This last Saturday I sat at one of the picnic tables at Brooks’ Place BBQ and hawked my book, Curveballs: Sweet & Smokey Down The Barbeque Trail. I sat there for almost four hours, and in that time I formed a revelation. At Brooks’s Place BBQ it’s community. It’s that simple. This is no better way to describe what I experienced.
I’ve eaten a lot of BBQ over the last couple of years, from gleaming corporate restaurants to the hole-in-the-walls. Brook’s Place fits closer to the latter, for it’s a trailer that sits in front of an Ace Hardware at the intersection of Barker Cypress Rd. and FM 1529 in Cypress, Texas – 35 miles northwest of Houston, Texas.
Trent is the owner, but he teams up with his wife and a single employee to work the magic. At one point he worked in corporate America, got laid off, and decided to not look back. It’s hard to imagine that at one time he was a materials specialist at a gas compression company. I’m just not seeing him in a shirt and tie with a clipboard in hand. It’s obvious his natural habitat is behind that behemoth smoker he squeezes into the innards of his modest size trailer.
Look at his picture and you ask, behemoth smoker? Well, at some point he replaced what you see with a big iron honker with two doors. Believe me. If you look closely you can see it in the shadows to the far right in the picture below.
I must convey that I’ve eaten at Brooks’ Place 3 times during my visit to Cypress. I had searched the internet for BBQ in the Cypress area and read about Brooks’ Place. It’s Lisa Ocone, that rascally thief on the chess board, that first paid a visit to Brooks’ and brought home a takeout order of ribs and sides. You remember Lisa Ocone, don’t you? She’s in my book. Well, she and her kids and me chowed down on those ribs and those sides in short order. Ribs, potato salad, mac and cheese. Chowed down I tell ya. The portions took two hands to cradle, and far outsized our stomachs. Everything’s large in Texas, they say, and this order manhandled that in nothing flat.
Now if you know Lisa Ocone you know she’s a picky eater. So for her to chow down without delay makes a statement right there. She spared no expense in praising the potato salad, and gushed about the tastiness of the ribs, after slobbering on the sauce without prejudice.
The second experience I had at Brooks’ entailed a trip to a local Irish Pub to watch the Olympics. On the way there I got an urge and bolted over to Brooks’ first for a takeout of ribs, baked beans, garlic potatoes, and cole slaw. After getting my take out order I hustled over to the Irish Pub, plopped into a parking stall, hopped out, and ate curbside next to my car in the blistering sun. Damn that was good!
Part of the beauty of barbeque is how it looks, the presentation, the artistic blend of colors, splashed with aroma that leaves me desperate. Sitting there I hovered over that char, soaking in the pinkish red tenderness of the meat, and savored the intrinsic flavor of those beans. Well, I’d never experienced beans like that before. They had a peppery, almost gritty texture to them. I could taste the barbecue flavor, subtle, but the peppery part didn’t hide itself. I’d try some and lick my tongue in vain attempts to ascertain the meaning of them. But I never did place it other than a peppery stand alone, but my further research indicates it might be Oregano. I suppose I could just ask Trent. But why make it easy when I can make it hard?
I slugged through the authentic cranberry almond cole slaw. Just the name caused enticing visions. I didn’t spare the ribs either. Nope, slopped on the sauce and chomped away. Bare bones in no time. Nice, smokey, slow cooked flavor. Just the way I liked them. And I’ve never had garlic potatoes before, anywhere. A unique, one-of-a-kind offering only at Brooks’ Place. I like garlic bread and I like a splash of garlic in my dishes, so I mowed these potatoes down with delightful ease. In the end, I tasted the love Trent put into the ribs, beans, potatoes, and salad. Even after inhaling everything I craved, craved for more. Only then did I up and head into the pub. I didn’t much care at that point If I missed some of the game. The ribs were the thing.
