by Courtney Dabney
Everyone loves a backyard barbecue, especially when someone else is doing the cooking. The new Woodshed Smokehouse makes you feel as if you scored an invitation to a private party in Chef Tim Love’s own backyard.
This is exactly the kind of ambience he was shooting for in the creation of this open-air space, which focuses your attention squarely on the patio and the river just beyond. Mission accomplished!
Where do I start? With the interesting menu Love created specifically for this venue (he didn’t just dial it in and dust off some of the bankable winners from his other restaurant formats), or with the layout and design of the space (which has had locals buzzing with curiosity for months)?
Let’s go with the menu.
The first thing to note is how affordable it is. Most items run under $10. Bet you didn’t see that coming! Of course, there are some unexpected entries under the heading of New Q that run slightly higher, and a section called Dining With Friends with specialties ranging from $75-$90, but those are intended to be split among four people, bringing the cost back down to a pretty fair deal. That means poor TCU students and even large families are invited to this backyard party.
Parking is a challenge, but don’t be deterred by the swarms of cars. My party was seated for lunch within 10 minutes on the bustling Saturday afternoon that I visited. (Don’t attempt that for dinner though. Reservations are a must, and if you have any hopes of visiting on your way to a home game next fall, you might as well get your name on the list now!) Just follow your nose to the smokehouse with its impressive aromas wafting through screens in all directions.
The bar area was stacked three deep with people sampling from the array of 25 craft beers on tap and nibbling on some of the snack dishes like Mexican corn, artichokes with lemon and Parmesan or a flaky whitefish dip, all of which are smoked.
We tried the Brisket Stuffed Piquillo Peppers, with Bone Broth and Cotija cheese ($9). Four egg- sized piquillo peppers were roasted and peeled, displaying their ruby tones and imparting a slight sweetness to the dish. They were stuffed with tender, well-seasoned brisket and sprinkled lightly with Cotija cheese crumbles, along with a ladle of rich bone broth added to the cast iron platter. At the suggestion of our waiter, we ordered a side of tortillas, which are a handmade combination of flour and corn, to wrap our peppers in to eat them taco style.
I mentioned the New Q options earlier, which include smoked Red Fish Enpapillote, Game Bird with Braised Spelt, Ramen Noodles with Pulled Pork, and one that I can’t wait to try on my next visit — Fancy Mushrooms smoked and laid on a bed of polenta, topped with a hen egg. But, for my first visit, I went with Traditional Q, to give myself a frame of reference.
The Beef Ribs ($12/lb.) arrived sans side dish, looking like something William Wallace and his band of Gaelic warriors would welcome. They were two mammoth ribs, crusted over with a salty, herb-laden rub. They were good and meaty, and, in retrospect, another item that would be nice to split (meaning that there is no way you are going to finish these). I would have loved a small serving of coleslaw to freshen up this hearty dish.
We also tried the Woodshed burger. Just couldn’t resist comparing this new creation to those at Love Shack. This one boasted a smoky flavor, with tangy slices of thin house-made pickles, a beautifully grilled bun with melting cheddar and a slice of lean rabbit/rattlesnake house sausage. This is not your standard burger.
Now, about the inviting design of the space. This classic fish camp layout overlooks the Trinity. It was designed by the local firm of Bennett Benner Pettit and blends in seamlessly with its surroundings. It is equipped for all seasons, with heaters and fireplaces ready to take on the chill of fall and winter, and fans and shade trees to offer a place to hide from the heat in the spring and summer.
The casual interior is equipped with functional garage doors that roll up or down. The walls are covered with a grey pickled wood that seems to recede. Multi-colored lawn chairs surround steel framed wood-topped tables. The ample deck is strewn with picnic tables and twinkle lights in the trees. With a band strumming on the stage every weekend, the trouble is going to be actually getting people to leave.