Monday, March 3, 2014

The Posse Shows a Tolerant Side: Rethinking the ‘No-Sides’ Rule at Bull Hollar BBQ in Bells

Jim and Jan Worsham opened Bull Hollar BBQ in Bells in early February. (Photos @Daniel Goncalves & Chris Wilkins)

By Bruce Tomaso/Texas BBQ Posse

A few days ago, I disagreed with fellow Posse member Gary Jacobson, who said we might have been wrong in the past for condemning gas-fired smokers. Call me an extremist, but I say the only way to cook fine barbecue is with wood.

There’s no need to revisit that argument. I’m right. Gary’s wrong. Fin de conversaciĆ³n.

However, as we discovered on a recent North Texas tour, the Posse might have been wrong all these years about something else: Our no-sides rule.

Bull Hollar, a new joint in Bells run by Jim and Jan Worsham, might have changed our minds forever about the wisdom of skipping side dishes.

The no-sides rule was born of necessity. You can’t eat at eight barbecue joints in just over 24 hours if you’re filling up on cornbread, cole slaw and cobbler. It’s a matter of physics. “More room for meat,” as Posse member Tom Fox succinctly put it. (Although, to be candid, I’ve always been willing to bend the no-sides rule if a joint put out a particularly tasty-looking pan of peach cobbler. Especially if it also served Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla.)

The truth is, a lot of sides aren’t worth the belly space they take up. The cole slaw and potato salad served in most barbecue joints taste like they came straight from Costco or Sam’s. The fried okra almost surely arrived at the back door frozen in a big plastic bag, the green beans in big tin cans.

Lunch plate of ribs, brisket, potato salad & cole slaw. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins)
Not at Bull Hollar. While Jim Worsham works the pit, his wife Jan makes the side dishes from scratch. “Everything is homemade,” Jan told us. “Everything.”

Clinging, more or less, to our no-sides rule, we only tried three of Jan’s creations: the cole slaw, potato salad and the banana pudding.

They were exquisite.

“I think it’s a new leaf,” Posse member Daniel Goncalves said. That may have been the moment when the no-sides rule died.

We didn’t get Jan’s recipe for cole slaw, but we know that it starts with her hand-grating fresh heads of cabbage. “I’ve been making that same cole slaw for 40 years,” she said.

The banana pudding was light and creamy, and full of flavors. The sliced bananas tasted like bananas.

“I would drive up here just for that pudding,” said our wheelman for the day, Chris Wilkins.

To put that into perspective, Bells, in Grayson County, is about 50 miles from Chris’s house.

I live farther still, and I’d ride a tricycle up to Bells for that pudding.

Bull Hollar opened about a month ago. Business has been good. After the Worshams’ second weekend, a notice was posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page, saying Jim needed more oak and pecan ASAP. This past weekend, there was a notice that they were closing on Sunday “so we can make more room in the kitchen.”

Before opening Bull Hollar, Jim cooked competitively for years, traveling from Georgia to Colorado to take part in barbecue contests. The many trophies and plaques on display in the dining room are evidence of his pit skills.

We particularly liked the ribs, lightly touched with honey for a smoky sweetness.

Nothing was overseasoned. Jim’s approach is to go for subtle flavor. That’s in sharp contrast to many competitive cookers, who tend to go heavy on rubs and mops. They think their need a BAM!! to stand out in the minds of judges, who must sample platter after platter after platter.

We were fine with Jim’s philosophy.

“I don’t need to have it scream at me, like, ‘Hey, I’m all tricked up,’ ” Chris said.

Especially not when the side dishes are singing such gentle love songs.

BBQ competition veteran Jim Worsham checks one the two custom smokers he built & uses at Bull Hollar.
(Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Two other stops on our tour were less satisfying, for very different reasons.

The first place we hit was Triple R Barbecue in Whitewright, a town on the Fannin-Grayson county line, about eight miles down U.S. 69 from Bells.

We ordered The Ranch House, a $15.99 sampler plate of brisket, ribs, turkey, chicken, ham, sausage and pulled pork.

You’d hope that with seven swings, they’d have one hit.

Daniel summed up our assessment: “Good sauce.”

After Bull Hollar, we hoped to conclude with a late lunch at the new Lockhart Smokehouse in the historic district of downtown Plano.

But when we got there – about 3 p.m. – the “Sold out!” sign was taped up.

We took this as good news, for two reasons:

1. Plano is in dire need of a great barbecue joint, and Lockhart’s founders, Jeff and Jill Bergus, have shown at their original store – in Oak Cliff’s Bishop Arts District – that they’re capable of smoked-meat greatness. For their sake, and for that of Plano’s BBQ lovers, we wish them success at the new place. May they need that “Sold out!” sign often.

2. After seconds (or was it thirds?) of that banana pudding at Bull Hollar, the last thing we needed at 3 p.m. was one more barbecue lunch.

The Showing Our Tolerant Sides BBQ Tour

10 a.m.: Leave from Plano
11 a.m.: Triple R Barbecue, 504 N. Highway 69, Whitewright. 903-364-9999. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
12 p.m.: Bull Hollar BBQ, 102 N. Broadway, Bells. 903-965-7600. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. (Or until the meat runs out.)
3 p.m.: Lockhart Smokehouse, 1026 E. 15th St., Plano. “Open every day, 11 am till we’re done.”
(123 miles roundtrip)

Busy Saturday lunch crowd at Bull Hollar BBQ.  (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Jan Worsham and daughter Jennifer work the Bull Hollar counter.  (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves/Fotobia.com)

Jim Worsham heads back to work after chatting with the Posse.  (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Bull Hollar BBQ uses a mix of oak and pecan wood.  (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves/Fotobia.com)


1 comment: