250 Texas BBQ

Marnay and I had never really thought that much about barbecue, until our trip to Texas changed everything. Now that we are back home in the DC area, we have been looking for a place to find authentic Texas barbecue. Somehow, 250 Texas BBQ appeared on my radar and I very glad that it did.

250 Texas BBQ consists of a husband and wife, Fernando and Debby. They operate mainly out of the Riverdale Park Farmers Market, which happens every Thursday year-round from 3pm-7pm. Let me tell you, they are the real deal. They use 100% wood when smoking their meats. There’s no gas-assist. As for the type of wood, they use apple wood for poultry and then either oak or hickory for pork and beef. Still, they will adapt to whatever wood is available from their farmer partners at the Farmers Market.

Fernando and Debby at 250 Texas BBQ in Riverdale Park, Maryland

Fernando spent a good amount of time in Austin, becoming a regular at some of the legendary Central Texas barbecue spots such as Louie Mueller Barbecue, La Barbecue, Black’s Barbecue, and others. He also learned from the master, Aaron Franklin, spending time at his pits at Franklin’s and learning from Aaron’s Meat-Smoking Manifesto.

The main thing that drew us to 250 Texas BBQ was to get their beef ribs. Beef ribs are such an important part of Texas barbecue, but they can be difficult to find in the DC area. 250 Texas BBQ’s beef ribs were tender, smoky and had a great salt and pepper bark, perhaps with some other spices added as well. Obviously, there was no sauce. These giant beef ribs are just so fun to bite into–I would definitely order these every time. They passed our “good barbecue” test. The beef ribs come from Groffs Content Farm, a local Maryland farm that also has a stand at the market.

Beef ribs at 250 Texas BBQ in Riverdale Park, Maryland

As good as the beef ribs were, though, the brisket was even better. (unfortunately, we didn’t get a great picture) They had GREAT fat, and that alone brought tons of flavor, but the bark was also excellent. Plus, the leftover brisket tasted just as good next the day when we used it for sandwiches.

Brisket at 250 Texas BBQ in Riverdale Park, Maryland

The thing I appreciate most about Fernando and Debby is their passion for making authentic Texas barbecue in the DC suburbs. It is well-worth a stop at the Riverdale Park Farmers Market. While you’re there, be sure to check out Town Center Market, one of my favorite spots for craft beer in the DC area. The best thing about Town Center Market; you can bring outside food. So grab your barbecue from 250 Texas BBQ, get yourself a cold beer and enjoy!

Paul eating barbecue at 250 Texas BBQ in Riverdale Park, Maryland

Best Bite
Paul: Beef rib
Marnay: Brisket

Address
250 Texas BBQ at the Riverdale Park Farmers Market: 4650 Queensbury Road, Riverdale Park, MD 20737
Closest Metro: Prince George’s Plaza

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A Barbecue Tour of Texas

Marnay and I just had our “Babymoon” in the great state of Texas, specifically Austin and Houston. We were in El Paso last summer, but barbecue country West Texas is not.

Austin, Texas vacation

In preparation for our trip, I read a lot of articles and listened to a lot of podcasts about barbecue. I would like to thank Daniel Vaughn of Texas Monthly and J.C. Reid of the Houston Chronicle for giving me a crash course on Texas barbecue. I also don’t want to leave out Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook. If you are traveling to Houston any time soon, I definitely recommend the Barbecue State of Mind podcast from the Houston Chronicle.

And while I always enjoy Daniel Vaughn’s writing, his Texas Monthly’s Top 50 is the barbecue list that every single barbecue joint in Texas wants to be on. It is like the Bible of barbecue.

Below is a recap of the barbecue joints we visited on our trip. We won’t be ranking them in any particular order, because they were all amazing. Also, we consider all of them to be important building blocks in our Texas barbecue journey.

Micklethwait Craft Meats
Micklethwait, in East Austin, consists of a barbecue trailer, a giant outdoor smoker and a covered picnic area. The morning we went, it was in the 30s and windy. That would stop a lot of folks from going (resulting in a very short line) but it didn’t stop us! These were the meatiest pork ribs of the trip and they were our favorite item at Micklethwait. If you take a look at them, the smoke ring is insane. The brisket stood on its own, but was even better on Texas toast with pickles and onions.

Micklethwait Craft Meats barbecue plate in Austin, Texas

All of the joints we visited were friendly, but Micklethwait gets bonus points for being friendliest. And even though it was really cold on the day we went, it was a lot of fun eating the barbecue outside, picnic-style.

