20 APRIL 4, 2003
www.houston voice.com HOUSTON VOICE
got sushi ?
try our fresh sushi
and healthy grilled fish
2241 Richmond Ave
(between Kirby Dr and Greenbriar Dr)
For Auto, Home, Renters
Life, Health, Business Insurance
and much more.
6575 W. Loop South, Ste. 185
Bellaire, TX 77401
dining ja chapman
House hosts a restaurant that excels
at its title offering and more
Thelma's does BBQ right
THELMA'S BAR-B-QUE HAS BEEN GET-
ting quite a bit of press lately From a profile on PBS in January to glowing reviews
in publications all across the country, it's
the latest darling of barbecue cognoscenti
and foodies. So I figured I should head
over to the little red-trimmed house in the
sketchy Third Ward neighborhood and see
what the fuss was all about.
My first visit was at lunchtime.
Thelma's sign isn't real big, but I knew I
was in the right place because the house
was surrounded by cars. I had to park
way up the street, and the intoxicating
smell of barbecue smoke filled the air as I
walked back toward the screened porch
that proved to be the entrance.
"Keep the door closed!" someone
hollered from behind the counter. I obediently complied, got in line, and took a
look around the joint. Thelma's was
packed with a mix of downtown workers
and folks from around the neighborhood.
The dining room is small, holding about
12 tables of different types and sizes. A
jukebox dominates the back wall, and the
relish bar and a table with water and tea
flank the door. With this many people, it's a
challenge to get around. But the crowd is
friendly Eating well will do that to people.
IT'S A PRETTY BASIC SETUP. YOU
order, pay, and get your number. Someone
comes out from the kitchen carrying
Styrofoam containers and calls out numbers to deliver the food. Since this was
my first visit, I figured I should try the
sliced beef brisket. I ordered a one meat
dinner ($6.75), which meant I got the
sliced beef and two sides. I settled on cole
slaw and potato salad.
Contrary to what I'd been hearing, the
service was pretty quick. I had to wait
about 10 minutes at peak lunch hour for
my food. And what a pile of food it was! A
mountain of sliced brisket swam in a
tangy-sweet vinegar-based barbecue
sauce. Two huge scoops of cole slaw and
potato salad filled the other two sections
in the box. A little plastic baggy of thick
sliced white bread came on the side. I
could hardly wait to dig in.
After one bite, I could see why people
were raving. Smoky, and oh-so-tender, the
brisket practically melted in my mouth.
The occasional charred outside piece provided a nice crispy contrast. If I had one
complaint, it would be that there was too
much sauce. I kept trying to brush it off
to better taste the meat. Perhaps I'll order
it on the side next time.
The side dishes held their own. The
potato salad was mustardy and smooth,
while the cole slaw was crunchy with just
the right amount of sweetness. I'd
ordered iced tea as well, which they
warned me was already sweetened. They
were right - it was sweet and lemony, tak-
1020 Live Oak
Houston, Texas 77003
ing me back to those warm summer days
when I was a kid. It seemed like just the
right drink with Thelma's barbecue.
MY NEXT VISIT WAS A FRIDAY NIGHT
for dinner. Tf the neighborhood feels questionable during the day, it's a bit more so
at night. We didn't worry about safety,
though, as there were four police cars
parked out front. I've always maintained
that cop cars outside mean good, reasonably priced food inside, so we decided this
was an exceptionally good sign.
This time I wanted to try the chicken
and my friend wanted to try the ribs.
Unfortunately, at 7:45 p.m. on a Friday,
they were both gone. Lesson: go at lunch,
or get there early for dinner if you want
your choice off the menu. We both decided to try the catfish dinner ($6.95).
The restaurant was busy, but not
packed, with a slightly different crowd
than at lunchtime. There were two tables
of police, a couple of families and some
college-age friends out for dinner. We had
plenty of opportunity to study the clientele, as our two catfish dinners took 45
minutes to arrive.
The catfish was worth the wait.
Cornmeal breaded, crunchy on the outside and steaming hot and tender on the
inside, it was a joy to eat. This is how
fried catfish should taste. I can't say as
much for the sides this time, though. My
friend enjoyed the ripple-cut fries, but my
green beans and dirty rice were rather
average. But with three huge catfish fillets
to devour, it wasn't like we went hungry.
Thelma's is a friendly, down home
kind of place, where Thelma herself
makes the rounds in the dining room,
making sure everyone is happy. The next
time you're in the mood for barbecue, go
pay Thelma a visit. You're in for a treat.
am*. Thelma's Bar-B-Que
IlL) 1020 Live Oak
^■^ Houston, TX 77003
Food: MM MM
Service: MM mim
Scene: MM Ml
»■= Stay home and eat cereal
MM= Well, if you really must
M M M = Fine for all but the finnicky
M M M M=Worth more than a 20-minute drive
MMMMM=As good as you'll find in this city