TEXAS BARBECUE, CONNECTICUT STYLE
By Spencer Caldwell
PHOTOGRAPHS BY MARK MIRKO
The phrase Connecticut barbecue might never have the ring to it of, say, Memphis barbecue, Carolina barbecue, Kansas City barbecue or Texas barbecue. Sadly, much of our barbecue might be of the “remove the rack of ribs from the sleeve and slather it with BBQ sauce” variety.
However, good barbecue has popped up in places like Stamford, Moodus, Vernon, Uncasville, Hartford, and even briefly on College Street in New Haven, where an elderly couple opened an authentic Texas-style barbecue joint and then had such health problems they were rarely open.
The best barbecue I’ve found in the Northeast is a dive called Bub’s BBQ in Sunderland, Mass. And yes, it’s well worth the hour drive straight up I-91. Even the gator’s great. But as long as we have Danny’s Little Taste of Texas in South Windsor, we can let some considerable Lone Star pride swell in our collective chest.
Of the four main regional varieties of barbecue, I have always strongly favored Texas (just as I favor Texas chili over Cincinnati) — because it’s all about the meat. Sauce is a secondary consideration. Properly done, Texas-style barbecue is so flavorful you’d never need sauce, except eventually all that richness requires some acidity for balance and coleslaw alone just ain’t gonna cut it.
From the outside, the most compelling thing about Danny’s Little Taste of Texas, which is in its 14th year, is the chuck wagon used for catering and events like the Big E. But when we set foot inside Danny’s, which has a small front room and a big back room whose walls are festooned with Texas kitsch, any doubts we might have entertained dissipate as the incredible smoky aroma of great barbecue is carried to our nostrils. We’re as stoked as the gas-fired, hickory-log-burning smoker that produces all that flavor.
Brought to you by owner Danny Bell, who lived in Houston for nine years, Danny’s barbecue is so good that the restaurant should have constant lines out the door, up until the day that he and his chuck wagon decide to clip clop, clip clop off into the sunset. But the reality is, times continue to be tough in the food industry, and many restaurateurs find themselves looking for secondary income streams. In addition to its extensive regular menu, Danny’s is featuring a two-page “new menu shootout” with the most popular items apt to be retained. Normally, I wouldn’t consider such experimentation a good sign. Let a great barbecue place stick to barbecue. But the tomato soup ($3.99) we try is vibrant and fullflavored, the crab cakes ($7.99) a little mushy but beautifully crabby, and a Texas mushroom burger which we have made with buffalo meat ($7.99) a juicy, flavorful revelation that could hold its own with Connecticut’s top burgers.
Nevertheless, the barbecue menu is the reason we’ve made the trip to Danny’s. Accompanying our food with Hosmer Mountain sodas ($2.25) and Long Trail Pale Ale ($3.95) and Harpoon IPA ($3.95), we begin with terrific house-made potato chips and addictive corn bread ($2.49). The barbecue meals come with a dinner roll and French fries or coleslaw, all well and good, but sides of the sort you might really crave, like our pork and beans and mac and cheese, are a little extra ($2.49). But the barbecued meats rule, and given Danny’s is Texas-style, beef rules above all. The real flavor comes not from sauce but from dry rubs (“If the rub tastes good on your fingers, it will taste good on the meat,” Bell says) and from cooking the meat low and slow with plenty of smoke. It’s not about the quality of the meat either, as barbecue has always been about making use of unwanted cuts. “I could make your shoe taste good,” he boasts.
Barbecue dinners range from $11.99 to $18.99, with servings of additional meats an added $4.95 each.
Danny’s baby back ribs and pork ribs are smoky and tasty. Pulled pork is moist and delicious. Cajun sausage is a spicy delight. Although obviously a different preparation, a quarter chicken packs as much flavor as its Peruvian counterpart. But the revelations are the meaty beef ribs (good gracious, they’re wonderful) and the amazingly moist, fatty and flavorful beef brisket (simply the best we’ve ever encountered).
The dessert menu could use a little beefing up. Deep-fried Twinkies ($4.99), Oreos ($4.99) and a deep-fried apple ($4.99) that might be better without its skin are tolerable, but barbecue would seem a perfect platform for Southern standards like chess pie, sweet potato pie and red velvet cake. It could be time for a “new dessert menu shootout.”
Nevertheless, this little barbecue joint is doing Greater Hartford a tremendous service. Danny’s Little Taste of Texas delivers BIG flavor.
Tj P. from South Windsor, CT
“Really good BBQ, went in off the coupon and will go back again. Really enjoy the pulled pork and we shared a potato with beef.”
Noelle M. from Plainville, CT “I have only ever experienced that which is Danny’s while at the Big E up in Massachusetts, but I have to say I skip those Maine potatoes EVERY time and go straight for the big old loaded Texas spud from Danny’s setup on the side of the CT building…with the BBQ pulled pork of course! Nothing compares!”
