<div><a href="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-v4-VuxpOlvQ/UCf2KQCWF6I/AAAAAAAAI7g/6PC9FkOovSs/s1600/Larkin%27s+BBQ+01.JPG"><img border="0" height="149" src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-v4-VuxpOlvQ/UCf2KQCWF6I/AAAAAAAAI7g/6PC9FkOovSs/s200/Larkin%27s+BBQ+01.JPG" width="200"></a></div><br><span>JASPER: Larkin's Bar-B-Que<br>568 Gibson St.<br>Jasper, TX 75951<br>409-383-1262<br>Open Tues-F 10-7, Sat 11-6</span><br><br>I hadn't heard much good feedback on the barbecue in Jasper, so we had planned to just pass through town on our way south. A fancy looking joint with fake Austin stone on the exterior proudly displayed stainless steel gasser pits on a busy corner. We passed it by, but then a red trailer tucked off the road caught my eye. The trailer along with a big steel smoker was sitting on a concrete pad under a large metal structure, and a couple of picnic tables sat outside. We ordered a combo plate of brisket, ribs and a hot link, but it's what we didn't order that was most surprising.<br><br><table align="center" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0"><tbody><tr><td><a href="http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-zzZcMfbMgN4/UCf23SR6qzI/AAAAAAAAI7w/hH3daDoVDtA/s1600/Larkin%27s+BBQ+04.jpg"><img border="0" height="266" src="http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-zzZcMfbMgN4/UCf23SR6qzI/AAAAAAAAI7w/hH3daDoVDtA/s400/Larkin%27s+BBQ+04.jpg" width="400"></a></td></tr><tr><td>Photo by Nicholas McWhirter</td></tr></tbody></table><br>Owner Michael Larkin sat with us as we ate, which is a pleasant proposition if you like it all. We suffered through a few slices of spongy and overcooked brisket and a thick rib in need of salt and smoke. The pork was chewy with a thick layer of unrendered fat and the gummy exterior from a thick rub didn't help it go down any easier. What was tougher was having the owner look on as we choked down his favorite item, the ribs. Luckily the smoked beans were there to provide something worth gushing about. They were sweet, spicy and fantastic. A hot link from Zummo's in Beaumont was a good version, but nothing special. <br><br><div><a href="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-rN5brrby2c0/UCf2LPCGhmI/AAAAAAAAI7o/n7pT3f74CZk/s1600/Larkin%2527s+BBQ+02.JPG"><img border="0" height="298" src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-rN5brrby2c0/UCf2LPCGhmI/AAAAAAAAI7o/n7pT3f74CZk/s400/Larkin%2527s+BBQ+02.JPG" width="400"></a></div><br>Just as we were finishing up, Michael asked if we wanted some of the homemade sausage. Of course we would. I could hear the ding of the microwave before he came out with a balloon inside a paper boat. It was just the sausage, but the loose casing had expanded quite impressively while the filling was steaming away in the microwave. The finishing touch was a splash of straight-from-the-bottle Italian dressing. This barely looked like food at this point, but it was actually pretty good once I popped the inflated casing. The filling resembled Mexican chorizo in both texture and flavor. What tasted like smoked paprika brought in the flavors of Spanish chorizo as well and the vinegar from the dressing helped cut through the fatty filling. Is was a series of unexpected flavors in a not-so-handsome package, but it was an inventive sausage recipe that was pretty good stuff. Pair it with the beans and don't bother with the rest.<br><br>Rating **

During a recent trip to Houston, I decided to make an early-bird dinner reservation so I could get over to the Rice University campus in time for the evening viewing of James Turrell’s Light Epiphany. Open since June, the site-specific “skyspace” was commissioned to mark the university’s centennial. The pyramidal structure has been outfitted with LED lights that Turrell has programmed to change in particular sequences—one just before sunrise, one just after sunset—in accordance with the solar calendar. Seeing as how the sun always sets on time, I didn’t want to be late. 

As I hurried toward the structure (located next to the Shepherd School of Music), my first thought was that it looked like some sort of futuristic hover craft. I handed over the email confirmation I’d printed out (though free, reservations are required for the sunset show) and fell in line with the other visitors. Heading up the white staircase embedded in the structure’s grassy slope, I felt like Roy at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind as he walked, willingly, up the ramp and into the mother ship.

