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Texas Barbecue, Connecticut Style

 

PHOTOGRAPHS BY MARK MIRKO

The phrase Connecticut barbecue might never have the ring to it of, say, Memphis barbecue, Carolina barbecue, Kansas City barbecue or Texas barbecue. Sadly, much of our barbecue might be of the "remove the rack of ribs from the sleeve and slather it with BBQ sauce" variety.

However, good barbecue has popped up in places like Stamford, Moodus, Vernon, Uncasville, Hartford, and even briefly on College Street in New Haven, where an elderly couple opened an authentic Texas-style barbecue joint and then had such health problems they were rarely open.

The best barbecue I’ve found in the Northeast is a dive called Bub’s BBQ in Sunderland, Mass. And yes, it’s well worth the hour drive straight up I-91. Even the gator’s great. But as long as we have Danny’s Little Taste of Texas in South Windsor, we can let some considerable Lone Star pride swell in our collective chest.

Of the four main regional varieties of barbecue, I have always strongly favored Texas (just as I favor Texas chili over Cincinnati) — because it’s all about the meat. Sauce is a secondary consideration. Properly done, Texas-style barbecue is so flavorful you’d never need sauce, except eventually all that richness requires some acidity for balance and coleslaw alone just ain’t gonna cut it.

From the outside, the most compelling thing about Danny’s Little Taste of Texas, which is in its 14th year, is the chuck wagon used for catering and events like the Big E. But when we set foot inside Danny’s, which has a small front room and a big back room whose walls are festooned with Texas kitsch, any doubts we might have entertained dissipate as the incredible smoky aroma of great barbecue is carried to our nostrils. We’re as stoked as the gas-fired, hickory-log-burning smoker that produces all that flavor.

Brought to you by owner Danny Bell, who lived in Houston for nine years, Danny’s barbecue is so good that the restaurant should have constant lines out the door, up until the day that he and his chuck wagon decide to clip clop, clip clop off into the sunset. But the reality is, times continue to be tough in the food industry, and many restaurateurs find themselves looking for secondary income streams. In addition to its extensive regular menu, Danny’s is featuring a two-page “new menu shootout” with the most popular items apt to be retained. Normally, I wouldn’t consider such experimentation a good sign. Let a great barbecue place stick to barbecue. But the tomato soup ($3.99) we try is vibrant and fullflavored, the crab cakes ($7.99) a little mushy but beautifully crabby, and a Texas mushroom burger which we have made with buffalo meat ($7.99) a juicy, flavorful revelation that could hold its own with Connecticut’s top burgers.

Nevertheless, the barbecue menu is the reason we’ve made the trip to Danny’s. Accompanying our food with Hosmer Mountain sodas ($2.25) and Long Trail Pale Ale ($3.95) and Harpoon IPA ($3.95), we begin with terrific house-made potato chips and addictive corn bread ($2.49). The barbecue meals come with a dinner roll and French fries or coleslaw, all well and good, but sides of the sort you might really crave, like our pork and beans and mac and cheese, are a little extra ($2.49). But the barbecued meats rule, and given Danny’s is Texas-style, beef rules above all. The real flavor comes not from sauce but from dry rubs (“If the rub tastes good on your fingers, it will taste good on the meat,” Bell says) and from cooking the meat low and slow with plenty of smoke. It’s not about the quality of the meat either, as barbecue has always been about making use of unwanted cuts. “I could make your shoe taste good,” he boasts.

Barbecue dinners range from $11.99 to $18.99, with servings of additional meats an added $4.95 each.

Danny’s baby back ribs and pork ribs are smoky and tasty. Pulled pork is moist and delicious. Cajun sausage is a spicy delight. Although obviously a different preparation, a quarter chicken packs as much flavor as its Peruvian counterpart. But the revelations are the meaty beef ribs (good gracious, they’re wonderful) and the amazingly moist, fatty and flavorful beef brisket (simply the best we’ve ever encountered).

The dessert menu could use a little beefing up. Deep-fried Twinkies ($4.99), Oreos ($4.99) and a deep-fried apple ($4.99) that might be better without its skin are tolerable, but barbecue would seem a perfect platform for Southern standards like chess pie, sweet potato pie and red velvet cake. It could be time for a “new dessert menu shootout.”

Nevertheless, this little barbecue joint is doing Greater Hartford a tremendous service. Danny’s Little Taste of Texas delivers BIG flavor.