I love cooking at home, but I let myself indulge occasionally when I hear about a fantastic new joint. While my boyfriend was here, I took him to all sorts of places to satisfy his cravings for good ol’ American classics. Naturally, the top of my list was barbecue. Since he lived in Texas for a good number of years, he wasn’t a stranger to good smoked meats. In Austin, we always had constant access to amazing BBQ (La BBQ, Rudy’s, Salt Lick, etc), but Dallas wasn’t exactly as into the BBQ scene yet. I had heard of Lockhart and Pecan Lodge, but seeing as how the temperatures were in the low 40s, I wasn’t about to brave standing in a long line in the cold after a long day at work.
After spending some time perusing Yelp, I noticed a place called Kenny’s Smoke House. Glancing through the pictures and reviews, I came to the conclusion that this was a “high-end” bbq joint. I shouldn’t have been too surprised though, since the restaurant was situated at the Shops at Legacy, one of the fanciest areas in Upper Dallas. But seriously, what? BBQ with cutlery, waiters, and cloth napkins? Inconceivable! I was so used to the down and dirty, no frills type of joint that scrolling through the pictures left me surprised. In fact, I thought that it was probably just an over-hyped place for the rich and snooty. To test this hypothesis, my boyfriend and I made a stop over there for lunch last February.
Oh, boy, was I wrong. We went on a less-than welcoming day, weather-wise. Roads were frozen over and there was still snow covering the grass, making driving conditions pretty terrible. Yet, despite all of the unfavorable conditions, there was still a substantial crowd in the restaurant already eating when we walked in. The interior definitely doesn’t feel like a BBQ joint. There’s a sleek looking bar, fancy TVs, and well-kept walls and carpet. Oddly enough, it seemed “BBQ-y”. (I know, now you’re thinking– “stop making up random words, woman”) I know it seems weird, but it’d really hard to put in words. After all the different BBQ places I’ve visited over the years, this one didn’t seem to scream “weird”. The dark, subtle colors with the wood accents along with the dark colored furnishings made me feel warm and cozy, which is how we all want to feel when going to eat heaps of meat.
We were seated quickly near the back of the restaurant where it was quiet and warm. Our friendly waiter came over promptly to take our drink order and rattle off the specials of the day. In all honesty, we had had a pretty rough morning and weren’t exactly in the friendly mood to go crazy so we quickly decided on hot water for me and room-temp water for the boy. While he was getting our drinks ready, we settled in to take a good look at the offerings. I knew that I had to order some sort of meat platter. I mean, what sane person comes to a BBQ restaurant for a sandwich? Or a salad? So after a quick debate, we decided on the ‘Kenny’s “Hammered” Smoked Brisket’ and the ‘Chicken & Ribs’. It seemed like a good way of sampling the best meats the place had to offer.
My hot water came out in a cute, modern-esque cup and the waiter was kind enough to bring me a small pot of additional hot water next to it so that I could fill it at my own leisure. Alright, we were getting off on a great foot so far. Let me tell you, how a waiter and restaurant presents their drinks, while seemingly banal and unimportant, can be the hallmark of good service to come.
The minute I saw our waiter bringing out our plates, I was already wriggling in my chair with excitement. It had been a full 8 hours since either of us had consumed anything so I was starving for anything to nosh on. Once the waiter brought out the meat and side dishes and left, my boyfriend looked rather down as he commented on the small portion size. To be totally honest, I was thinking the exact same thing. $14 for a handful of meat? Seemed like the location suited the price for the food. But after taking my first bite, I realized how wrong I was.
I had opted for the half-lean, half-fatty brisket plate since I liked my meat lean while my boyfriend loves it fatty. I’m not huge on raw onions or pickles either, so that went to the pickle-loving boyfriend, which was fine by me since it left me more stomach room to focus on the main course. Piercing the first slice with a fork caused it to shred into pieces. This was definitely a good sign since it meant that the meat was well flavored and cooked to the point that it was tender enough. The first bite I took was heavenly. I’ve had lots of brisket in the past–some super fatty and some super lean– and let me just tell you that for a lean brisket, it was one of the top ones I’ve had. The house-made barbecue sauce on the side was the perfect complement as well. The salty tang of that sauce sent the simple piece of meat over the hills. Sauce or no-sauce, Kenny’s knew how to cook their brisket.
My boyfriend nodded in silent agreement as he chomped on his perfectly fatty portion of brisket. I could tell even from a quick glance that it was super moist and juicy judging by its glossy sheen. After finishing my first slice of brisket, I moved onto my boyfriend’s plate. Pork ribs and southern-fried chicken tenders. Actually, both are kind of my weaknesses. I love ribs because of their fall apart tenderness and great marinade when cooked right. I also love chicken tenders. Growing up, I, like most American kids, pretty much avoided all chicken with a bone in it since it was a hassle and a choking hazard. Therefore, I was actually looking more forward to this plate than the other. I speared a rib and decided that, while this was a fancy joint, there was no room for forks and knives when dealing with a ribs. I haven’t had a good rib in a while. My last rib memory involved an overuse of store-bought marinade which resulted in a slightly soggy clump on meat on a bone. This bite, however, definitely made up for that moment. It was fork-tender, slightly tangy but sweet, and not overly sauced. Once again, it was the type of meat that could be dressed up with a good homemade sauce or eaten naked.
