The Pit Room Is Setting A New Baseline Of Quality For Houston Barbecue
The Pit Room, a barbecue venture in the heart of Montrose, is now three months old. In that short time, CultureMap Houston, Texas Monthly’s TMBBQ blog, My Table Magazine, and the Houston Chronicle, as well as the social media crowd, have all heaped praise on it. Thanks to the growing popularity, business hours have been expanded to include dinner in addition to lunch.
It’s been steady growth, though, not the big, initial spike that’s simply due to the “new kid on the block” factor. That’s thanks not only to the media and word-of-mouth publicity, but also to the quality of the well-executed menu items.
The Pit Room wasn’t saddled with the growing pains most new restaurants endure. It took longer than expected to renovate the building and get needed permits and approvals from the City of Houston. That afforded Michael Sambrooks and Bramwell Tripp time to work through and refine their offerings. By the time they got the green light for occupancy, they had top-notch products ready to deliver on the very first day of business.
“I’m really impressed with our staff and how quickly they came together,” said Sambrooks. “They’ve really shown an amazing ability to adapt to the needs of the challenging schedule and tasks required to run a barbecue restaurant.” After three months of operation, a trio of staff members have taken on the task of monitoring the pit fires, including the overnight shift, which frees up Sambrooks and Tripp to grab some much-needed sleep while still maintaining a grueling seven-day-a-week schedule.
Sambrooks’ vision for The Pit Room is for it to be a unique, Houston-inspired barbecue joint and, as chef, Tripp’s role is to creatively execute that vision in the kitchen. There’s no shortage of choices at The Pit Room, which include traditional offerings of Texas-style prime beef brisket, ribs, sausage, pulled pork, chicken and smoked turkey, plus big beef plate ribs.
At $19.50 per pound, the brisket is a little more expensive than most other barbecue restaurants in Houston. It is usually very good, though, with a peppery bark and adequate amount of smoke without it being pervasive. It also makes its way into several dishes. Trimmings go into the Texas Red Chili and Tripp uses smoky rendered brisket fat in homemade tortillas. Those serve as the base for three Tex-Mex style tacos ($4.25 to $4.75 each): chopped brisket with cheddar cheese, sour cream, salsa roja, and cilantro; pulled pork with salsa verde, pickled red onions, cotija cheese, and cilantro; and pulled chicken with smoked green chile, griddled asadero cheese, and charred garlic.
The house-made sausages ($3.50 per link) are a standout here as well. It’s rare to find sausage made on-premise in Houston barbecue joints, but it’s made fresh every day at The Pit Room. It’s a three-day process of grinding, stuffing, chilling, and smoking in the upright, wood-fired sausage smoker. The Czech-style all-beef sausage has a garlicky undertone and is flecked with pepper and mustard seed. A smoky and peppery venison sausage is a little darker and richer, and the pork jalapeño cheese is studded with vibrant green bits of jalapeño and melted cheese. “We started at 30 pounds per day, upped it to 45 pounds, and now we’re up to 60 pounds per day,” Sambrooks says.
Rich Duroc pork spareribs ($16.50 per pound) are big and meaty. A rack freshly unwrapped from the warmer will be the juiciest and most tender, so ask for that if you don’t see fresh ribs on the cutting board. The smoked chicken ($8 for half a chicken) is juicy and flavorful. It could be one of the best in town if it had a little more time on the pit and some finishing heat to crisp the skin.
Sides are all carefully made in-house and cost $3.25 each for a single serving. The offerings include creamy macaroni and cheese, respectable versions of traditional potato salad and coleslaw, and mini ears of yellow corn served elote-style, topped with cotija and cilantro. The borracho-style pinto beans are meaty with house-cured and smoked bacon. Fresh jalapeño adds a touch of heat.
The condiment bar is one of the best around, with pickled red onions, jalapeños, spicy pickles, and a tangy escabeche punctuated with bright orange carrot slices. In addition to prime brisket trimmings, the Texas Red Chili includes three types of chiles, Shiner Bock beer, cumin and a touch of allspice (no beans!). It will surely be a big draw as the weather cools. The Loaded Frito Pie ($11.25) topped with a choice of chopped beef or pulled pork, cheddar cheese, onions and sour cream, is more than a meal’s worth.
Though the potential for having any room after indulging in all the creative menu options is unlikely, a trip to The Pit Room would not be complete without at least sharing one (or two!) of their excellent desserts ($4.50 each). Try one of three varieties of Ice Cream Sandwiches, with fresh-baked cookies and filled with sweet gelato from Dolce Gelato in Houston. Also available is a creamy but not-too-sweet Sugar Cream Pie, which could hold its own with the best found in Pennsylvania Dutch country. My favorite of all might be the Cherry Pie, filled with tart cherries balanced with just enough sweet filling to make it one of the more memorable slices of pie I’ve had in some time.
Plans for next year include renovating the outdoor areas of the former Jackson’s Watering Hole and tying the two exterior spaces together, and providing more coverage for the outdoor seating areas. 25 new craft beer taps have now been installed in the bar, significantly increasing the number of draft options available. Look for menu expansions as well. They expect to roll out breakfast tacos with brisket, pork and sausage options at the walk-up window out front. Dinner and weekend specials are anticipated in the coming months, where they hope to be able to feature barbacoa, smoked duck, quail, and even cabrito.
After a half dozen visits, one thing stands clear—The Pit Room has set the bar quite high what a Houston barbecue joint can be right out of the gate. Their popularity isn’t likely to be dropping off much any time soon.
The Pit Room, 1201 Richmond, Houston, Texas, 77006, (281) 888-1929. www.thepitroombbq.com
Open daily from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm.
About The Author: A smoked meat enthusiast and barbecue competition judge in the Houston area, Scott Sandlin authors the Texas Pit Quest blog and is the new barbecue columnist for Houston Food Finder.