There are about as many barbecue joints and restaurants in Utah County as BYU football losses to the University of Utah.
Regardless of the density of eager diners to barbecue restaurants, another smoke-scented shop full of brisket and baby back ribs, Bandera Brisket, recently opened to crowds of eager eaters.
If it’s unapparent from my sardonic jab above, barbecue restaurants are a dime a dozen to me. They all have the same basic entrees — brisket, pulled pork, ribs, etc. — with another handful of predictable sides — coleslaw, potato salad, mac and cheese — accompanying each meal. A lot of the restaurants taste somewhat similar to one another, with Texas-style barbecue the favorite of many Utah barbecue joints, and I typically pick my favorites based on my proximity to each one.
Clearly, I went into this dining experience with a noted indifference.
I recognized the name Bandera Brisket because of its successful food trucks. The food trucks have been serving up smoky meats since late 2016. The food truck aficionados have since expanded to their first brick and mortar location in American Fork, which opened a couple of weeks ago.
Immediately upon walking through the door, I felt like this wasn’t like the stereotypical barbecue restaurant that reminds me of a dive bar. Not to say that’s a bad thing. But the décor of Bandera Brisket was a marked change of pace.
Exposed wood and machined steel adorned the walls and counters, evoking a farmhouse or smokehouse feel, with just a hint more of class contrasted against granite counter tops and modern-style seating.
The menu was about as expected, with a selection of meats, sides and a few sandwiches. To enjoy a good range of the fare, my wife and I ordered the sampler, which had four meats, four sides, two pieces of cornbread and two pieces of garlic toast.
Takeout boxes were definitely required with this much food.
I knew I couldn’t dine at a place called Bandera Brisket without trying the brisket. Bandera Brisket has two brisket options: the Bandera Prime brisket, and the 5 Star Brisket. I felt more inclined to the 5-Star Brisket because it was smoked with apple and cherry wood, not the oak of the prime brisket.
The fruit woods definitely lent themselves to a slightly sweeter taste in the charred skins of the brisket. I can’t recall many other briskets that were quite as tender or delicate with such a strong, crispy charred skin. Every bite was bliss.
Our second meat was the pulled pork. The meat was very finely shredded, practically to ribbons, and was deliciously delicate. Because of the thin, ribbon-like consistency, the pork was a bit dry, though that’s a problem house barbecue sauce can solve in a second.
My favorite fare at most barbecue restaurants are ribs, and Bandera Brisket did not disappoint. These were perhaps the most tender ribs I’d ever had. Little to no effort was required to gently lift the meat off the bone. The skin had a smoky smack of flavor and the meat was just moist enough that barbecue sauce was not needed, or frankly wanted, for these ribs. The flavor held its own without any secondary sauces.
The smoked turkey was a pleasant surprise. I am not a common fan of turkey, I often find it to be too dry. I’m a blast at Thanksgiving dinner.
But the smoked turkey was marvelously moist, with a fantastic flavor of spices. That was my wife’s favorite meat by a long shot.
The first side I had to try was the mac and cheese, which I was a little disappointed in. It was kind of basic, with black pepper the only noted flavoring. I felt like it needed just a bit more, like maybe some garlic, paprika, something to add just a bite more of flavor to the side. The cheese was gooey and melty, but the flavor left me wanting.
We were also a little underwhelmed in the coleslaw, which looked like the packet of coleslaw mix I procured from my produce drawer last weekend. A little vinegar gave it a mild tang, which was welcome, but overall, I wasn’t very thrilled.
Now, let’s get to the sides I enjoyed. The Bandera Brisket mashed potatoes are possibly the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had. Chunks of green onion, cheese and visible streaks of red potato skin blended together perfectly for a fantastic helping of mashed potatoes. My wife and I easily cleaned up the dish.
The potato salad was also a surprising favorite, because I’m not typically a fan of hard-boiled eggs in potato salad. But this changed my tune, as a note of spices hummed harmoniously with each chunk of egg and potato.
For this formidable feast, I expected to pay a pretty penny, but surprisingly, the whole meal came under $40 before tip, which, for two people, is not bad at all. Prices are reasonable, especially when considering the quality behind the price tag.
I still believe many of the barbecue joints around Utah County are mostly replicable. But Bandera Brisket breaks from the pack with delicate meats, excellent smoky flavors and impressive sides that will make your taste buds sing.