Micklethwait Craft Meats barbecue truck in Austin, Texas

Terry Black’s Barbecue
This was the best beef rib of the trip. It was gigantic and SO fatty, in a good way, but not too fatty either. You bet we each took pictures of ourselves trying to eat the whole thing. The flavor reminded us of pastrami. Terry Black’s brisket was top notch, superbly fatty and with a killer bark. The sausage was also quite good.

Marnay eating a giant beef rib at Terry Black’s Barbecue in Austin, Texas

The atmosphere at Terry Black’s is a little touristy, likely owing to its location across the Colorado River, near downtown. That means doubling up with strangers at tables, but the staff is very helpful in organizing the restaurant and eating barbecue with strangers is fun.

Terry Black’s Barbecue in Austin, Texas

Kreuz Market
Kreuz, in Lockhart, was on our 3 hour drive between Austin and Houston, so of course we made a stop. The sausage was excellent, with a nice kick to it. However, we were a little disappointed by the beef rib as it was too dry for our liking. Kreuz’s shoulder clod, which is a leaner cut than brisket, did have a nice meaty “chew” to it.

Kreuz Market barbecue in Lockhart, Texas

The sausage, which Kreuz is famous for, was the best of the trip, with some serious heat. We had eaten Kreuz sausage at Hill Country in DC and, fortunately, the real deal tasted MUCH better. No surprise that it would taste better fresh versus shipped halfway across the country! If we went back I would get the pork chop, which is a rare sight in a barbecue restaurant. Alas, we did not see the famous pitmaster Roy Perez, who is a ringer for Elvis Presley.

Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas

Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ
I can think of few better combinations than barbecue and tacos. It is likely the future of Texas barbecue and has always been important in the San Antonio area, where pitmaster Miguel Vidal grew up. Valentina’s is a food truck in a parking lot in suburban South Austin. It was originally an unincorporated area and was very recently annexed by the City. Behind the truck is a wonderful partially enclosed dining area with picnic tables, TVs and lot of sports memorabilia. You can tell that this is a great place to watch the big game.

Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ in Austin, Texas

The menu is separated between “Tex” and “Mex”. Anything on the “Mex” side of the menu gets served in Valentina’s incredible housemade flour tortillas. The smoked brisket taco was unreal – we got two! The brisket itself is perfect, but then it is topped with sea salt lime guacamole and tomato serrano salsa. We LOVED the guac! The smoked carnitas tacos, made from Kurobuta (Berkshire) pork, had a sweet taste from the super high-quality meat and were topped with caramelized onions, cilantro and a tomatillo habanero salsa for heat.

Lunch at Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ in Austin, Texas

We did not get a chance to try it, but Valentina’s opens at 7:30am for breakfast and it looks like it would be fantastic. In fact, you could probably do a barbecue tour of Austin starting out with breakfast at Valentina’s. Maybe an idea for us in the future??

Tejas Chocolate
Our favorite all-around barbecue joint of the trip, as well as the best brisket. They open at 11am and despite the fact that we arrived at 11:10am on Thursday, the line was well out the door. It is an indisputable fact of life that fatty brisket is better than lean brisket. That being said, the brisket at Tejas Chocolate managed to be the best EVEN THOUGH it was not the fattiest. That feat can be attributed to the cooking technique and to the well-seasoned bark. Similarly, the pork ribs were not as fatty as some other places but were still a cut above the rest. Tejas Chocolate also was the only barbecue joint we visited on the trip that had pork belly and boy, was it tasty. It was great on its own but even better with the famous mole barbecue sauce, aka “the most expensive barbecue sauce in the world.”

Tejas Chocolate in Houston, Texas

The crazy thing about Tejas Chocolate is that, as the name suggests, they started out making bean-to-bar chocolate. Their revenue wasn’t as good as they hoped and they realized that they needed to try something different. After a few years of experimenting at home making barbecue, they started serving it at the shop and almost IMMEDIATELY landed in the top 10 of the Texas Monthly Top 50. What a story!

Lunch at Tejas Chocolate in Houston, texas

I bought a T-shirt at each barbecue joint and chef Greg at Tejas noticed my Valentina’s shirt when I went to pick up our food. “Great food and great people,” he said.

We couldn’t agree more.

