Thursday, November 29, 2012

Event: Grand Opening of US Smith's BBQ, Beer and Garden

Chris Williams
and Fresh Produce
Included in media kit
used with permission
Owner and executive chef Christopher Williams of Lucille’s, 5512 La Branch, rolled out a second restaurant in the backyard of his first one called U.S. Smith’s BBQ, Beer and Garden, behind Lucille’s, on Thursday, November 29, 2012. I was fortunate enough to be invited to this Grand Opening event along with many of the usual Houston Food Blogeratti--I ran into Carlia Soriano from 1252 Tapas and UrbanSwank Blog, Jack Tyler of JackTylerDines, whom I've not had the pleasure of seeing in a good while, Eric Sandler of and Katherine Whaley, Traffic Reporter from KHOU-11 were all there in attendance and ready to enjoy some wonderful Southern Comfort Food with a creative twist.

I was very pleased with US Smith’s BBQ, Beer and Garden Opening Menu.  This menu, FYI, does not include their usual Blackboard Menu of Daily Specials.  Those specials change all the time and could be anything from an old recipe card from the family, to an improvised treat from the beautiful food mind of Chef Williams.  The grand opening menu that was offered to us was quite wonderful.  It  was quite flush with such wonderful dishes as:

Delciious Babyback Ribs in a sauce made from Cumin,
Orange Juice, Brown Sugar and various secret ingredients
Fish On-The-Half-Shell
Suckling Pig
20-hour Brisket
US Smiths Babyback Ribs
Grilled Oysters On-The-Half-Shell
Backyard Burgers
11 Hot Dogs toppedCollard Green Kimchi

Patriot Potatoes, Baked Beans and Fish on the halfshell
Patriot Potato Salad made from Red, White and Blue potatoes, no joke
Garden Cabbage Slaw
Whole Grilled Corn on the Cob
Baked Beans made from 3 different kinds of beans

Craft beer, Wine and Bubbles

Champagne in a backyard Ice Tub?  Looks good to me!
In the backyard of Lucille's Williams has added a barbeque pit that is large enough to smoke a whole pig, a bar and picnic style tables with built-in ice troughs, right next to the garden where he grows herbs and vegetables in raised beds.  This is like a nice garden party mixed in with a festival and a Frat House party, loaded with gourmet-comfort fusion grub!  Total winner all the way from this Foodie Professor's view.

I've had the pleasure of visiting Chef Williams's projects before.  He was one of the main Chef's at Max's Wine Dive when it was finding its legs over on Washington Avenue.  When Lucille's was opened, I got to attend a great preview event and he provided some very helpful advice and insight into starting such a business that many of my Economics students found quite valuable.

Backyard BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger with Garden Cabbage Slaw
and Grilled Whole Corn on the Cob
The guests tried various dishes.  I was fortunate enough to enough to be able to enjoy a backyard bacon cheeseburger, and tasting portions of US Smith's Baby Back Ribs, Fish on the Half Shell (Cobia this particular day, cooked with skin and gills on one side) and roast suckling pig, along with Patriot Potato Salad, Baked Beans, Garden Cabbage Slaw and whole grilled Corn on the Cob.

First of all let me say that the Backyard BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger was a mighty delicious burger, served on a very nice bun that held it all together.  The bacon was crispy and thick, the meat sweet and juicy and the toppings were all fresh.  I very much enjoyed the Garden Cabbage slaw--it was slightly creamy and finished with some spicy heat at the end.  My dining companion and I were both impressed with that unexpected element of the Slaw. The Patriot Potatoes and Baked Beans had similar unexpected flavours show up--much of it part of the creativity of Chris Williams and his Kitchen Staff, often improvising on the job so the same dishes don't always taste the same way twice.  While some folks might grouse about this, I consider it the opportunity to witness the chefs' technique evolving as they work up the learning curve of their dishes.  Magnificent!

Chef Williams and Staff pose with Katherine
Whaley and Frend 
I found the Fish on the Halfshell, which this evening was grilled Cobia, had the consistency of a Swordfish steak,with seasoning that was strong, but like the kind you might find on a beefsteak.  I personally like fish cooked skin and gillside down, as this adds flavour and an extra dimension to the eating.  Very nice job on this fish.  US Smith's babyback ribs were a real treat.  They were prepared in an Orange Juice reduction sauce that was seasoned with Cumin, Brown sugar and a few secret ingredients I could not quite put my finger on.  The spicy, muskiness of the Cumin was a nice contrast to the sweetness of the pork.  Between the marinating and smoking process, they were fall of the bone tender and just plain wonderful.  Best ribs I've had in a long while.  I also got some of the smoked suckling pig--it was like a fusion of smoked pig from a Filipino wedding and whole pig cooked Carolina style with salt, pepper and vinegar.  The pig was stuffed with a mixture of potatoes, cabbage and onions that were served as a great savoury side dish with the pig.  Again, Chef Williams and his crew did a nice job with these dishes.

I also enjoyed Chef Williams's personal, approachable, affable attitude.  We traded some quips about different places while my dining companion who represents Max's Wine Dive & The Tasting Room swapped war stories with him and he posed for photos with KHOU's Katherine Whaley.  We also talked about some of the practical business modalities from the 80s comedy movie "Rodney Dangerfield's Back to School."  You gotta love a guy who can quote the scene where Dangerfield was telling the management class how to handle building inspectors!

Party on the Patio, Houston Style 
Chef Williams gave a little background on the name of this restaurant behind a restaurant:  “U.S. Smith was my great-grandfather,” stated Williams. “He owned a butcher shop, BBQ restaurant and a country store in Fort Worth, Texas. From 1935 through 1955 he was also the reigning BBQ artisan of his day. My grandmother used to tell me about him flying to New York City to compete in BBQ cook-offs in Madison Square Garden,” added Williams. “I named the backyard restaurant after my great-grandfather because I named my restaurant after his wife, Lucille, and because he loved BBQ, beer and gardens.” I couldn't think of a nicer tribute to a cooler Great-Dad.

Personally, a good deal of the food served tonight reminded me of various Southern Comfort Food dishes that my Uncles and Great Aunts served for various occasions in parts of Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, but with a bit of a twist--inspirations from Asian, European and Hipster cuisine added to make the dishes spicier, more full of flavour and more interesting for the palate.

FYI: The backyard has been certified by the City of Houston as a dog friendly patio. For reservations please visit For more information, please visit Lucille's website.

5512 La Branch (behind Lucille's)
Houston, TX  77002

Hours of Operation
5 pm to 10 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
On every other Sunday, Williams will host a neighborhood cookout.

And remember to do like Houstonian classic rock band ZZ Top and Chef Chris Williams:
Eat Happy Y'all!!!

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