<div><a href="http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-tw6tG9k2TpM/UDqdDyiUcAI/AAAAAAAAJCM/Wi-dqP2k37s/s1600/Dzuik%27s+01.JPG"><img border="0" height="149" src="http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-tw6tG9k2TpM/UDqdDyiUcAI/AAAAAAAAJCM/Wi-dqP2k37s/s200/Dzuik%27s+01.JPG" width="200"></a></div><br>Castroville is a little Alsatian town just west of San Antonio. This tiny town filled with historical makers galore is just 25 miles from the Alamo, but its small town quaintness makes it seem much further. Settlers from Alsace (on the border of France and Germany) came here in 1844 to found the town. Along with them they brought <a href="http://www.southernbbqtrail.com/dziuks.shtml">Alsatian sausage</a> which is a raw pork sausage seasoned with coriander. Locals make it in their homes for the Christmas holiday and the whole town gets together in the town square on St. Louis Day in August for a grand public sausage making festival. Dziuk's Meat Market right along Highway 90 has a fresh version in their case every day, but none available for on-site consumption.<br><br><div><a href="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-9b87jCa5F6E/UDqdF9wIaJI/AAAAAAAAJCc/27SHql64eTA/s1600/Dzuik%2527s+05.JPG"><img border="0" height="298" src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-9b87jCa5F6E/UDqdF9wIaJI/AAAAAAAAJCc/27SHql64eTA/s400/Dzuik%2527s+05.JPG" width="400"></a></div><br>For a road snack, you can't get much better than Dziuk's chunk style jerky. It looks daunting in the case, but they'll be happy to slice it for you at any thickness you'd prefer. The thick peppery crust wakes the tastebuds early in the morning, and the meat sliced against the grain is as tender as filet mignon. The dried sausage is also a house specialty. It's great, but doesn't hold a candle to the jerky. On the other end of the case in a mound of raw meat that looks something like meat loaf mix, but it goes by the name of parisa.<br><br><div><a href="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/--rbHkG03OAs/UDqdEz-Ks_I/AAAAAAAAJCU/_2yNv74FeoE/s1600/Dzuik%27s+04.JPG"><img border="0" height="298" src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/--rbHkG03OAs/UDqdEz-Ks_I/AAAAAAAAJCU/_2yNv74FeoE/s400/Dzuik%27s+04.JPG" width="400"></a></div><br><div>Parisa is a hyper-regional specialty of cheese, black pepper, onion, jalapeno and freshly ground raw beef. It is eaten raw by itself or on crackers, and is a heck of a lot better than you're thinking right now. The texture is tough to get used to, but is no different than the leap from grilled salmon to sushi. The meat is ground fresh every morning, and it has an obviously short shelf life. Nick and I shared a quarter pound on some crackers and it was gone in a few minutes. I've talked to a native in the area that had a pile of it at her wedding reception to separate the men from the boys. </div><div><br></div><div>I initially thought parisa must have been a traditional Alsatian (or possibly French or German) creation, but I wasn't able to track down any reference to it anywhere by Texas' Medina County. Locals can point to only two remaining meat markets that carry it, one of them being Dziuk's, and a few seem to agree that the dish was born in Medina County. If anyone out there knows of a different origin, I'd love to hear it.</div><div><br></div><div>- BBQ Snob</div><br>

I took a seat on the poured-concrete benches and peered down on the folks who had gotten there early enough to snag a spot in the structure’s lower level. (Is that Steven Spielberg in the blue shirt, waving to me?) The skyspace can hold 120 people at a time, but only 44 can sit in the lower viewing area.

The rectangular cubes of light that point up toward the white, square ceiling (it’s 72 feet across) soon began to change color, bathing both the ceiling and the 14-by-14-foot aperture that’s cut out of it with increasingly intense hues of orange, pink, blue, and gold.

<span class="drop-cap">C</span>hili and cornbread. Beans and cornbread. Stuffing with cornbread. The dish is in the cast of many menus, but it always gets stuck in the supporting role. No doubt cornbread’s long history (think hardscrabble predecessors like ash cakes) and cornmeal’s ubiquity in the diet of our forebears led some to take it for granted. But now that it’s no longer relegated to being a cheap and simple plate-filler, we’re afforded the luxury of not only enjoying the crumbly stuff but also carping about how it should be prepared. Many recipes call for quarter-cuploads of sugar, but I sit firmly at the campfire with George Bailey, who, writing for the <em>Houston Post </em>in the early twentieth century, declared the addition of sugar to cornbread “an idea born of the devil” and fraught with repercussions, not the least of which included making “men trifling and women frivolous.” In any case, I’d like to celebrate the less controversial adaptations of the classic recipe, in particular the glorious Tex-Mex version, which enlivens the ancient grain with the zesty zip of green chiles, the festive pop of fresh corn, and the salty tang of cheddar cheese. Crowned with a pat of butter and flanked by a cold beer, there’s no reason this humble bread can’t be the lone star of a satisfying Texas meal. <em>Serves 4 to 6 (makes enough to fill an 8-inch cast-iron skillet)</em> <em>2 tablespoons bacon d</em>rippings  (can also use vegetable oil) 1 cup stone-ground coarse yellow cornmeal ¼ cup all-purpose flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder <em>1 teaspoon kosher salt</em> 1 egg 1 cup buttermilk ¼ cup fresh corn, cut from the cob (can also use frozen) ¼ cup sweet onion, diced ¼ cup fresh poblano chiles, chopped (can use any type of green chile) 1/2 cup shredded cheddar or longhorn cheese Grease a cast-iron skillet with the bacon drippings, then place in the oven and heat to 450 degrees. Mix the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk the egg with the buttermilk, then add to the bowl of dry ingredients. Add the corn, onion, chiles, and cheese and stir to combine (don’t overstir). Remove the skillet from the oven and pour the melted drippings into the batter (there won’t be much). Give the batter a quick stir, then pour it into the skillet. Bake for 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cut into wedges and serve.

As I kept my gaze trained on the open space in the ceiling, my brain did its best to make sense of what my eyes thought they were seeing. It was as if the sky itself was changing colors. The effect reminded me of looking into my grandmother’s makeup mirror and switching between its four different light settings to see how the color of my eyes would change. “It’s clear, of course, that I haven’t changed the color of the sky—only our context of vision,” Turrell told CultureMap Houstonback in May. “In a way, this piece allows us to see ourselves seeing.”

As for Mimi Swartz’s prediction that the skyspace is “destined to become the hottest make-out spot on campus, if not in the whole damn town,” I didn’t see any lip-locking going on during my visit, but the the night was still young when I left.

