The Deep Ellum Arts Festival made itself known to me last year when I couldn't park for a concert I was attending. This year, I went on purpose. I grew up in Dallas, but I've never really explored the downtown area aside from a handful of concerts that I either performed or attended. I lured my friend Clint to join me with the promise of barbecue.
I paid ten dollars to park on a patch of grass that had been free the year before. We later wondered if we'd been scammed by a thief in an orange vest, but he was still there taking money a couple hours later. If he was a thief, he was a brazen one.
I like Deep Ellum. Back in junior college, my band played a few shows out here, and the combination of being in a band, being away from my parents and hanging out in a sketchy part of Dallas late at night was exciting at the time. And while Dallas has a distinctly different vibe that I can appreciate in small doses, I'm not exactly sure what drew me to come to the 2015 Arts Festival other than that it was something to do on a Saturday.
Like every other arts festival in America, the Deep Ellum Arts Festival is a closed-down street lined with art and junk food vendors sitting in or near tents as too many people mill around looking at art and each other. I'm struck by the optimism of it all. Artists come from all over the country to sell their works. Bands play free shows, no doubt recruiting their Facebook fans to attend. Ford sponsors a giant booth and street team in an attempt to sell more cars. Does any of it really pan out?
I hope so. My aim was, however, more primitive. I'd heard that Pecan Lodge Barbecue was a good place from a reliable source, and I used the opportunity to find out if I agreed. I'm a man. I'm a Texan. My dad smokes a mean brisket. Like everyone else in the world, I believe that my opinions are somehow better informed and carefully considered than everyone else's. I'm also overly proud of the fact that I've waited in line for three hours at Franklin Barbecue in Austin like so many other tourists. I privately believe that my being impressed or not will matter to the proprietors of Pecan Lodge. It won't.
The line was long but moved quickly, and the smell of wood smoke and luxuriously tortured meats was more than adequate temptation for us to wait it out. Plus, the weather was great. I imagine it would be a different story in the summer. I imagine, for my own amusement, large, hairy men sweating profusely in the 100-degree heat, shaking from meat withdrawals and mercilessly beating those who might try to cut in line. Thankfully, that's not the case today.
At this point in my barbecue eating life, I generally go straight for the brisket. Sausage, turkey, pork...whatever. They can be more or less tender, but they generally taste pretty darn similar from one joint to another. However, it didn't seem right to get only one menu item. And the gigantic, $25 beef ribs being sold out, we got some pork ribs and a jalepeno cheddar sausage link, plus a beef-laden sweet potato called a "hot mess."
We have the facts and we're voting yes. I don't specifically remember the taste of Franklin's brisket, heretofore the best I've had in a restaurant (my dad has made one or two that were better), but Pecan Lodge's offering was way up there. And their sauce is dynamite. The fact that I had to wrestle with using any is a testament to the meats, but since I make my own barbecue sauce, I had to give it a go. It's thin, spicy and probably consists mostly of vinegar, and it was one of the better sauces I've had. It complements rather than hides like so many perverted ketchups do. I foresee trying to recreate it in the near future.
The jalepeno cheddar sausage was above average, and so were the pork ribs. The taste of the blackened exterior gave me a micro flashback to some family cookout long past which may or may not have actually occurred. It was nice; I like micro flashbacks. The hot mess was fine, but Clint and I agreed that the taco-y cumin flavor in the meat was unnecessary. In summation, Pecan Lodge was expensive but very good. At Franklin, although the food was great, the line felt like its own tourist attraction. At Pecan Lodge, the line (albeit a shorter one) felt more authentic.
Afterward, we watched what turned out to be a very cool band, Reinventing Jude, play a set at the west end of the festival. Clint commented that they had a kind of haunting sound, and I agreed. If you like the band Metric, you'd like them. After that, it was back to the car and back to our side of the Metroplex. I bought no art, but at least I ate too much. How American is that?