In a move that both compliments and enhances Lucille's -- the well received, barely three-month-old comfort food restaurant (formerly a house) in Houston's Museum District -- Chef/Owner Chris Williams has opened U.S. Smith’s BBQ, Beer and Garden behind Lucille's.
Situated a half a block away from the Children’s Museum of Houston, U.S. Smith's BBQ -- a big backyard -- previously only housed Lucille's herb and vegetable garden. Now it boasts a small bar with a likeable beer selection; a handful of wooden picnic tables that are made cool with ice troughs running through the center of them for the purpose of keeping beer cold; heaters (will those really be very necessary this year?) and, of course, a barbeque pit area – one that is shielded from the public’s view via a drab, shoulder-height “wall” composed of stacked hollow cement building blocks.
For the most part, grass (rather than cement) covers the ground, and the trees that were inherited with the property remain intact. The vibe is appropriately uber casual, with nothing more or less than what’s needed in sight. Well…at least on the property. Construction trailers and materials visibly lie right outside the gate of the property, as a multi-level parking garage is being built in the lot behind them. They’re a bit of an eye sore that contrasts U.S. Smith’s natural setting. Surely, the patio will look a little bit more polished, as polished as a patio can get, anyway, once the construction scene is no longer.
But enough about the setting because the aesthetics do not make or break a party on the patio! And isn’t partying what patios are for? As a self-proclaimed party on the patio expert, I will share with you that there are three main components to successful parties on the patio: delicious food, great drinks, and enjoyable company.
When I visited U.S. Smith’s ( named after Chris Williams’ great-grandfather because he loved BBQ, beer and gardens) on opening night last Thursday for a media dinner, it was proven to me that the backyard joint is apt for enjoyable parties on the patio.
Let’s begin with the food, shall we? The menu is quite short and very sweet, with “Main Dish” options including suckling pig, grilled oysters on the half shell, “20 Hour Brisket”, baby back ribs, the $11 Hot Dog (really costs $10), a backyard burger, and fish on the half shell. Each main dish is accompanied with your choice of two sides, with the following offerings available: potato salad, baked beans, cabbage slaw, and grilled corn on the cob.
It may be a home-y setting, but the food is not your mama’s cookin’. Williams’ menu takes classic barbecue items and turns up the excitement factor a couple of notches, resulting in superb, mouth-watering food.
I started with grilled gulf oysters on the half shell that are proof that big flavor can definitely come in small packages. Topped with a little bit of olive oil, cilantro, and slivers of beautifully roasted garlic, the oysters were absolutely delicious. While I’m not a hug fan of oysters, I have always tried them in hopes of having some kind of breakthrough. This was breakthrough material, no doubt about it.
Next up, I tried three side dishes, each of them increasingly good. The baked beans were a yummy mouthful of long-standing Texas tradition – plenty of bacon and brown sugar flavor throughout. U.S. Smith’s cabbage salad had a double bite to it: the crunch of the slaw, along with the spice and flavors of house-made kimchi. I loved the unique spin on a classic that is a boring dish, nine times out of ten. The best came last in this case, in the form of the “Patriot Potato Salad”. Heaps of mayonnaise or mustard did not mask this delightful little salad. Rather, a nicely flavored, thin-in-consistency mayo-based sauce complemented the fingerling potatoes, mixed with plenty of celery and onions. It was the best potato salad I’ve ever had in my life – no exaggeration!
My main dish of choice was the backyard burger, and boy was I glad it was. A house-ground beef patty topped with melted shredded yellow cheese, super fresh tomato and lettuce, sandwiched between two fantastically grilled and slightly charred buns, was outstanding. I asked for my burger to be cooked to medium temperature, and cooked to medium temperature it was. This is an accomplishment worth mentioning, as cooking beef patties as requested seems to be an insurmountable challenge for many burger spots. Quite honestly, upon receiving my burger, I asked if there were any condiments available – ketchup, mustard, or mayo. Soon, a ketchup squirt bottle was produced - one that was left abandoned throughout my meal upon the realization that the juicy, flavorful burger needed no extra condiments.
In writing this, I realize that I was so entranced with my hamburger that I didn’t venture to try the other scrumptious-looking main dishes, save a small bite of brisket, which, while seasoned beautifully, was dried out and lukewarm. But heck, it was only U.S. Smith’s first day of operation and they showed me a damn fine meal – the kind that makes for an enjoyable party on the patio. No need to be extra critical about the brisket, as I am sure that it will be perfected in no time.
Plus, the company (very pleasant company, at that – Eric Sandler of Eater, Jack Taylor of Jack Tyler Dines food blog, and Ted Powers, Food Editor of the Jewish Herald-Voice, and his wife) raved about the various main dishes that they enjoyed, especially about the hot dog, topped with a bit of that coleslaw containing kimchi.
I loved the bottled beer selection at U.S. Smith’s, as it was approachable and mostly Texas brewed. Real Ale’s Devil’s Backbone, Southern Star’s Brewery Bombshell Blonde, Alamo Ale, and Karbach’s Sympathy for the Lager made appearances – all priced at $5.
So let’s review U.S. Smith’s party on the patio potential: delicious food: check!; drink selection: check!; pleasant company: check! Yep, it passes with flying colors for the wonderful experience it provides.
You too can have a U.S. Smith’s experience of your own 5 pm to 10 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. On every other Sunday, you can also expect a neighborhood cookout, hosted by Chef Williams himself.
~ Carla Soriano, Urban Swank
Urban Swank did receive a complimentary tasting, but the opinions expressed are our own.