Pigskin Pursuit

An eight year odyssey across the backroads of America during the ultimate College Football roadtrip.

Tag: Pecan Lodge BBQ

North Texas vs UTEP – Eagles grounded by the Miners…

I have no excuse for taking this long to see a game at North Texas. It’s shameful, really. During my four yearlong Dallas tenure, I was preoccupied with speeding across the expansive Texas plains to exotic destinations like College Station and Lubbock. I had also made a bevy of far flung road trips to schools in nearby Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, logging up to eight hours behind the wheel in the wild and intemperate youth of the PigskinPursuit. Even within the DFW Metro area itself, the soaring TCU program was one of the hottest tickets in the sport, and the Cotton Bowl slobber knocker between Texas and Oklahoma ranks as one of the biggest annual matchups in the NCAA. The North Texas Eagles, located only twenty minutes up the road from Dallas in nearby Denton, Texas had, quite simply, slipped below my radar.

Excuses aside, this weekend, that omission would finally change.

But the weather gods in Denton would make me pay for my tardiness. While I had specifically chosen southern destinations for my late November pursuits to find agreeable t-shirt weather, the wild tempest of North Texas called for something more sinister. Freezing rain and howling winds were forecasted all weekend, with bitter temperatures hovering just above freezing. This would not be a day for tailgating, or exploring sprawling campus lawns under sunny skies. In fact, having packed light for the preceding games in Florida and Georgia, I’d have to borrow a jacket from one of my Texas friends just to survive the afternoon in Denton. As such, my trip to the North Texas Mean Green Football Machine would be an abbreviated one.

Located just off I-35E in Denton, access to the stadium is a breeze, and I find easy free parking on the north side of the highway right next to Fouts Field, the former home of Mean Green Football. From there, it’s an easy walk over I-35 across a pedestrian footbridge that connects with the grounds surrounding Apogee Stadium. Opened in 2011, Apogee’s defining feature is a giant V-shaped grandstand that looms over its surroundings like a pair of great aluminum Eagle wings. This unique feature gives the stadium a distinct look to any other that I have visited, and its signature is easily visible to the thousands of motorists speeding by on 35 every day. With a stated attendance of nearly 30,000 fans, however, the stadium is hardly bigger than some of the colossal high school venues in North Texas like Allen’s Eagle Stadium (18,500) or Toyota Stadium in Frisco (20,000).

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But what it lacks in capacity, Apogee Makes up for in its sensitive environmental impact. The stadium is the only one in the country to achieve a LEED Platinum certification (a certification system for green building techniques), and encompasses such green features as runoff water retention systems, permeable paving, and three 120 foot wind turbines used to capture the howling prairie winds for power.

I collect an easy free ticket, a fancy plastic club level seat, from a member of the UNT Alumni Club who is standing outside the Alumni Pavilion with fistfuls of them in his gloved hands. Entering the stadium, I’m greeted on the concourse by a bright green Model A Ford, accented with a decal of a flying eagle. Similar to the “Wramblin’ Wreck” car at Georgia Tech, UNT has their own “Mean Green Machine” – a fully restored 1931 Ford Model A Tudor Sedan that serves as the pride of North Texas Mean Green athletics.

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Portending a miserable day ahead, I grab a bucket of hot chocolate from the concession stands, pull out a fistful of napkins to wipe down the aluminum bleachers, and settle into a wide open swath on the 40 yard line. It’s senior day today, so before the game begins each of the graduating players are announced individually on the PA. They run through a gauntlet of their teammates lined up on the field, greeting their loved ones at the end, embracing in tearful hugs with the mothers. I feel bad for the players. It’s a miserable day and a lackluster crowd because of it. Only a few muffled cheers are mustered for each of the departing seniors, the crowd so mummified in blankets they can barely rise. Hardly an appropriate send off for four years of sacrifice and dedication. The game kicks off a few moments after, when the remaining underclass members of the Mean Green football team storm from the gates on the south end zone, sprinting onto the frigid turf.

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The foul weather in the stands would magnify on the field, and with neither team remotely close to bowl contention, the effort between the lines is noticeably subdued. Neither team in North Texas wanted the football on this drizzly afternoon. There would be seven turnovers in all, the UTEP Miners owning five of those in fumbles alone. Aside from the frenzy of a few fumbles dancing across the slick turf, the first half is a snooze fest of sloppy play. The only scoring in the entire frame is a meager chip shot field goal by the Mean Green.

