wo Bros. BBQ Market, the penultimate offspring of Chef Jason Dady and his family (Insignia in the Fairmount Hotel being the most recent birthing), hit the ground running and has only improved. How’s that for a positive introduction?
Can’t be the pits that are hitting their stride; Jason and his brother Jake bought them already broken in from a Hill Country establishment. So it must be the tweaking of a recipe here and there and, most important of all, the emerging prowess of the pitmaster. At last visit, not a single item suffered from late-evening dryness, and even the often offhand potato salad seemed to have picked up speed. As the menu admits, Two Bros. is “tucked away in the back” of El Bosque on West Avenue. The appeal of the outdoor seating, sheltered by several stately oaks and additionally furnished with children’s play equipment, is ideal for families.
Charm there is aplenty in the food. As was the case just after opening, the chilled, smoked shrimp are still pretty unremarkable. But they may be one’s first excuse to try the three available sauces: house tang, spicy red and sweet thang. Yes, we have favorites. (Hint: It’s not the “thang” — but don’t let that stop you.) And the shrimp benefits from any one of them. To be honest, almost none of the other meats needs additional intervention, the dry rubbing and gentle oak smoking being flavor enough. But hey, taste first, then slather away; it’s all part of a serve (on butcher paper)-and-eat ethic that guarantees a train wreck on the table and hands in desperate need of a finger bowl. Make that a finger bucket. Meats at Two Bros. include the usual suspects: brisket, chopped beef, pork sausage and pork ribs. There’s also a pulled pork butt plus cherry-glazed baby back ribs. Brisket is a barbecue bellwether, and even at 7 p.m., our well-trimmed serving was moist and just smoky enough. Tender, moist and flavorful, too, was the pork loin, ordered out of duty in fear of bland dryness, and finished with gusto and recriminations of not having ordered more. (One-quarter pound is the minimum.) The cherry-glazed baby backs may sound a smidgen snooty for “real Texas pit BBQ,” but you’ll get over it quickly; the glaze is just sweet/fruity and crusty enough to make magic with ‘dem bones.
But, as during a previous experience, it’s the chicken thighs, still smartly priced at $1.80 each, that are a revelation. Yes, the skin can be oddly chewy, but somehow these lowly parts take to the smoke with unexpected enthusiasm. They’re great cold, too, so buy extra to take home and anoint with anything you have at hand: good mustard, chutney, harissa. The pork loin also travels well.
Sides are called “fixins” at Two. Bros., which does tend to lean toward the cute on occasion. Friends at an adjoining table raved over the mac and cheese. But both the beans with their off-the-wall canned peach component and the potato salad seem to have matured in the interim — the beans in the direction of peppery, the salad into the realm of lush and creamy. We also forgive the chalkboard list of wines that’s way better than it has to be. No, wait a minute: We rejoice in it. Especially as there are several half-bottle selections. Our Starmont Merryvale Cabernet worked especially well with the pork and brisket; the ribs might have merited a punchier bottle. Say a Shiraz.
Desserts rarely play a significant role in smoke-stained BBQ joints; who needs them after all that pasty white bread anyway? But at Two Bros., an exception may be made. It happens that blueberry cobbler was the special this time, as it was the last, but the cobbler component seemed more assertive, the slivered almond factor more important. This is a serious dessert, oddly perfumy and a little dense, but worth sharing. And — it must be a cultural thing — I wouldn’t order the deep-fried strawberry pies again, despite the guilty pleasure of fat and sugar.
Not wanting to leave you with that image, let’s go back outside to the picnic tables under the oaks. On a cool, moonlit night, the setting is spectacular, the tucked-away location quiet and oddly peaceful except for the occasional thunder of a plane passing overhead. We’re assuming all the kids have left, by the way.