The moment of truth, however, lied with the fried chicken tenders. My boyfriend is a fried chicken nut. He loves a simply breaded, crunchy but juicy piece of meat. I was secretly hoping that this piece of meat would live up to both of our expectations or I knew I would feel guilty and want to take him to Church’s Chicken right away. Luckily, there was no need for that. The breading is not heavy at all. It’s light and crispy, freshly fried, and not over seasoned. Sometimes fried chicken can be too heavily adorned with salt and pepper, but this chicken wasn’t like that at all. In fact, it could even use a bit more salt and pepper. It’s subtle saltiness was perfectly fine with me though, since it meant I could dunk it in more of that delicious sauce. When I looked over at my boyfriend, he nodded and gave a quick thumbs up as he took another mouthful of fried chicken. That was that. Kenny’s Smokehouse passed the meat test.
But what BBQ is complete without its sides? What Kenny’s lacks in quantity of meat, it makes up with its free choice of side that comes with it. There were the traditional sides that we breezed past on the menu (coleslaw, beans, and fries) and there were those that caught our attention like truffle mac n cheese. Seriously. Smoked Gouda Mac n Cheese with ham and truffle oil? Definitely our first choice. The second choice was a bit tougher though. We were caught between blue cheese potato salad and the loaded (cheese, bacon, sour cream, and chive topped) mashed potatoes. Ultimately, the loaded mashed potatoes won.
After we let gave the meats the bulk of our initial attention, we moved over to our much anticipated sides. Honestly, I’m not much of a mac n cheese girl. If I’m being totally honest, I’m not a cheese girl at all. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat it on pizza and whatnot, but I usually opt out of cheese-topped pastas or side dishes since large quantities of it kind of gross me out. Plus, my one and only mac n cheese experience consisted of a hot summer’s lunch with limp noodles being drowned microwaveable cheese sauce used to appease dozens of hungry kids and their teacher (me). But I figured if any time was a good time to give this classic dish a second try, now was as good of a time as any. I definitely had no regrets after taking my first sinful bite. While my body was screaming to me, “Do you SEE how much fat is in that? Are you seriously taking a bite? A second bite? A fifth?!”, I couldn’t help spooning more and more into my mouth. Kenny’s definitely makes a satisfying and home-y feeling mac n cheese, but to be honest, it lacked a bit of flavor. An additional dash of salt and pepper could’ve brought out the smokey, mellow flavors of the truffle oil. I think they chose a good cheese to use so that the flavor wasn’t too sharp, but it was a bit watery and the noodles should have been a bit more firm. That being said, it definitely wiped the terrible memory I had of mac n cheese right out, which means it’s worth ordering for any cheese lover. Am I a mac n cheese girl now? No, but it’ll make me think twice about ignoring it the next time I see it as an option.
I was actually looking more forward to the order side– loaded mashed potatoes. Despite carbs being super sinful, I love them. Bread, potatoes, rice, noodles– you name it. I have a particular weakness for mashed potatoes. Made right, the velvety smooth texture of fresh potatoes paired with the subtle fragrance of butter always brings back memories of my mother going to KFC and ordering a side of mashed potatoes and gravy for me when I was feeling under the weather. I made sure that my first spoonful was a big one, complete with all the fixings. One mouthful and I was transported to my happy place. It wasn’t dry or under-seasoned, which is a frequent problem in some places. Nor was it lumpy or overly mixed to the point that it’s gluey. In my opinion, you can identify a successfully made dish of mashed potatoes if you don’t need any sauce or gravy to pair it with. If there’s enough seasoning for it to stand on its own, you know it’s a pretty stellar dish, and this is something that holds true for anything. Sure, it’s a pretty standard dish, but the simpler the dish, the harder it can be to get it right. Sometimes, you don’t need any frills to make something delicious, which is exactly what Kenny’s did.
Overall, how was my Kenny’s Smokehouse experience? Pretty fantastic. I think there was a bit of a lack of seasoning problem across the board, but I’d rather it be under than over. The meats were well-cooked, service was friendly and prompt, and it didn’t break the bank, budget-wise. Two meat plates set us back around $30 and we were so full from cleaning our plates that we even skipped dinner that night. Out of 5 pandas, I’d rate this place a 4. I’d like to think that chefs sometimes have their off day, seasoning-wise, so if I have the chance to try the place again, I hope that I can up that rating. It’s worth a trip if you’re in the area and looking for a non-traditional take on BBQ. It’s not the usual Pecan Lodge or Lockhart meat-fest, but it’s comforting yet classy, which is exactly what everyone needs every once in a while.