My third time occurred while I sat there hawking my book. I just couldn’t take it. I had eaten a hardy breakfast at Lisa Ocone’s, they spare no limit to portion size, and figured I could make it all the way to dinner time. I don’t know why I thought I could sit within feet of smok’n hot ribs and have any discipline. This time I got the ribs, potato salad, and mac and cheese. Just looking at the plate left me in a clump of undisciplined greed. Screw the notion of portion control. It’s all mine!
And I didn’t disappoint in my administering of greed. I took an almost too much delight in squirting on the sauce. One chomp, then another, and that first rib became one for the record books. That smokey flavor, that tender meet, mixed with a spoonful of mac and cheese and it all just slithers down the throat in heavenly bliss. Now follow that with a dollop of that creamy, just right chunky potato salad and the heavens departed, even though we were in the middle of a God forbidden torrential downpour. Didn’t really notice.
But it’s in between all this chowing down I began to notice something. Trent appeared outside the trailer with unabated frequency. As customers arrived he walked up to them, shook their hands like old friends, and chatted, schmoozed, and commiserated with each and every one of them. And they reciprocated. Old friends. Chums, customers…valued customers, and more than just for their pocketbook. For their brethren camaraderie, for their neighborly chit-chat, for the pure inherent friendship.
At Brooks’s Place BBQ, Trent Brooks has built relationships. It’s the fabric of his success. For six years he’s been operating on this corner. At the school I work at it’s all about the relationships we build with our students. And Trent does the same in his neighborhood. He builds relationships.
Yahoo defines community as “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” In Trent’s case he doesn’t become just a part of the community, he is the community. He builds that irrevocable bond with each and every person that crosses his path, and who stands in line at his ordering window. He sits for minutes on end, if not hours, at one of the picnic tables and builds friendships over a common bond of barbeque (or is it barbecue?).
His following is unabashedly loyal and fierce in their respect for Brooks’ Place BBQ. And they showed nothing but kindness and conversation with me. I applaud their firebrand loyalty and disperse opinions. Fun. I love to schmooze and I hope they enjoyed schmoozing with me as I did with them.
Here is an example that illustrates the fierceness of Trent’s followers. As customers would come by I would give them a shameless pitch for my book. “It’s all about my journey for my search for the perfect barbeque!” hoping to hook them into a discovery of more.
In return I got a blunt, “This is the perfect barbecue right here!”
Appreciative of their bold stance I replied, “Yep! This is my third time eating here.” This seem to put them at ease, knowing I stood on their side. It led to new and interesting conversations. I felt it, the community, enveloping me and making me a a part of it.
Ward and I had an intricate discussion about barbeque in various regions of the country, as he was military and grew up in a military family. He’s been around. “I don’t like the North Carolina style too much,” he exclaimed. “I don’t like the spiciness there. Other parts of the country, they’re so impatience with their machines and all. They don’t have the patience we have here in Texas. We take our time and will smoke it all day and night in a real smoker, not some machine. We do it the way it’s supposed to be done. This is real right here.” He moved back to Houston in part because, “Houston is real diverse and has a lot of culture here. It’s the best. But you better have good reliable transportation because everything is far apart. Real good, reliable transportation,” he emphasized. “There’s a lot of single women here too! That’s one of the reasons I moved back! Lot’s of single women.” As a single man myself, this got me thinking.
Trent’s customers support him in in a multitude of ways, one of them being that Trent is an ardent support of Open Carry here in Texas. Given his stance he’s been interviewed by reporters from all over the USA and from as far away as Europe. Customers who carry their gun, holstered, and with permits on person, are given a 10% discount. I know Trent has had his share of intense feedback, but it hasn’t stopped him from having a sense of humor, as evidenced by his new menu. Creative, to say the least (Come on! Don’t be a hater).
Greg, another fierce loyalist boldly stated, “There’s no place like Texas. We do it the right way. All those other areas have their pork and whatever, but nothing is as good as here. I’ve been everywhere. This is where it’s at. Right here at Brooks’ Place!” The force of his statement intoxicated me. His ardent emphasis held me. Just one more member of the community.
