cane syrup rather than the more common corn syrup. Sullivan said he developed some of the side recipes on his own and borrowed some from his family. The seasonal collard greens, which just came back on the menu, are the perfect pairing with the creamy mac and cheese. The restaurant also offers a fresh, warm slice of cornbread with every plate.
Sullivan said that after several years in the barbecue business and several before that in the steakhouse business, he prefers cooking barbecue. “I love barbecue just because it’s harder, it’s more scientific, and it’s different every day,” he said. His passion for barbecue is also matched by a passion for hospitality. When he has a chance to hop away from the cutting block, Sullivan makes his way through the dining room and asks customers if everything is good, encouraging honest answers. He believes hospitality is what most customers return for over the food. “There are many who know the difference between great barbecue and mediocre barbecue,” he observed. “However, the masses just love barbecue, and they want to experience meats that they don’t know how to cook or they don’t want to spend the time to cook.”
While the early-2020 opening seemed like bad timing, the restaurant is in an even better situation now than Sullivan had hoped. Street renovations to historic downtown Lewisville are nearly complete, and roughly one thousand apartment units in three new complexes will soon open near the restaurant. Considering the few options for good barbecue in the area, Sullivan looks to have chosen wisely in Lewisville.