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Things pick up a bit in the second half, when we see nearly every kind of touchdown that a team can score without their offense actually touching the ball. In the third quarter alone, there is a punt return touchdown, and interception return touchdown, and a fumble recovery touchdown; all of them within a span of five minutes. The on field antics breathe a little life into the listless crowd, a few fans even manage to unfurl their blanket cocoons long enough to stand and cheer for a few fleeting moments in the sleet. But whatever hope the Mean Green Machine had for their second win of the season was dashed early in the fourth quarter, when the Miners punched in a touchdown to take the lead 20-17. With an offense that hadn’t moved the football all day, to the tune of only 205 yards of total offense, North Texas fate was all but sealed once they dropped behind. They would go on to lose 17-20, sending their seniors out even more unceremoniously after a dismal 1-11 season.

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Naturally, after the game I adjourn to my second home in Dallas; Pecan Lodge BBQ. Because nothing lifts the spirits after a frigid, dreary afternoon like the kiss of mesquite smoke across an unctuous beef short rib. An appropriate final meal for the close of the 2015 season.

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Pecan Lodge – Finding Real BBQ in Dallas…

Staying in Fort Worth for the epic Notre Dame vs Oklahoma tilt, I needed my routine fix of proper Texas barbecue.  Traditionally this entailed an exhausting three hour (one way) jaunt down to Austin, such are the levels of my depravity.  Since bursting onto the Dallas BBQ scene three years ago, however, Pecan Lodge has been dishing out epic smoked meats that rival anything Central Texas has to offer.  Initially bestowed with an elusive 5 star rating on Full Custom Gospel BBQ, the frenzy around the tiny storefront in the Dallas Farmers Market exploded following a visit from Guy Fieri on the Food Network hit Diners Drive-Ins and Dives. Waiting times for a few morsels of their BBQ have swelled proportionally. Stretching up to 2 hours during peak times, my father, friend Bryce and I brave the lines for a Friday afternoon lunch with eager appetites.

After exchanging a few tweets, the man himself, the BBQ Snob of Full Custom Gospel BBQ fame, agrees to join us for lunch, greeting our crew at one of the rickety metal tables.  I had lured him from his brisket fortress of solitude with the promise of a massive Pecan Lodge beef rib, and irresistible offering for anyone, much less a BBQ fanatic.  The ruse works, he surveys our formidable tray discerningly, an epic offering of brisket, pork ribs, sausage, and beef ribs.  An eyebrow noticeably rises above his rimless glasses, a most subtle gesture of praise.  He approves of the hefty meat pile, and settles into a chair.

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Though he refers to himself as the BBQ “Snob”, in person Daniel is anything but.  The conversation is amicable, and despite the notoriety that he has garnered over the past couple of years while personally surveying over 500 different BBQ joints, he remains notably humble and approachable. From even a few minutes of conversation, it’s clear he is far more than a critic.  BBQ is his passion.  He lives it.  To boot, his knowledge on the subject matter is remarkable.  Beyond chatting about a few of our favorite joints, he drops terms like “phenols” and “nitrogen dioxide”, expounding on the science of great barbecue down to the molecular level.  He even offers a few tips for the group, as we discuss the particulars of our amateur BBQ attempts on Big Green Egg smokers.    I learn more about barbecue in fifteen minutes with Daniel, than most people would in a year.  It even turns out he’ll be attending the same Oklahoma vs Notre Dame fiasco tomorrow too, though the table collectively grumbles when it’s revealed he’ll be garbed in crimson and cream.

As his belt busting tales of Texas BBQ road trips can attest, the man can eat.  Like an epic clash of titans we exchange blows, each of us grabbing fistfuls of smoked goodness, waiting for the other to show even the slightest flinch of appetite.  Neither does.  After fifteen minutes our pristine tray of red ribboned beef is ransacked. Picked over like a pack of wild hyenas, the flimsy plastic tray itself is lucky to survive unscathed, and sits disheveled, heaped with stacks of bones and greasy butcher paper. It’s complete carnage.

If you’re wondering, the food at Pecan Lodge is, quite simply, remarkable.

I’ll spare the hyperbole.  This is best BBQ in Dallas.  Period.  And second place isn’t even close.  It rivals anything to be found in Central Texas.

The brisket is silky, pull apart tender, enveloped in a jet black bark and laced with robust notes of mesquite smoke.

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*Smoking over mesquite is one area Pecan Lodge differentiates itself, as most traditional Texas BBQ joints espouse post oak

**On even more elusive days, Pecan Lodge features smoked Waygu (American Kobe) beef brisket, which, although expensive at $25lb, might be the single greatest thing you could ever put in your mouth.