Lisa M. From Wallingford, CT “… We were brought a small bowl of house made potato chips–nice and crunchy. Onto the good stuff! The ribs had just enough tension that they weren’t completely coming right off, making eating them enjoyable and they had a great flavor. The fries were house-cut and seasoned nicely as well. I also cannot resist trying the cornbread at a BBQ place so we both got sides of that– recommended it grilled and it honestly has to be the best cornbread I’ve ever had. It was a very generous side, nice and moist (I asked for the recipe, but no luck!) If we weren’t so full, the deep fried Twinkies might have been next, but alas, it just gives me a reason to come back!
If you are in the area and hungry, skip the madness of the Buckland Mall area and head down the street for some quality BBQ!”
Erik K from Boston, MA “Without a doubt the best bbq in New England- period. You want Texas? This is it. Hickory smoke, juicy fall-off-the-bone ribs, terrific bbq sauce that would make Stubbs BBQ proud, amazing cornbread, and all the fixings you could possibly imagine.Put it this way: If I had to have a last meal, Danny’s Little Taste of Texas will be on speed dial.”
Rena J. from Hartford, CT “Not only is the food beyond delicious – the best cornbread and ribs I’ve ever had and the beans are on another level – the staff, the waitress, cook and manager, are absolutely wonderful and amazing. After enjoying a delicious meal, they were more than helpful when we had car problems, and they are the reason we’re not still stranded. Thank you, Des, Jen and everyone else! Great restaurant with some very special, kind people. Will tell everyone I know about this place!”
Heather M. from Vernon, CT “First off I just discovered this place for the first time, last night for dinner and today I’ve gone back again and brought my mom and her two friends with me….does that tell you how amazing it is or what!! I think it’s a new fave restaurant for me. They bring you out homemade potato chips to munch on while waiting for the meal. Nice and salty crispness! Last night I started with the corn chowder that is served in fry bread (how unique to have a fry bread in CT) it was so good yesterday, that I got it again tonight and so did my moms friends. Yesterday I had the full rack of ribs. Huge portions and perfect smoked taste! So much food that I had the leftovers for lunch. I got the corn bread yesterday, with tonight’s meal, and an order to go to grill up for breakfast tomorrow. The corn bread is the moistest corn bread I’ve ever eaten…my husband wants the recipe! My meal tonight was the squash with sausage and corn bread stuffing. I really liked this and can picture having this on a nice fall night. I wish I had room for the fried Oreo or Twinkie tonight, but I was simply too full. I’ll be back for desert soon! By the way they are so nice here with service that our server said my order of cornbread to go was on the house because of bringing people in. She also said if there was anything you don’t like, “they buy what you don’t like and get you something you do like.” Now, I don’t know how anyone could possibly not like the food because it’s amazing BBQ, but if you don’t like what you picked they will bend over backwards for you. Therefore any bad reviews of this place should feel horrible about leaving a bad review when they literally will do anything to make you happy here. Huge extensive menu with unique things….smoked wings, burgers, loaded potatoes, deep fried open face turkey sandwich, buffallo stew, etc So close to the mall and better than any of the mall chains. People need to leave the mall and come eat here.
P.S. They cater too….they bring a big covered wagon to your location of choice. How fun! Gotta try that next! Thanks for great BBQ in CT!”
Erik K. from Boston, MA “The best Barbecue in New England. period. No better cuts of ribs, no better smoked taste of pure hickory, and certainly no better portions in all of New England than these guys. Amazing corn bread too! Just on the Ribs alone, they do it 100% right, just like they do in Texas. As the pit master there told me- ‘we cook the meat first, and the sauce comes second.’ The meat is literally so juicy and flavored, you don;t even need the sauce. But god is the sauce good! It’s just like Stubbs BBQ in Texas! Great stuff from these guys- a real winner here in CT!”
Cassie C. “Absolutely love this place ….. cant get any better …even if i were in Texas!”
Matty G. from Windsor, CT “This food is to die for! Literally, to die for! I can’t get enough of the fall off the bone ribs or the cornbread that will make everything else for the rest of my life just yellow bread. I mean I’ve never had cornbread that melts in your mouth that way! I have no idea how Danny does it but everything he touches turns to gold, I swear! I tried the “Hog Wings” and I have allergies so I wanted to know what the golden dust sauce was and the nice waitress (the staff is just the icing on the cake) told me that it had mustard in it, now I HATE mustard but when I got the hog wings, OMG OMG they didn’t taste like any mustard I’ve ever had, sooooo goood and I’ll get em again! I try and come here every opportunity that I get because they have almost anything you could be craving and they’re prices are super reasonable! I mean, where else can I get a salmon dinner for under $15 that is actually going to fill me up? Oh, and that’s another thing, the portions are friggin ridiculous, I think Danny takes this Texas thing a little too far here. The rib bones look like they are from dinosaurs and yet they still fall off the bones. I come in here for dessert, seafood, steak, just plain ole wraps and burgers and I can honestly say all his cooks are very good at what they do! They always have specials going on, I would hate to be the kitchen manager because the menu is outrageously large.”
