“What does Deep Ellum mean?” I asked barbecue historian Howard Taylor as we approached a large “Deep Ellum Texas” sign en route to Pecan Lodge.
Taylor explained that it refers to the east Dallas inner-city neighborhood centered on Elm Street, pronounced “Ellum” by former 19th century African-American residents who had migrated from the Deep South.
Today Deep Ellum resembles a blend of Chow Town’s Crossroads Art District and San Francisco’s lower Haight: colorful wall art murals, trendy eats joints, coffee shops, tattoo shops, art galleries, live music bars, Deep Ellum Brewery, Elefant Press and a variety of other startup businesses.
Chow Town’s Crossroads has Jack Stack. Lower Haight has Memphis Minnie’s. Deep Ellum has the Pecan Lodge.
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Pecan Lodge moved to the revitalized Deep Ellum district from its famous Dallas Farmers Market Shed 2 in 2014. Deep Ellum had a rowdy reputation during its 19th century heyday. Drug dealers, drug users, hustlers, sex workers, gamblers and entertainers were busy day and night. Jazz and blues legends Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith and Huddie Ledbetter performed in local clubs.
Taylor, Gary Bronkema and I missed meeting Pecan Lodge co-owners Justin and Diane Fourton during a recent stop, but their famous barbecue was available in abundance. We were first in line when the doors opened at 11 a.m.
Given the name, I wondered if pecan is the wood of choice. Not so. Fourton, a self-taught pitmaster, cooks with a mix of mesquite, hickory and oak in three custom-made heavy gauge steel pits with offset fireboxes. Pecan Lodge is named after Justin’s grandfather’s former ranch in Abilene, Texas. The pits are named after relatives: Lurlene, Virgil and Rick.
Pecan Lodge’s interior is a mix of upbeat inner-city soup kitchen ambiance with Texas smokehouse accents: cement floors, a hodge-podge of salvaged round and rectangular tables resurfaced with varnished or painted wood, a variety of brightly painted chairs, exposed duct work ceiling and corrugated steel roofing panels here and there. A mix of new and vintage signs and art adorn the walls. The outdoor patio has a bar, a stage and wooden picnic tables with bright red canvas umbrellas.
Pecan Lodge’s menu differs from and overlaps what we expect in Kansas City barbecue joints.
What’s different: “Hot Mess,” a sea-salted baked sweet potato loaded with shredded brisket, butter, cheese, bacon, scallions and chipotle sour cream; fried ribs; beef ribs; okra; pinto beans; and banana pudding.
What’s familiar: spareribs, brisket, pulled pork, sausage, mac ‘n cheese.
Each meat order comes with the standard Texas/Oklahoma dill chip and raw onion combo that I long for in Kansas City.
You order and pay, find a table and wait to pick up your order at a kitchen window when your name is called.
We chose a fried rib, brisket, spareribs, okra, mac ‘n cheese and banana pudding combo.
Fried rib: Spicy Cajun-candied crusty meat on a bone layered with so many flavors that the essence of barbecue — smoked meat — was lost in gestation; fun diversion from real barbecue.
Thick-sliced brisket: Tender marriage of lean and fat, kissed with smoky primal pleasure.
Spareribs: Met the gentle tug from the bone tenderness test, with enough smoke-kissed lightly seasoned flavors to push your “Wow” button.
Mac & cheese: Garnished with crumbled bacon: rich and cheesy.
Okra: Tasty breaded fried nuggets.
Banana pudding: Got it on Daniel Vaughn’s advice, thinking it couldn’t possibly compare with gold standard North Carolina banana puddings. Best banana pudding I’ve ever eaten, bar none.
Next time we’ll get the beef ribs, pulled pork, house-made sausage, pinto beans, collard greens and Hot Mess.
Bottom line: Pecan Lodge serves top-quality barbecue, friendly ambiance and trend-setting extras. Diane and Justin don’t plan to open another place or to relocate. If they ever get the itch to open in Kansas City, Chow Towners will eagerly scratch that itch.
The Pecan Lodge is at 2702 Main St. in Dallas. Its telephone number is 214-748-8900 and it can be found on the Internet at pecanlodge.com.
Ardie Davis founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub & Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on food shows and writes for barbecue-related publications. His most recent releases are America’s Best BBQ (Revised Edition), with chef Paul Kirk, and Barbecue Lover’s Kansas City Style .