Beef ribs are massive, quivering mountains of velvet beef.  Perfectly broken down until tender, a thick red smoke ring belies their time and attention in the smoker.  While these aren’t an everyday item from what I understand, if they have them – buy them.

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A bright red sausage features a coarse grind with a good snap and peppery building heat.  Perfectly smoked to juicy perfection, it’s also house made, a refreshing departure from the Sysco crap that pervades so many menus.

The pork ribs, well smoked and lightly sauce glazed, are probably the fourth best thing on the menu.  Which is saying something, because they would be the best thing on the menu anywhere else in the DFW Metroplex.

Even the sides here are good, not that anyone should care.  But still, the attention to detail is nice.

If you find yourself in the DFW Metroplex in the near future, your lunch time decision just became an easy one: Pecan Lodge.  The food is second to none, and you might just get to break brisket with a BBQ legend…or snob….

www.pecanlodge.com

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Oklahoma vs. Notre Dame – Catholics vs. Conestoga’s…

Sitting in a plywood shack in Elbert, Texas my index finger gently caresses the cold trigger of a matte black AR15.  Thirty rounds of screaming hot lead wait to be hurled towards my prey hiding in the mesquite and oak scrub beyond.  I flash the infared light intermittently at the feeder, illuminating the target in a red glow as I peer through the laser dot on the scope.  Hog vision can’t detect light at this spectrum.  My father and I chat away in the shanty while we wait, a rare opportunity to spend time hunting together.  An hour before, I’d stalked within fifty yards of a herd of twelve white tailed deer, an easy kill shot for any marksman.  They carelessly munched on tufts of grass, taunting me, almost as if they knew deer season wasn’t open for another week.  The hogs prove more elusive this evening, and, after a couple of unproductive hours, Dad and I call it quits as darkness sets in over the Texas sky.

I’m in town with my father for the Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma game up in Norman.  Visiting close friends Bryce and Kate in Fort Worth, we’d all circled this game on the calendar years ago.  While trips for Notre Dame to Oklahoma are exceedingly rare, the Irish have enjoyed an 8-1 all time record against the Sooners and have never lost in Norman.  As if two historic juggernauts colliding weren’t enough, the surprise undefeated Irish enter the contest with an unblemished 8-0 record and lofty #5 ranking.  Squaring off against an 8th ranked Oklahoma team, this clash is certain to have BCS implications.  ESPN further adds to the hooplah, as their ESPN Gameday crew showed up for the 7pm primetime showdown on the plains.

We’d spent that Friday morning at Pecan Lodge in Dallas, getting an appropriate fix of Texas Barbecue before heading out for the afternoon hunt.  Touting an elusive five star rating from the head honcho at Full Custom Gospel BBQ, waiting lines at the tiny storefront inside the Dallas Farmers Market have swelled to prolific proportion.  Patrons wait up to two hours for a few velvet morsels of their black barked brisket.  Smoked over mesquite wood, it’s Pecan Lodge’s unique departure from traditional central Texas barbecue, which exclusively espouses post oak smoke.  We descend on a heaping platter of the “holy trinity” of Texas barbecue: pork ribs, sausage, and brisket.  As if the protein fortress weren’t enough, I add a few Jurassic sized beef ribs to our burgeoning tray, giant bones of silky beef enveloped with a pristine red smoke ring.  This is, quite simply, the best barbecue Dallas has to offer.  Second place isn’t even close.

(Read the full review of Pecan Lodge here)

Saturday morning we pile into Bryce’s truck with a payload of provisions, heading due north up I-35 from Fort Worth, over the scarred, rocky, treeless hills of southern Oklahoma.  We stop only once, pulling off the interstate in Marietta, Oklahoma at Robertson’s Hams.  Chugging out smoke since 1946, the storefront features a wide selection of house smoked hams, jerky and sausages.  We sling a few of their country ham sandwiches stacked on rye bread into the cooler and speed off.  Pulling into Norman, the place is thick with game day traffic.  Grills spew columns of blue smoke into the sky while crimson OU flags wave in the gentle prairie breeze.  We find free parking in an empty grass lot a mile south of the stadium, poised alongside the grassy shoulder of Jenkins Avenue for a quick getaway later.  With a brilliant clear sky overhead and 7pm kickoff, it’s a perfect lazy afternoon for tailgating.