Paul eating barbecue at Tejas Chocolate in Houston, Texas

Best Bite of the trip
Paul: a tie between the Brisket at Tejas Chocolate and Beef Rib at Terry Black’s
Marnay: brisket at Tejas Chocolate

Places we visited
Micklethwait Craft Meats: 1309 Rosewood Ave Austin, TX 78702
Terry Black’s Barbecue: 1003 Barton Springs Rd Austin, TX 78704
Kreuz Market: 619 N Colorado St Lockhart, TX 78644
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ: 11500 Manchaca Rd Austin, TX 78745
Tejas Chocolate + Barbecue: 200 N Elm St Tomball, TX 77375

Northwest Vacation Recap: Portland

We have just returned from a Northwest Adventure in Portland and Seattle, our first trip to the West Coast since our honeymoon (in 2014!) where we traveled to San Francisco and Sonoma. We look forward to telling you about our favorite activities and of course our favorite restaurants! First up, Portland!

Saturday

We arrived in Portland late Saturday night, tired from our flight but definitely ready to do some exploring. We were staying at an Airbnb in the North Mississippi/Williams neighborhood, a hip neighborhood in Northeast Portland bustling with nightlife. One of my friends had told me about Alibi Tiki Bar, a 1940s tiki bar that is still in existence today. Our impression is that it felt very “Portland” – quirky and laid-back. Basically, the complete opposite of life in the Northeast. We were starving, so we ate a little bit of food – I would describe it as vaguely American Chinese food. This may sound odd, but the original tiki bars served an American version of Chinese food, considered exotic in the 1930s.

Alibi Tiki Bar neon sign

Sunday

Portland is known for being the premier biking city in America, due to having decades of bike-friendly policies. It should be no surprise, then, that we mainly got around the city by Biketown bike, their bikesharing system. The orange bikes were lighter than Capital Bikeshare, plus they had a basket which made running errands easy. You can also dock Biketown bikes at any public bike dock, which is incredible.

Marnay on a Biketown bike in Portland

We biked across the Broadway Bridge and arrived at Ken’s Artisan Bakery. Ken’s is one of the best and most well-known bakeries in America. Of all things, we shared a locally made hot dog on an incredible baguette-like bun and some incredible macarons. A great way to start the morning in Portland.

Ken’s Artisan Bakery macarons

Portland has an aerial tram. It goes from a medical school and doctors offices to the corresponding hospital, on top of a hill. Still, it offered some incredible views of the Willamette River below and I’m glad we did it!

Portland aerial tram

 

Dinner that night was with one my old MARC train friend, Marcel, and his wife Martha. In June, Marcel moved to Portland from DC for work, so it was awesome to see them. We met at Tusk, a Middle-Eastern restaurant that Food & Wine Magazine recently named one of the best new restaurants in the country. All of the food was communal and it made a great way to catch up. All four of us agreed on a best bite: Melons, cucumbers, celtuce, pepper (hot!), cilantro and pepitas.

Tusk hummus with tehina, paprika and cumin

Tusk melons with cucumbers, celtuce, pepper, cilantro and pepita.

Marnay, Paul, Marcel and Martha at Tusk in Portland

It had been a long day, but we fit in some walking through the Laurelhurst neighborhood and a trip to Base Camp Brewing for a nightcap. A long but exciting day.

Monday

One requirement for Portland was that we needed to stay in an Airbnb that was walking distance to a Blue Star Donuts location and luckily we were two short blocks away from their Northeast Portland shop. We shared their signature Blueberry Bourbon Basil and their incredible Apple Fritter. So darn good!

Blue Star Donuts in Northeast Portland

Next, we headed to Portland’s Waterfront Trail, and biked along the Willamette River. We ended the ride by crossing the river over the Tilikum Crossing, the country’s first pedestrian and transit only bridge. It carries bikes, pedestrians, buses, light rail and streetcars. How amazing is that?!

Paul biking on the Tilikum Crossing bridge

That night, we had a nice bike ride through a few different neighborhoods en route to Han Oak, a Korean-inspired restaurant from chef Peter Cho. We were second in line, so we were able to sit at the chef’s counter right in front of the open kitchen. What a view! On Sunday and Monday nights, Han Oak has dumpling and noodle night. However, that night they had a guest chef cooking Indonesian Barbecue. Our best bite, and possibly the top bite in all of Portland, was the Indonesian Barbecue platter.

Han Oak dumplings

Han Oak Indonesian Barbecue

After dinner, we did some walking through nearby neighborhoods and then biked to Stormbreaker Brewing, just outside of our apartment. We stopped to pick up a growler so that we could enjoy it at home with the rest of our donuts. There wasn’t a TV, so we watched Portlandia on Netflix! Another fun night!

