Killen’s Barbecue Now Offers Dinner With Table Service And Reservations
When Killen’s Barbecue rolls out its revamped dinner concept this week, it becomes one of the few barbecue restaurants in Texas that offers table service and the ability to make reservations. Chef and owner Ronnie Killen—already highly regarded for the attention to detail and quality dining experience at Killen’s Steakhouse down the road—says he’s looking forward to presenting barbecue and other entrée options in different ways.
“The idea is to offer an option for customers who’ve wanted to come here but aren’t interested in standing in a barbecue line,” Killen says. He explained his target market is the Saltgrass Steakhouse and Texas Roadhouse crowd. He wants to provide diners a place where they can get a high-quality steak at a reasonable price point in a casual setting, plus be able to serve the same barbecue Killen’s Barbecue is known for with table service.
The new dinner service officially launches on May 1 and is offered Tuesdays through Saturdays from 5 p.m. until the scheduled closing time. Houston Food Finder was invited as a media guest to try some of the new dishes.
Graham Laborde, operations chef for Killen’s Restaurants, says they don’t plan to shut down between the afternoon and dinner hours. There may be bit of down time between 4:30 and 5 p.m. just to regroup and get the tables set up, but it is not expected to take too long.
Laborde also noted that with recent renovations they plan to use the take-out window installed a couple of years ago more often. Laborde says barbecue to-go orders have been increasing and using the take-out window for those will prevent congestion issues in the dining room.
Walking up to the front door of Killen’s Barbecue for dinner might a bit unnerving for those who’ve been there for barbecue in the past. The line out the door is now replaced with a hostess stand just inside the entry and the recently upgraded dining tables are outfitted with black tablecloths topped with paper blotters. For dinner, heavyweight cloth napkins and Fortessa brushed stainless cutlery replace the paper towels and plastic cutlery used at lunch. Dinner at Killen’s Barbecue represents a level of refinement not likely to be found at any barbecue restaurant, anywhere.
With the recent renovations, Killen was able to install a J&R Manufacturing Wood Show grill to increase cooking capacity and control for preparing wood-fired steaks for the dinner menu. He currently sources steaks from Allen Brothers of Chicago and orders them pre-portioned for consistency and minimal preparation time. This increases the price point some, so if a grilled-to-order steak and a side dish is what you’re after, Killen’s offers four cuts, and expect to pay from $30 for a 14-ounce strip up to $42 for a 24-ounce bone-in ribeye. Of course, the regular barbecue menu items everyone has come to know and love are also on the dinner menu, but there are several options for non-barbecue fans (gasp!) as well.
The new appetizers reveal influences from Killen’s Steakhouse and Killen’s STQ. For example, the smoked short rib tamale with brisket chili from STQ is now available here for $11. A generous pile of brisket or pulled pork nachos with queso and melted cheese, tomatillo salsa and sour cream is $10. Thin, crispy tortilla chips, reportedly from the same source as Killen’s favorite chips from Pappasito’s, soften quickly under the toppings and struggle to support their payload, requiring a retreat to the fork-and-scoop method soon after their arrival. BBQ Boudin Balls, served with a lemony garlic aioli, are $8 and have a crispy coating encasing a mixture of pulled pork, rice, and barbecue sauce. They are tasty but don’t expect to pick up on much of a traditional boudin flavor profile. The prevalent flavor in these comes from the sauce.
Favorites from the appetizer menu are the Korean Sticky Ribs and the Pork Belly Burnt Ends. The meaty and flavorful Sticky Ribs, which are $12 for six, are finished with a sweet Korean sauce, sprinkled with sesame seeds, a bit of crushed peanut, and chopped chives. The Burnt Ends, made with smoked pork belly, are $9 and perfectly rendered with crisp crusts, glazed with pepper jelly and topped with wakame (green seaweed) as well as masago arare (tiny rice cracker beads).
There are other dinner selections in addition to the aforementioned steaks. The standout is the Brisket Enchiladas, which are simply prepared with coarse-chopped smoked brisket and loosely rolled in a fresh corn tortilla. No other fillings were evident (or necessary). A pair of enchiladas is topped with Killen’s chili gravy and melted shredded cheese and served with a side of charro-style pinto beans. The chili gravy was the standout—a recipe Killen says he’s been making at home for his son by request for cheese enchiladas for years. It’s just a basic Tex-Mex style combination of traditional ingredients that starts with a bacon fat and flour roux, chicken broth, and a few common spices (including chili powder, cumin, and salt). Rich and flavorful, the gravy alone should earn this $16 enchilada platter a spot among some of the best in the area.
Another selection is Ronnie’s Fried Chicken with mashed potatoes and a choice of side for $16, which has been a favorite Sunday lunch special for some time. The Chicken Fried Ribeye, which already has a following from its time on the menu at Killen’s STQ, comes with mashed potatoes and choice of side for $22. Fried catfish and shrimp, the Friday special for the past two years at Killen’s Barbecue, is $18. It comes with fries and three light and fluffy hush puppies.
The huge and tender panko-breaded shrimp are exceptional. At the media tasting, the catfish fillet missed the mark; it was well-prepared but tasted noticeably muddy. However, I would definitely order this again for its excellence in preparation and chalk this one up to a rare inferior fillet in the batch, which is unusual but not unheard of in the local seafood business.
Laborde confirmed the core menu of barbecue and steaks will be on the menu long-term. Appetizers, other entrees, sides and dessert selections will change more often. In other words, guests should expect to see menu items come and go in response to popularity and customer feedback.
No meal at a Killen’s restaurant would be complete without trying at least one of the dessert options. The famous bread pudding and carrot cake from the barbecue menu are available, plus a few new options especially made for dinner. Killen worked on a special Crème Brûlée Cheesecake recipe for a few weeks until he was convinced it was ready for prime time and it was. The recipe requires making a cheesecake and then topping with a layer of a crème brûlée. The crisp, crackly broiled sugar top of the custard is a perfect complement for the smooth and tangy cheesecake base. It is the best of both these classic desserts in one and is as spectacular as it sounds. For chocolate lovers, the dessert menu also includes a lofty, layered Chocolate Toffee Cake with chocolate and cream cheese icing.
Beverages include both draft and bottled beers ($3.50 to $5), as well as a respectable but limited selection of wines: two red and two white. Wines cost $8 per glass or $32 per bottle.
As with any new service, some adjustments along the way should be expected. If the experience at Killen’s Steakhouse or Killen’s STQ is any indication, Killen won’t rest until the evening dining experience at his barbecue restaurant is equally impressive.
If the preview is any indication, dinner at Killen’s Barbecue has the potential to be just as successful as the evening service at any of his other restaurants.
Killen’s Barbecue, 3613 East Broadway, Pearland. Open Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. For dinner reservations use the Open Table link on the Killen’s Barbecue website, or call (281) 485-2272.
About The Author: Smoked meat enthusiast Scott Sandlin authors the Texas Pit Quest blog, maintains the Guide to Houston-Area BBQ map, and is the barbecue (and general meat) columnist for Houston Food Finder.