Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Classic Houston: I visit Otto's BBQ & Hamburgers

As much as I love trying new places, or rather places that are new to me, I also like to visit Classic Houston restaurants as well.  This is especially true of places with an established history and longevity in Houston.  Star Pizza and Goode Co.  are just two such examples.  However, I was helping my daughter do a report on Fmr. Pres. George H W Bush (#41) a while back and began recounting that because of his maintaining a part time residence in the Houston area, several local places that had been around a loooong time had a President Bush food plate or pizza or something else.  I did a little web search and was reminded of Otto's BBQ & Burgers, which used to on Memorial Drive back in the day, having a President Bush plate.

First a little history from their website:
Otto and Annie Sofka opened the doors to the Otto's in December 1950 off an old two-lane dirt road called Memorial Drive. Originally, Otto’s was a small grocery store selling mostly canned and boxed goods. They also sold 25 pound blocks of ice for 5 cents and farm fresh eggs for 13 cents per dozen. “Ms. Annie” began grilling hamburgers and making sandwiches at the request of some of her regular patrons. The hamburgers became so popular that within two years, Otto had replaced all of the groceries with tables and chairs to accommodate his dine-in guests.
In 1963, Otto and his family decided to “expand” by going into the barbecue business. Much like the hamburgers, the barbecue instantly became recognized as the best in town. Old family recipes, the finest and freshest ingredients and the patience and care to make everything from scratch, began the legacy that has been handed down to the third generation of this family owned and operated business. Many things have changed over the past 50 years. One thing that has not changed, however, is Otto’s. We still grind our own hamburger patties fresh every day and slow cook our briskets in a hickory smoked barbecue pit for 18 hours. 
You gotta give credit where due--they've had the pleasure of serving some very distinctive guests such as President George H W Bush, Liberacci, George Foreman, Ron Howard, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Jerry Lewis, just to name a few.  That's a pretty diverse bunch of fellas who've all had a hankering for their BBQ, and that gives a ringing endorsement in my book.  Their menu includes their own brand of bottled sodas too.  Although the original location on Memorial Drive closed back in 2010, the Stafford and Downtown locations have remained open, serving up that delicious real pit BBQ over the years.  I visited the original one on Memorial many times when I was a grad student at Rice University, and occasionally would stop in when I was in the area.  However, I had not been in a long time and felt a bit chided to make a beeline to The Fountains at Stafford with the kiddos in tow.
Platter fit for a hack Food-blogger and his 2 kiddos

While the facade is nothing like the original with the blue awning and white painted cinderblocks, the interior is Texas BBQ kitsch and celebrity patron photos at it's finest.  Despite the old location being gone, it's good to see this location honor Otto's history here in Htown.  I was feeling particularly nostalgic and went with the President Bush plate--a 3 meat plate with beef brisket, pork ribs and link sausage (my 3 favourite BBQ meats!), with 2 sides (Mac n Cheese and Mashed Potatoes) and a bottle of Otto's own bottled root beer.  My kid's ordered off the kid's menu (they really need to post it on their website but don't at the moment)--Jason went with a corn dog, Helena with one of their famous cheeseburgers that comes in a kid's appropriate size.  Both went with fries, but ended up swapping some for my Mac N Cheese (which is REALLY GOOD and CHEESY by the way!).

BBQ fit for our 41st US President, George H W Bush
The ribs had good bark, a nice smoke ring, were fall off the bone tender and nicely peppery.  I really like Otto's tangy sauce, but did not have to use much as the ribs were well marinate and smoked.  The brisket also had a nice smoke ring and was very tender, slightly dry but that happens with brisket at times--still good.  The sausage had a bit of fennel and red pepper in the mix, slightly greasy, but full of flavour and the potatoes worked well with the sausage.  My kiddos totally gobbled up the burger, corn dog (My son said it was very generous and meaty) and all the fries, and then demolished half my mac n cheese.  Note to self, order an extra side of Mac N Cheese at Otto's for the kiddo's next time...

There's a concept that gets thrown about in business, a bit of a buzzword called "Creative Destruction"--it has several meanings, but is usually applied to mean getting rid of the old to make way for the new.  I know that old Memorial Drive location had to go due to the value of the land it sat on and how the repurposed land would be more valuable used as something else.  However, I'm also glad that those who are running the locations of Otto's haven't tossed out the recipes and concepts that have made them last over 62 years in the Houston area.  Although Otto Sofka is no longer with us, I do believe he'd be proud to see his company is still chugging along as Houston forges ahead, becoming a good model of a city for the 21st Century.

Report Card for Otto's BBQ & Hamburgers in Stafford:
Food & Beverage:
     Otto's Root Beer: Solid A--very sassafrass, sweet but not too sweet, good twang 
My daughter devours the Kid's Cheeseburger at Otto's

     BBQ Ribs-A+
     Brisket: A-
     Sausage: A
     Kid's Corn Dog: B+
     Kid's Cheeseburger: A
     Mac N Cheese: A+
     Potatoes & Gravy: A- (I prefer brown gravy to cream gravy)
     Speed: A-
     Friendliness: A
     Dining Area/Food Line: A
     Men's Room: B+
Atmosphere (Kitschy Texas BBQ joint): A-

Overall Grade: A

Otto's BBQ has 3 downtown locations and a Deluxe Grille in Katy.
Jason found the fries hard to put down
We went to the Otto's BBQ & Hamburgers at:
The Fountains Shopping Center
11222 Fountain Lake Drive
Stafford, TX 77477

Hours of Operation:
Monday - Thursday 11am-9pm
Friday 11am-10pm
Saturday 7am-10pm
Sunday 7am-9pm

Eat Happy, Y'all!!!

Otto's Barbecue on Urbanspoon

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