Before cracking my first beer, I trot to the stadium to upgrade our student tickets at Memorial Stadium Gate 7.  With prices for the historic matchup fetching $300 and up on Stubhub, I’d unearthed a set of 4 student tickets on Craigslist for $150 apiece and had them FedExed to Fort Worth.  For $50 bucks more I upgrade them at the stadium to general admission seats as the woman carefully places a “Student Guest” sticker onto each ticket. With the open seating policy in the student section, the four of us will now be able to sit together.  Not an ideal option to be standing 4 quarters amidst a sea of hammered drunk 20 year old OU students, but assuming I get equally marinated, it should at least be tolerable.

Returning back to the tailgate, a few empty cans already rattle around the pickup bed. Bryce, Kate and my father have jumped out to an early head start.  The cooler is brimming with a cross section of regional microbrews from around the country.  Ommegang from Cooperstown, New York, Clown Shoes from Massachusetts, and some rocket fuel from the Scottish brewery Brew Dog Brewing Company dubbed “Tokyo”, which tips the scale at nearly 20% alcohol and tastes like straight kerosene. My personal favorite is “Nitro” from Left Hand Brewing Company, a jet black Stout that pours like used motor oil.  In between beers, my father and Bryce swap pulls of Crown Royal, while Texas country songs from Randy Rogers Band howl out the open rear window of the truck.  It’s a fine afternoon.

With kickoff approaching an hour away, we stuff our pockets with a few walking beers and begin the trek to the stadium.  While certainly outnumbered by crimson OU shirts, the Notre Dame contingent is well represented in Norman, handfuls of folks yell hearty cheers of “Go Irish!” as we pass by.  Entering the stadium, portals to the grandstands are mobbed, backed up with a serpentine line of students.  It’s a mad house, people clambering over one another like lines of red ants.  We shuffle skyward up the steps, climbing to row 62 before I finally locate four open spots.  Surrounded on all sides by OU students, we’re smack in the middle of the beating heart of OU fandom.   I’ve been to Oklahoma a few times before, but never as a visitor, and I don’t know how these inebriated red shirts are going to respond to a group of infiltrators.    The crowd erupts on all sides of us when the Sooners take the field, exploding in a deafening roar as fireworks shower across the dusky orange sky.  Tear gas couldn’t quell this blustering melee right now.   My father shoots a nervous glance my way with that “are you sure you know what the F you’re doing?” look.  Kate gives me the same.

The game kicks off ominously at first, as Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones slings the ball down field in their high tempo, no huddle offense.  The crowd bursts with each completion, exchanging high fives and feeding off the initial onslaught.  They feel a rout on their hands.  But the stout Notre Dame defense stiffens up in the red zone, holding the Sooners to a field goal and surviving the initial wave of momentum.  As the Irish offense takes the field once again, Sooner fans reach their zenith, roaring loudly in support of their defense.  Two plays later, the crowd hushes to an eerie silence.  Notre Dame tailback Cierre Wood streaks 62 yards for a touchdown.  86,000 Sooners are stunned.  With one play, the roiling stadium turns to a church.

It stays that way for nearly three quarters, as the impenetrable Irish defense baffles the Sooner attack.  Their high powered, gun slinging offense is stymied. Squeaking out a few field goals, they enter the 4th quarter with exactly 0 yards rushing.  The crowd comes to life briefly, when, midway through the 4th frame Oklahoma grinds in a touchdown to knot the score at 13 apiece.  But the gutsy Irish respond immediately, once again, when quarterback Everett Golson connects for a 50 yard completion deep into Sooner territory.  The crowd is hushed once more.  Being bullied in Memorial Stadium is a foreign concept for Sooner fans, and they stand gape jawed and silent in the dry night air.

An interception and a few touchdowns later, the Irish assume a comfortable 30-13 lead as the fourth quarter draws to a close.  With a minute left and contest decided, the aluminum bleachers begin to empty as crimson clad students cascade towards the exits.  We stay behind, savoring every remaining second of the improbable win.  Irish victories in Norman don’t come around often, the last one occurring in 1966.  Remaining Sooner fans are gracious in defeat, helping us capture the moment in a handful of photos, exchanging handshakes and well wishes for the rest of the season.  To a man, they’ve been polite hosts.

I can only hope we show them the same courtesy next year in South Bend.  Courteously escorting the Sooners to the exits of Rocks House amidst their flowing tears of anguish and defeat…

Thank you to my Sooner friend Heather for the gameday guidance, and hopefully we can connect next time I make it down to Norman.

Special thanks to Bryce and Kate.  As always, great to catch a game with you guys, and look forward to a few adventures next fall!

Thanks again to Dad for joining my tour again this fall, and glad we could finally get you a taste of some proper Texas Barbecue.  I’ll make an Irish fan of you yet…

 

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