Some challenged me. I didn’t see it coming, but I welcomed it. I love a good debate. “Why do you call your book Curveballs?” the older African-American gentleman sitting at the next table over asked me. Mark from Corpus Christi, and Greg, asked that too.
“Well,” I began as I attempted to answer their curiosity, “So many things happened along the way that were spontaneous, that I didn’t see coming, my journey took some curveballs,” moving my hand in an arcing motion. “My friend The Fever, who’s in the book, died suddenly, and that threw me for a curve.”
“Curveballs sounds like baseball. It sounds funny, kind of a weird name for a book on barbecue,” came back the usual reply.
“I had a contest at work and this is what we came up with, because of all the stuff that happened along the way.” I wasn’t convinced I had converted them to my way of thinking, but I loved their challenge.
“Hey, is that a regular Coke or a real Coke with real sugar made in Mexico?” I asked one customer on her way out, pointing to the bottle in her hand.
“It’s all bad for you, so it doesn’t matter,” she said. Agreed.
“I’m lucky if I don’t lose six balls every round,” I told another smiling customer. “In fact I dropped six balls trying to hit over this one dinky pond. Six!”
The gregarious customer, clutching a bag full of barbecue, smiled, “I know the feeling.”
“Don’t you wish you could play golf all day long?”
“I’d love to, but there’s that thing called work.” he said with an impish grin.
“I know, I know.”
All along there sat Trent at a picnic table talking about all things living, about Houston, the trials and tribulations of running a business, just being friends with his fierce and loyal customers. Community.
The older African-American gentleman sitting the next table over had been checking out my book, reading the written words I had plopped on the page, blurting out, “You have a spelling error!”
What, I thought, this can’t be! “What word is it?” I said in a meek, mild tone.
“Twentysomthing. You forgot the e. It’s supposed to be twentysomething”
“Oh,” I replied. “I know it seems on the surface that it should have an e after som, but I looked it up in the dictionary and everything and how I spelled it is what it said the correct spelling was.” On the defensive, I couldn’t remember exactly the website where I had seen the spelling, but I knew I did.
“Well, I’m going to check.” He then proceeded to whip out his phone and investigate. After a mild pause he came back, “I looked it up on a bunch of different websites and urban dictionaries and such and they all have the e. I didn’t see one that didn’t.” He offered me a way out. “It is a colloquial word though. There’s more than one way to use it.”
Feeling to be on the losing side of the debate I countered with, “Well, it is an urban word and it’s one of those words where there is more than one way to spell it. Yeah, it’s one of those colloquial words.”
“Some of the them spell it twenty-something with a dash in between.” He didn’t press his argument, but I sat impressed over his stickler to detail and unabashed action to proceed with what he found. He hails from New Orleans, but lived in Houston. “They don’t have barbecue in New Orleans,” he chimed.
“Do you read a lot of books?” I asked, curious.
“Not as much as I should.”
I wondered about the phonetic pronunciation of New Orleans. “Is it New Orleeeens or New Orlins?”
“New Orleeeens,” he replied. Cool, I thought, I got this one right. He then turned and engaged Trent in a discussion about this, that, and the other thing.
And that speaks to my point. Brooks’ Place BBQ on the corner of Barker Cypress Rd. and FM 1529, right in front of Ace Hardware in Cypress, Texas is community. My experience is proof positive. I engaged in that community, and I hope in some small way, I too became part of it; that close, loyal, fierce ecosystem that is Brooks’ Place BBQ.
So get going. Some come on down! Go line up at that trailer in front of Ace. Order some of that brisket, those ribs, them there sausage links. Drool over that mac and cheese, salivate over the potato salad, and dream about those beans. Get ready. For as you enter Trent’s sphere of influence you soon will see his hand sticking out to greet you, and you’ll hear him ask, “Hey, how are you doing?” Soon, you too will become part of community. Hurrah!