Blue Star Donuts, Stormbreaker Brewing growler and Portlandia on Netflix in our Airbnb in Portland

Tuesday

Tuesday was wine country day. But first, we had breakfast at Pop Bagel, a small bagel shop where all the bagels are pretzel bagels! It was a cool concept. The location, inside of an office building, made me jealous because my office building doesn’t have anything like this!

Pop Bagels

We took an Amtrak bus from Union Station to Salem, the capital of Oregon and our jumping off point for exploring the Willamette Valley. Once we arrived in Salem, we headed straight to Brooks Wine, Riesling specialists located in the Eola-Amity Hills subregion of the Willamette Valley. Before we left for Oregon, I read a wine column from a national columnist about wines to get for special occasions – one of the wines was from Brooks!

Brooks Wine vineyard

Brooks was incredible, the best winery we have ever been to. Since they specialize in white wines, we made sure to both get white wine tastings. Our favorites were the Sweet P Riesling (the one that was recommended in the column) and the Amycas, a blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Gewurztraminer and Riesling. We came away with a bottle of each.

After Brooks, we headed to Domaine Drouhin, in the Dundee Hills subregion. The Drouhin family is originally from Burgundy, home of the best Pinot Noir in the world. You can understand why we took home a bottle of their 2014 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir.

Paul and Marnay at Domaine Drouhin

We took the very retro Amtrak Cascades train from Salem back to Portland. Although we were tired, we were hungry after a day of drinking wine! When we were back in Portland, we grabbed Biketown bikes and picked up takeout from Pok Pok Noi, part of the amazing Pok Pok family of restaurants. The boar collar and Vienamese wings were delicious!

retro Amtrak Cascades train from Salem to Portland

Wednesday

Our last full day in Portland. We got an early start by heading to Blue Star Donuts for another apple fritter. The best fritters ever! We took Biketown bikes and ended up at the iconic Powell’s Books, a must visit in Portland.

Lunch was at Maurice, a really cool European-style café that is only open for lunch. They serve French-Danish food plus vermouth, wine and sherry and incredible desserts and pastries. I do not think that we have been anywhere in America like this, it was really unique.

Maurice cardamom kissed squid

Maurice scone and pepper cheesecake

After our midday meal, we got some hiking in at Washington Park, a huge urban park in a particularly hilly section of Portland. We explored the Hoyt Arboretum and the International Rose Garden. Conveniently, the MAX light rail has an underground stop in the heart of the park and there is a free shuttle bus that can take you to the different attractions.

Paul walking on a trail at Washington Park

Dinner that night was our favorite dinner in Portland. We started at Jaqueline, in the Ladd’s Addition neighborhood, where we enjoyed $1 West Coast oysters along with a $2 Rainier tallboy and a $3 Topo Chico. So cheap! After our happy hour, we biked to Ken’s Artisan Pizza to grab some pizzas to go.

Jaqueline oyster happy hour

Back at home, we ate our two pizzas and drank the bottle of Brooks Sweet P Riesling. The Riesling had an aroma of petrol that reminded us of that bottle of Hermann J. Wiemer from Tail Up Goat. The two pizzas we ordered were: Handmade – hand-pulled fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, garlic, fennel seed and chile flake and the Brooklyn – tomato sauce, mozzarella, capicollo, pickled jalapeño and honey. The Handmade pizza stole the show. A simple yet perfect pizza.

Ken’s Artisan Pizza and Brooks Sweet P Riesling in our airbnb in Portland

Thursday

We were taking the Amtrak Cascades to Seattle, although our train did not leave until about 3:00PM. That meant that we had plenty of time to partake in one of Portland’s favorite activities: brunch! Sweedeedee, a little less than a mile from our apartment, is known for their pie selection, in addition to more traditional breakfast food. The catch is that you order all of your food at the counter, but you are served pie immediately. What a concept! We shared a slice of peach pie with cream, which was divine. By the time our real breakfast arrived, we were nearly too full to eat. Marnay’s bee pollen biscuit sandwich with ham was memorable, though.

Sweedeedee peach pie

After brunch, we took a meandering walk around the neighborhood and then one final Biketown ride before heading to Union Station. On to Seattle!

Click here to read all about our Seattle adventure!

Da Rae Won and Kogiya

We were in the mood for Korean food last weekend so we ate two different styles: Korean noodles and Korean BBQ.  Here are our thoughts on Da Rae Won and Kogiya, combined into one review.

