Service shines at this Texas-style barbecue joint, which also offers Kool-Aid pickles.
The Mom Says:
When it comes to barbecue, my family has different tastes. I'm usually drawn to brisket. My husband favors pulled pork. My oldest son loves wings slathered in sauce. My youngest is a fan of the sides that typically accompany the entrées: macaroni and cheese, baked beans and collard greens. With so many different requests, going out for the meal makes a lot of sense.
We were happy to learn that Pecan Penny's, a new central Texas-style barbecue restaurant, opened Downtown, about five miles from our house.
When we walked into the cafeteria-style restaurant, I began analyzing the menu on the wall, trying to come up with an order to appease everyone. The cashier saw me studying it and recommended we start with the Downtown Sampler ($21.99). It included brisket, pulled pork, a quarter of a chicken and two sides. We opted for baked beans and collard greens. I asked if that was enough to feed the four of us and she suggested we try the wings (10 for $12) and another side. We took her advice and added the wings and a dish of mac ‘n' cheese ($4) to our order. We also were tempted by the Kool-Aid pickles (50 cents each) and the pickled avocado ($7).
The food came out incredibly fast. We learned that central Texas-style barbecue is not cooked with sauce, allowing diners to add it at the table. Pecan Penny's provides a sampling of sauces to try.
We enjoyed tasting the different items on the Downtown Sampler and especially liked comparing notes on the various styles of barbecue sauce. Interestingly, the wings dipped in the restaurant's take on a vinegar-based, North Carolina-style sauce were my favorite. The sauce was on the tart side and nicely cut through the smoky flavor of the wings. I also thought the pickled avocado was yummy. It was tangy and refreshing.
Although we didn't indulge, my husband and I were impressed with the large selection of local beers on tap at the eatery, which has a retro diner vibe. We also liked that the owners salvaged the sign from the building's former life as Ray Johnson's Fish Market and hung it in the restaurant.
The menu was small but solid, and the fast service makes it a win for busy families. It's a very casual atmosphere with long wood tables and garage doors that open to create access to the large patio.
—Melissa Kossler Dutton
The Kid (Age 13) Says:
The menu had plenty of things I had tried before, but also two things I had never heard of: Kool-Aid pickles and pickled avocado. I loved the avocado. It was my favorite thing I tried. It was served in a little mason jar. In addition to vinegar, there was an interesting mix of spices in the recipe. I saw cilantro, onions and radishes and tasted mint. The avocado did not get soggy in the process. It had the texture of a normal avocado, but the taste was reminiscent of a sweet pickle. Normally, I prefer dill pickles but this appealed to me.
Similarly, I typically don't care for baked beans but the way Pecan Penny's prepared them was to my liking. The beans came in a barbecue sauce that was sweet, smoky and flavorful. The dish had big chunks of meat in it, which I really liked. I love collard greens, and I can't get enough of them. These were no different. I ate plenty.
The main dish I liked best was the brisket. It was so tender and flavorful. I didn't like that the wings came without sauce, but I realize that's the way they do it in Texas. Speaking of sauce, they had five options. My favorite was “Goldie,” their honey mustard sauce. It was the right mix of sweetness and tang.
The blueberry cobbler ($4) was just OK. I thought it was a little too sweet (and they really need to offer it a la mode). They said the cobbler changes seasonally, and I would definitely try another flavor on my next visit because I will go back for the brisket.
The Kid (Age 12) Says:
After we ordered, I went to the condiment stand to check out the sauces and get my drink. The food almost beat me to the table. The service was definitely top-notch, and friendly servers came by to refill your drinks.
Two things on the menu stood out to me: the pickled avocado and the Kool-Aid pickles. The cashier had explained that the pickles were soaked in cherry Kool-Aid. I wasn't expecting to like the pickles because she described them as sweet, and I'm usually not a fan of sweet pickles. However, when I took a bite, I realized that Pecan Penny's had done something remarkable: turned a pickle into a dessert-like treat. It tasted like somebody had dipped a pickle into cherry cola—and it was good.
As for the rest of meal, the brisket was my favorite entrée. It was smoky and tender. It pulled apart like butter. I tried it in several sauces and found I liked the “Kurt” because it had hints of vinegar and mild hot pepper. The sauce has very manageable heat levels—don't be afraid to try it.
As far as the sides go, the mac ‘n' cheese was pretty good. The greens were excellent. The baked beans were a little exotic for my taste. The sauce was very thick, and they had a lot of smoky meat in them. (Don't get me wrong, I like smoked meat, but it made them really rich.) I prefer a more traditional recipe.
We all shared an order of blueberry cobbler for dessert. Right off the bat, I noticed that the blueberries were very fresh. You can always tell when blueberries have been frozen, and these definitely were not. The cake was warm and light. As my dad said, it had the texture of angel food cake but tasted like more-traditional cake. The warm cake and blueberry combo practically melted in your mouth. The only thing missing was a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
If you find yourself Downtown and in need of a good, quick meal, I'd stop by Pecan Penny's.