When I lived in Houston, Texas seven years ago, I was told several times by locals the best barbecue available was at Texas Roadhouse. People told me this with straight faces — they really meant it. So, I never really knew what to look out for; I dabbled with the popular chains Rudy’s and True Texas BBQ, and yes, gave Texas Roadhouse a go, and while these experiences were fine, I left the state never knowing for sure what counted as the “best” Texas barbecue.
Cut to November 7, 2021, the day that I visited the Residents x Bark BBQ pop-up in Dupont Circle. Walking into the covered outdoor space felt like walking into the Fall scene we’ve been waiting for D.C. to deliver: piles of hay, pumpkins, orange and red leaves, baskets of blankets, and warm hues gave the space an idyllic feel. I already felt untethered to the city I’d left behind a few steps ago, and now, I was ready to be just as swept away by the food.
The brisket was familiar in its delicious simplicity.
“In Texas, brisket is king,” Pit Master Berj Ghazarian says. “You usually barbecue it with very simple spices — just salt and pepper. But in this case, we wanted to collaborate with Residents and do a little bit of a fusion with Armenian food, which is my background.”
Ghazarian used spices like fenugreek, cumin, and allspice on the brisket, and then cooked it over a fire burnt on live oak for 14 hours. The menu involved the brisket in innovative ways, and I was lucky enough to try the three brisket choices.
In the Armenian egg dish, two sunny side up eggs, burnt ends, Urfa, Aleppo, and pomegranate gastrique topped grilled lavash, and the flavors were more colorful than our surroundings. As Ghazarian says, it was basically “flavors layered on top of each other.”
For the brisket sandwich, a classic in the Texas-style scene, a whipped egg and Carolina BBQ aioli complemented the tender meat, proving that classic is king. As for the Bark Barbecue Bowl, every bite offered new textures: cornbread fritters, collard greens, cauliflower, eech tabbouleh, beet hummus, and smoked brisket transformed any previous notions of Southern classics.
“It covers the Armenian diaspora — the things I grew up with,” Ghazarian says.
The meat’s flavors were subtle in all the right ways. In one bite you might taste a totally different spice from the next bite, but always with a smoky oak undertone that brings all the flavors together.
The pop-up location — the epicenter of this rush of deliciousness — had been planned for a while.
“I’ve known the guys at Residents for several years and we’ve been wanting to do this right before our restaurant opens,” Ghazarian shares.
Bark BBQ will open their new location next to their factory on Kent Island, the perfect day trip destination from the DMV area. Ghazarian is also in the dessert business, so the space will offer everything from BBQ sandwiches to pastries to soft serve. And he’ll keep the Armenian twist.
While I technically have the answer now about what good Texas BBQ should taste like — that simple salt and peppered brisket — Ghazarian’s Armenian rendition pays homage to its beginnings and then gives us the handwritten recipe that a family would pass from one generation to the next. It’s the brisket I needed but didn’t know where to find it — until now.
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