Texas BBQ, come to Phila.

It's not vinegary, not sweet, not blackened, familiar styles in these parts. It's smoked.

Posted: November 29, 2009

South Street, even on the tamer blocks west of Sixth, won't ever be confused with the actual South. But for some reason - or possibly just blind coincidence - it has given rise to an uncommon number of barbecue joints, among them the estimable Bea Bea's Lawnside BBQ, now occupied by a lesser rib crib, and Phoebe's, also a shadow of its former self.

Now the 800-pound gorilla of barbecue joints has moved in, near the corner of Ninth and South, the bright lights of the hulking Whole Foods Market a tobacco-spit away.

It's called Percy Street Barbecue and its job, "BBQ," is spelled out in red, Bozo-nose bulbs on the chunky sign that hangs outside.

Unlike its predecessors, Percy Street lays claim to a new cut on the ball - Texas-style smoked meat. Bea Bea's harked back to a shredded, vinegary, Carolina pulled-pork tradition, brought north (to Lawnside, N.J.) by runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad.

Texas-style is its own critter, growing out of the beef culture in the Hill Country, generally beyond Austin, and along the so-called Barbecue Trail stretching from Taylor to Lockhart to Luling.

So it's not Carolina-style. And it ain't sweet-sauced Memphis ribs. Or those blackened slabs - more grilled than smoked - you'll find under the tarps on Ridge Avenue on occasion.

Texas-style is five-hour-smoked brisket and coarse-ground sausage ("hot guts," in the down-home vernacular of the Hill Country), chicken ("in season"), and pork ribs, typically served by the quarter, half, or whole pound on a sheet of butcher paper, silverware optional, but discouraged.

It's still exotica in these parts. Like a Philly cheesesteak in Dallas. So I double-checked my own impressions with more Texas-conversant eaters: The pinto bean side? Good eating. A displaced Austinite awarded a B+, though she'd like them simmered longer and less baked-beany. The pecan pie? Nice nuts. But that same over-sweet filling (and too much of it) that plagues the pecan pie genre. Split one slice for two.

The brisket is served properly on those sheets of butcher paper in three speeds - crusty "burnt ends," which tend to run out; leaner, finer-textured cuts; or loose, decadent, moist slices from the fattier part of the cut.

Heck, I could just inhale those "moist" slices. Fatty as they are, at least they aren't the pork belly that does a pretty good rendition of pig blubber.

But I digress: The brisket verdict of a Philadelphia writer who spent a year in Odessa chronicling football under the Friday-night lights? An A, with an asterisk: The meat may seem a tad wet for a true Texan.

The brat-like sausages, house-made and hung like stockings in the big cherry-red smokers (fed with split red oak) had deep smoky flavor: another A from the hard-eating author.

Which brings us to the pork ribs, the production of which chef Erin O'Shea (who formerly turned out exquisite nouveau Southern dishes at West Philadelphia's Marigold Kitchen) confesses is likely to set off the purists. Here's the rub: She brines the things in sugared saltwater.

Even though that clearly wasn't the preferred method on the Texas road trip she took with her coconspirators, Steven Cook and Michael Solomonov (the team also behind Zahav), she thought it resulted in a more reliably tender, moist rib.

She spent a decade living in Houston, so in her heart she knows better. I called the Salt Lick, my favorite joint in Driftwood, Texas, for a reality check: You ever brine your ribs? I asked. Answer: "No, my God! No!" (They get a dry rub, then five hours in a smoker at 175 degrees before getting finished over the pit's fire.)

So, the rib - only one was left the night I ordered them at Percy - was sorta squishy; tender, but not in a good way.

But of course everything (as it tends to be in the barbecue world) is under the microscope here. "How come two different burnt ends tasted different?" an early bird groused. "Hey, why no peach cobbler?" implored another. "What, no combo platter?" (like you get at the Salt Lick), queried Mr. Friday Night.

You got a bone to pick? Grab a beer. Take a seat. Percy Street is a good ol' new place to pick it.


Percy Street Barbecue


Ninth and South Sts.

215-625-8510

www.percystreet.com



Contact columnist Rick Nichols at 215-854-2715 or rnichols@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ricknichols

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