TL DR “This place is so good I don’t understand why they’re not constantly busy :D”
Tim S. from West Hartford, CT “This is great BBQ!!!!!! The kids’ menu is diverse enough to accommodate the kids if they aren’t BBQ fans. The Loaded Spuds are HUGE and well prepared. My favorite is the pulled chicken and my wife loves the ribs. The BBQ seasoning is yummy and there is extra available at each table if you want to drown your food.”
Ray B. from Somers,CT “Awesome food. Danny and his crew are great people!”
From The Hartford Courant: “Dan Bell, who lived in Houston, has brought back what Texans call true barbecue – smoked Angus beef prepared western-style with the sauce served on the side.”
Karl J. from Holland, MA – Your baked potatoes are the best I have ever had. You put great portions on it. Also your pulled pork is amazing.”
From The Journal Inquirer:
“Barbecue lovers don’t have to travel very far for a Little Taste of Texas. What they serve up is the real thing.”
“There’s a reason why the Little Taste of Texas has gotten so much good press – the restaurant deserves it.”
“The service is great.”
“The food is delicious and there’s something for everyone on either side of the sweet versus spicy debate.”
Nichol B. from Hartford, CT “Ordered food for the entire family…..ribs smoked just right, tender, & tantalizing. The mashed potatoes were good. The smoked salmon was moist & delicious, I heated it up the next day & still moist as if it were fresh. ***gotta try the fried apples*** The perfect dessert for a perfect meal!”
Mary G. from South Windsor, CT: “Just got home from lunch. We were one of three full tables, lots of people on hand getting ready for the Friday night rush. We got the 10 piece smoked wings in jerk sauce and corn fritters for our starters… The wings. Oh my god the wings. I think Jesus already came back to earth because those things can’t be made by mortal hands. We each ate two and decided to save the rest for leftovers. They were so good halfway through our meals we decided to order 10 more to go to have for dinner. For our meals, I got the smoked corned beef Ruben and he got the mixed tex mex platter. My Ruben was excellent, not too oily or greasy. His platter was also excellent, the house made salsa was perfect. Like I said earlier, we ordered another 10 piece smoked wing and quart of coleslaw to go while finishing up and everything was packaged in no time. The coleslaw was good – I of course had to try some once we got home – not too much vinegar and heavy on the black pepper. Our server was Chelsea and she was great. Attentive but not over our shoulders every time we took a bite. We used an Entertainment Book coupon and she was very pleasant. I’ve seen servers get rude over coupons but she was professional the whole way. The place is not fancy. It looks a little rough from the outside but it’s nice inside. Yes your food is on paper plates but they do have ‘real silverware.’ We both left there feeling satisfied and like we just ate at a friends place. Simple, homegrown food done very well. We look forward to returning.”
Joshua S. from Southington, CT “Family came out for the first time outside of the Big E…food was delicious & well portioned. We will come back again fir more BBQ. Great 1st time there!!!!!”
Michelle A. “Went here with my friend today and the baby back ribs and homemade cornbread were delicious. Definitely will be back.”
From The Hartford Advocate: “Since most of us don’t have the luxury of digging an open fire pit in the backyard and spending whole afternoons tending to smoldering hickory logs to slow cook a pig or a slab of ribs, it’s nice to have a place like Little Taste of Texas to do all the hard work.”
“The flavor of smoke is almost irresistible.”
From South Windsor Life:
“Customers who come to Little Taste of Texas will enjoy the down-home feel of the place.”
“The food is awesome.”
Philip R. from South Windsor, CT – “What a great treat for father’s day. They had huge portions, excellent seasoning and a great staff. Sorry it took us a year since we moved to South Windsor to try it. We will definitely be back. FYI, a half rack of pork ribs has the same amount of meat as a full rack at any of the chain restaurants.”
Dan N., Central Manchester, CT “I would like to start by saying the Grilled Cornbread is Awesome! I could eat it forever. I love the Twisted BBQ Buffalo Burger and the Bison chili. I haven’t eaten here to often but when I’m thinking BBQ I come straight here.”
J R., Central Manchester, CT “Best barbecue in Connecticut. No debate.”
Maureen M. from Chicopee, MA “Amazing bbq, delicious food. We will be back with family to let them enjoy the wonderful bbq.”
Erek G. from South Windsor, CT “Awesome smoked BBQ-
If you want great smoked meats definitely give this place a try! They are not big on sauces, but the pulled pork and ribs are the best around. The restaurant is on the small side but service is great, and if you are ever looking for someone to cater a party give these guys a call, they come complete with a chuck wagon, music, and calf (not a real one) roping with lassos for fun by all.
I have used them for two of my parties. The catering guys are lots of fun and really make sure everything is taken care of, and your guests will leave with LOTS of food.”