Saturday, July 4, 2009

Favorite Things: Barbecue at Clark's Outpost

Yesterday, two friends and I took the long, long trip up to Tioga to eat barbecue at Clark's
Outpost. It had been a few year since I was at Clark's, and my friends had never even heard of it, although they've lived here longer than I have.

The drive was, well, an adventure. For part of the trip we drove a county road that was graveled but unpaved (Rte 121 west): do not choose this route. Scenic, but a little unnerving. Instead, use Rte. 380 to 377, then go north.

My friends, after about 90 minutes of driving, including over 10 miles of unpaved road, were understandably hungry and crabby. Clark's storefront looks unimpressive, and pulling into the unpaved gravel parking lot, with all windows closed so the a.c. can blast against the orange pollution ozone alert and 102 degree heat, does not impress.

And then one opens the car door, steps out... and smells the barbecue cookin'.


From there we floated to the front door.

I had carefully made reservations--since it was a Friday evening--but most tables were empty. A surprise to me. I recommend ALWAYS making reservations.

The three of us sat, ate, and--damn!--enjoyed.

We ordered appetizers: onion rings and fully loaded potato skins. Both were delicious, but I especially love the rings. The coating is thick, crunchy, chewy and the rings are substantial.
To order alcohol, one must join the club, a Texas tradition of dry towns, where only members can drink legally. We ordered Shiners, naturally, and one Negro Modelo.

One friend ordered the brisket beef/smoked turkey combination plate, including the collard greens and jalapeno black-eyed peas. The other ordered the brisket/sausage combo, with potato salad and fried zucchini. I ordered the beef/pork ribs combo, with red beans and cole slaw. The plates arrive fast--always--and at first glance, it doesn't look like much food. And in fact for a regular barbecue joint, it is a smaller serving... but then one starts to eat.

The beef is so tender, beautifully smoked on-site over three days, one doesn't even need a knife to cut it. It is so delicious, so tender, that it is a work of art. The ribs--ditto. Smallish, but tasty, succulent, plump. Bones do not dominate. Eaten with the dark sauce that comes bottled in old Grolsch beer bottles: be still my heart! The sausage, from a Dallas maker, are spicy, while the turkey breast--also smoked at Clark's--is mellow and, again, so tender it can be nudged into pieces with a fork.

Usually, I ignore the sides in favor of the main course, so as not to waste time or space. In this case that would be a mistake. All of our sides were superb seconds: my red beans and cole slaw were so good, I actually ate most of them.

Each plate comes with two slices of Texas toast, an onion slab (not slice), and half of a canned cling peach.

For dessert, one friend ordered the Dutch apple pie with vanilla ice cream, while I had the bread pudding with hard sauce. I recommend the pie--crunchy, complex, and overall delicious--and not the bread pudding. I am a huge fan of b.p., but this one was soaked in brandy and nutmeg. It was absolutely tasty, but so rich and overwhelmingly alcoholic, I wa afraid to be near the open candle on our tabletop. Wow! I ate about 1/3 of the total slab, which again was not over-sized or grotesque, but too much for me.

My friends, fans of Southern cooking, Tex-Mex cooking, and Texas food, were impressed. Me, too, but I was not surprised. What I love most about Clark's is that it is not out to impress: neither the decor, the wait staff (who are friendly and efficient, but not hanging over the table, thank God!), or the prices are out to stun you. It is, simply, good food that doesn't want to be the favorite baby of foodies and wanna-be gourmands. What for?

If you love it, you can order off their website, which also shows their menu and hours. Take my advice: if you're in the area, visit. If you aren't, order something by mail. You'll be very happy.


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