DA RAE WON

We worked up quite an appetite after going hiking in Greenbelt Park, so we headed for Da Rae Won.  Da Rae Won is a popular Korean restaurant in a strip-mall along Route 1 in Beltsvile.  They specialize in handmade noodles, which are made fresh throughout the day.

The restaurant has been open since 2003.  It’s an attractive space that shows few signs of wear, despite its age.   The menu, mostly in Korean, has short English descriptions below.  This can make it a little tricky to get a full understanding of what you are ordering based solely off the description.  We found the staff tremendously helpful and eager to explain the dishes, though.  For example, there were two “Noodles with Black Bean Sauce” on the menu, items “1” and” 2” in the numeric listing, so I asked our server to explain the difference.   One was more like a soup, she said, and the other had more onions and was saltier.  Plus, they both contained pork unless you tell them otherwise.  I chose the latter, while Marnay went for the Spicy Seafood and Vegetable Soup.

Da Rae Won panchan

The selection of panchan, or free side dishes, was a little small but the quality was high. The four dishes included radish kimchi, daikon, raw onion and an umami-packed black bean paste. Marnay described the thick, slightly sweet paste as tasting a bit like dark chocolate, almost like a mole sauce.

We also ordered four huge pork dumplings, or mandu, crispy from their brief swim in the deep-fryer but not greasy.

Da Rae Won pork dumplings

If you go to Da Rae Won, you may notice a constant “wapping” noise coming from the kitchen.  This is the sound of the noodle dough being constantly worked and stretched.   It is a welcome reminder of the freshness of the noodles you are about to enjoy.

Da Rae Won Spicy Seafood and Vegetable Soup

The best part of our dishes was the texture and chew from the handmade noodles.  For Marnay, next best was the tender squid in her soup.  On the other hand, the octopus was so chewy it was nearly inedible.  The spicy soup’s broth had a burn but it did not set our mouths on fire.

Da Rae Won Noodles with Black Bean Sauce

The noodles and the black bean sauce were served in separate bowls.  (Check out the before picture above and the after picture below).  I mixed in the bean paste, onions and pork on top of the noodles, creating something that looked like an oil slick.  The mole-like sauce and the snap of the noodles combined to make a delectable dish.

Da Rae Won Noodles with Black Bean Sauce
Da Rae Won is a friendly strip-mall restaurant with a dedication to the art of making noodles by hand.  It is well worth a drive or an Uber trip from the Greenbelt Metro.

Best Bite
Paul: Noodles with Black Bean Sauce
Marnay: Spicy Seafood and Vegetable Soup

Address
Da Rae Won: 5013 Garrett Ave Beltsville, MD 20705
Closest Metro: Greenbelt, 3.5 miles away

 


 

KOGIYA

The day after Da Rae Won, we still had not had our fill of Korean food.  So, we headed to Annandale, the DC area’s unofficial Koreatown.   The first thing you will notice at Kogiya is the massive amount of panchan that awaits you at your communal table.  It reminded me of the free snacks that were part of aperitvo in Milan.

Kogiya panchan

Kogiya is a Korean BBQ restaurant with tabletop grills, which are manned by your server.   The panchan selection was so vast that we only had to order two kinds of meats, and you could still do well with one meat between two people.  We chose soy-garlic ribeye and miso pork belly.

We grazed on the panchan and sipped on some Korean beer as our server cooked the thin slices of ribeye in front of us.  In about five minutes, it was done and we attacked it with our chopsticks with reckless abandon.  The ribeye was sweet from the marinade but still meaty.  Of the three dipping sauces available, my favorite was the gochujang, a spicy fermented bean paste.

Kogiya soy-garlic ribeye

There was a bit of an execution problem with the pork belly.  Our server came over to start cooking while we were still eating the ribeye.  The only thing is, he walked away and never told us when it was done.  Almost 20 minutes later, we flagged down another server and asked him if our food was finished cooking.  He took a look at the pork belly, fiddled with the grill and poked at the meat a few times and then declared it done.  By now, though, the pork wasn’t that hot. We liked the sweet and nutty flavor from the miso, but a few pieces were so chewy as to be inedible.

Kogiya miso pork belly

Pork belly confusion aside, we would be willing to go back to Kogiya.  We may go to another Korean BBQ restaurant first, though, and then compare.

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Soy-garlic ribeye

Address
Kogiya: 4220-A Annandale Road, Annandale, VA 22003
Closest Metro: East Falls Church, 5.5 miles away