<a href="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-7VfBh3BtYNU/TrIWZioTaVI/AAAAAAAAGRk/uudE4WCyXc0/s1600/Sonny%2BBryan%2527s%2B20.JPG"><img src="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-7VfBh3BtYNU/TrIWZioTaVI/AAAAAAAAGRk/uudE4WCyXc0/s200/Sonny%2BBryan%2527s%2B20.JPG" alt="" border="0"></a><br><span><span>DALLAS: Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse</span><br><span>2202 Inwood Rd</span><br><span>Dallas, TX 75235</span><br><span>214-357-7120</span><br><span>Open M-Fri 10-4, Sat 10-3</span><br><a href="http://www.sonnybryans.com/"><span>www.sonnybryans.com/</span></a></span><br><br>Update: It's been a while since my last visit to this oft-suggested barbecue stop in Dallas. They recovered from a <a href="http://fcg-bbq.blogspot.com/2011/09/fire-recovery-at-sonny-bryans.html">small fire</a> a few months back and were still glowing from their recent <a href="http://www.sonnybryans.com/sb-news/our-big-debut-on-man-vs-food-nation/">Man vs. Food</a> publicity, so I wanted to stop by and see if anything had changed in the past couple of years. One noticeable change are the new doors after the old ones had been hammered open by the fire department. The sign still says they close when the meat runs out, but the fact is that they're open from 10:00 to 8:00 every day.<br><br>"Rogge's Dunn Deal" on the menu gets you two ribs, a sandwich, a side and a drink for $9.49. As I waited for my order I enjoyed reading over the cruelly ironic article framed on the wall from December 22, 1974 where Sonny tells the Dallas Morning News "If I ever did anything smart is was not going into the franchise business." This, he felt, would cause the quality of his product to suffer.<br><br><a href="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-IeaLpCcRsXY/TrIRfTjfMSI/AAAAAAAAGRQ/4Txxg3DVKkE/s1600/Sonny%2BBryan%2527s%2B22.JPG"><img src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-IeaLpCcRsXY/TrIRfTjfMSI/AAAAAAAAGRQ/4Txxg3DVKkE/s400/Sonny%2BBryan%2527s%2B22.JPG" alt="" border="0"></a><br><br>With the fire damaging just the kitchen area, the small dining room hasn't changed a bit. I sat with my tray balanced on the tiny desk trying not to spill it every time I reached for a bite.<br><br><a href="http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-6vQOto_MkzI/TrIRez6cvtI/AAAAAAAAGRA/jkkU9R6c6ms/s1600/Sonny%2BBryan%2527s%2B23.JPG"><img src="http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-6vQOto_MkzI/TrIRez6cvtI/AAAAAAAAGRA/jkkU9R6c6ms/s400/Sonny%2BBryan%2527s%2B23.JPG" alt="" border="0"></a><br><br>Pulled pork had little going for it. No crust, no fat, no smoke and little flavor existed between the cold white buns. Sauce is on the side here making it technically optional, but the lack of flavor in the meat made the sauce mandatory. The atrocity of the rib preparation made it obvious that sauce was not an option. For this lunch service, cold and pre-smoked ribs were sliced and resting in a tub where they had been presauced. When an order was received, the appropriate number of ribs were fished from the tub and placed on a charbroiler. Once heated through, there's little hope that these poor bones would have any moisture left, and they didn't. Not only was the meat dry, but the grilling method replaced any smoky flavor with a charred flavor similar to that from burnt sugary sauce on an amateur's home gas grill. I was sad for those ribs. The famous onion rings were famously huge and crispy, but needed some salt (and why not some sauce?) to bring them to life.<br><br><a href="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-QOAwtR7KUIk/TrIRgIaevkI/AAAAAAAAGRY/t-RGeG3x_xE/s1600/Sonny%2BBryan%2527s%2B21.JPG"><img src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-QOAwtR7KUIk/TrIRgIaevkI/AAAAAAAAGRY/t-RGeG3x_xE/s400/Sonny%2BBryan%2527s%2B21.JPG" alt="" border="0"></a><br><br>At the end of the meal I ordered a sliced beef sandwich, sans sauce, to go. Unwrapping it in the car, it quickly became obvious that this meat would also lack that smokiness I was so hoping for. This unappetizing mass of monochromatic gray meat sat on an unwarmed bun. Every shred of bark, fat and flavor had been scraped away before I ever saw it. With ten franchise locations as far away as Utah, Sonny's words from that article seem more prophetic, even for the "Original".<br><br>Rating *<br><span><br>2009: Let's face it Dallas...we continue to bow to this shell of a formerly renowned BBQ joint because it's really all we've got to point to in Big D that can be considered a historic 'cue icon. I know every time I enter through that screen door, I hope that this trip is sure to provide more gastronomical rewards than the last, but this joint has long since slid past protein mediocrity, and it now lies in a smokeless grave shrouded by those quaint school desks. No matter how many <a href="http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/cityofate/2009/06/dude_food_sonny_bryans.php">rave reviews</a> are written by critics who allow their tastebuds to be deceived by the history oozing from these walls, the fact that this 'cue is not worthy to be considered amongst Dallas's best remains unchanged.<br><br>When I lament to laymen about the lack of stellar BBQ in our fair city, the general retort is something along the lines of "Well, I've heard that the original Sonny Bryan's is great". My usual response is "As long as you order a chopped beef sandwich and some onion rings, you're set." It had been a while since my last trip, so I decided to put my long held assumption to the test. A coworker and I traveled to SB's, and each ordered chopped beef sandwiches. Alongside, came a beautiful mountain of thick golden onion rings. These things would be more fitting as jewelry on the hands of the mighty Thor.<br><br><a href="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_CleRr46Nh1w/SiX0yiSUqxI/AAAAAAAAA5Q/pDL9ADOhQXA/s1600-h/Sonny+Bryan%27s.jpg"><img src="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_CleRr46Nh1w/SiX0yiSUqxI/AAAAAAAAA5Q/pDL9ADOhQXA/s400/Sonny+Bryan%27s.jpg" alt="" border="0"></a><br><br>The sandwich was less impressive. Instead of smoky chunks of meat on a hot buttered bun, I received gray morsels of meat barely passable as roast beef sitting between an unbuttered luke warm bun. A layer of their excellent barbecue sauce provided some much needed flavor, and yet another layer made it taste almost like barbecue. The onion rings were better, but the floury taste of the thick crust also needed to be tamed a bit by more of the sauce. I'm positive that I consumed more tomatoes during my meal than meat. Yes folks, it used to be great, but these days it seems they don't even think they need to try anymore. Let's demand better.<br><br>2008: Sonny Bryan's is a Dallas institution...that has gone downhill fast. The original location has always been hailed as the Dallas mecca of BBQ, but on a visit a few months ago, the brisket was decent, and the ribs were edible. While the ribs remained edible on a trip last weekend, the brisket was not worth my gastronomic real estate. It was, in short, terrible. I gave my food to a homeless man instead of finishing the dry, gray brisket.<br><a href="http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/13/168856/restaurant/Northwest-Dallas-Love-Field/Sonny-Bryans-Smokehouse-Dallas"><img alt="Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse on Urbanspoon" src="http://www.urbanspoon.com/b/logo/168856/minilogo.gif"></a><br></span>