Folks: a term meaning Texans and ‘others’ (anyone who hails from outside the Lone Star State) have enjoyed Bryan’s Barbecue since 1910.
When visiting Dallas Texas, head down I-35, exit for a short drive up Inwood Road and find the original Sonny Bryan’s location. This hole-in-the-wall building (think old, ramshackled, faded paint, completed with a gravel-parking lot and that’s the picture) has been serving Sonny’s finest since 1958. Nestled among towering medical facilities, first-time visitors often think the interior of plank walls and old school desks belong on a movie scene. Regulars know it’s not the place but the food that counts, and old-timers still remember when saw dust covered the concrete floors, Sonny reminiscing about his favorite fishing spot, and brushing shoulders with a few socialite folks, including Julia Child, Emeril Lagasse, several of the original cast from Dallas, Robert Duvall, and President George W. Bush.
The original Sonny Bryan’s location does TAKE-OUT on a grand scale.
That’s because the building is small enough to resemble the inside of a sardine can. Folks amble through, pick up their white to-go box and amble back outside.
Some slip into expensive Beamers or Mercedes.
Some settle on the tail of their beat-up pickup truck.
(FYI, Sonny’s does house a backroom, called the Mercedes Room which can accommodate parties of up to 50 BBQ-hungry patrons for special occasions.)
If visitors to Sonny Bryan’s are looking for an order line, they’ll wait in vain.
The building—smoky and warm in the winter and smoky and down-right hot in the summer—is chaos at its best: jammed packed with every type of folk from those shod in custom Italian loafers to battle-scarred workboots to high-end athletic shoes. For those who want their fair BBQ share, speaking up, hollering, or even bellying up to the counter is all acceptable Sonny’s behavior.
Grandfather Bryan started the smoky and tasty barbecue trend in 1910 at (the original) Bryan’s Barbecue.
The torch was passed to father, ‘Red’ Bryan who coincidentally named his 1930 location: Red Bryan’s Smokehouse. Finally, son, William Jennings Bryan, Jr. (known by all as Sonny) slipped on the white apron, stoked the wood fire, and opened the Inwood location in 1958. In the day, Sonny and crew served up smoked meats until the smoker ran out – or Sonny decided it was time to quit and go fishing – one of these usually occurred each day by early afternoon. But trends change and the area evolved. As of 2016, the original location keeps out their ‘welcome all’ sign twenty-four hours a day. As this quaint building snuggles near round-the-clock medical care, the decision was made to offer extended service for those hardworking hospital folk.
Why drive to this out-of-way place to eat?
Because these fine folks have been serving up lip-smackin’ barbecue for over a century. When Bryan people claim, ‘We know how to smoke it’: consider it gospel.
For the still non-believers, they’re welcome to check out the award wall highlighting a coveted James Beard Award to Texas accolades from the Dallas Observer & D Magazine to little screen, Rachel Ray’s Tasty Travels and onto the USA Today award for 4th best Southern barbecue.
But it’s not the awards true BBQ connoisseurs consider important.
- It’s the smoke in the meat; the ‘bark’ on slab; and the original BBQ sauce to smother it (if visitors choose.) Barbecue at Sonny Bryan’s is good enough to eat with your fingers, lick ’em clean, and then snitch a piece or two off your neighbor’s plate.
Sonny Bryan’s chain currently sports 5 locations, all in Dallas.
My favorite memory of Sonny Bryan’s was eating here with my dad. My father, a little sliver of a man, known to friends and family as ‘RED’, worked in the beef business from the end of WWII until the day he retired. He’d learned a thing or two thousand about good meat. He wasn’t particularly partial to any barbecue that didn’t come from Sonny Bryan’s or from out of his own smoker. Dad’s BBQ sauce was a version of Sonny’s. NOT that Sonny gave away his secret recipe, but when two guys are standing around in a kitchen long enough, one of them stirring a pot and adding a pinch of this or a swig of that . . . well, the other one picks up some mighty fine tips. When Daddy finished making his sauce, we kept it in the fridge (one of the secrets involved). But like most serious barbecue-eating folk, the sauce was nice but not necessary. My Daddy is smoking brisket for a higher crowd these days, but I will always treasure the good memories of eating at Sonny Bryan’s with my father.
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7 Tips for Travelling the Texas back roads — weekend road trip!