To say that Clark’s Outpost Barbecue is out on the edge is true, at least as far as the geography of Grayson County goes. The restaurant is in Tioga, squeezed into the southwest corner of the county near the conjunction of Collin, Cooke and Denton counties. It is fair to question whether the community is best known as the home of America’s greatest singing cowboy, Gene Autry, or Clark’s Outpost Barbecue. Granted, Autry’s claim is an older one, but both entities have garnered their share of national renown over time.
Warren Clark started in business in 1974, and save 18 months for a rebuild after fire destroyed the original restaurant a few years ago, the new current owner of the Outpost has been serving patrons from near and far to considerable acclaim. It had been years since I last tried the place, so at the suggestion of a friend, we headed south for lunch one day recently.
After a menu study, we both went in the same direction, a two-meat plate with sliced brisket and ribs. I added potato salad and baked beans, while my friend opted for fried okra and pintos. Both plates also came with Texas toast.
The service was quick, but while we waited we took a look at some of the Gene Autry memorabilia that lines the walls. When the waitress brought out meals, she also brought a pair of damp towels wrapped in a plastic bag — a nice touch as barbecue, particularly ribs, can get messy. As it turned out, messy was not a problem.
The serving consisted of three small ribs. The menu said they used St. Louis cut ribs and that’s fine, but my ribs must have come from the small end of the rack. The meat was tender, but on the dry side with hardly any fat to carry the flavor. They were served dry, so several shakes of the house sauce — not bad, but not memorable either — was needed to up the flavor level. Still, a rib is a rib is a rib, and there is always something basically satisfying about gnawing on a bone.
Alongside the ribs were three thin, small strips of brisket. They were much like the ribs, tender enough, but very lean with no fat, and in fat there is flavor. They too need a good dose of sauce to bring them to life. My potato salad was OK, and the baked beans were excellent, sweet and smoky. I tried some of my friends okra — and it was good too — and I kept reaching over for a few more nuggets as lunch progressed.
Clark’s has a reputation for pie — chocolate, coconut or pecan — so we split a slice of coconut. Its principal claim to fame is the towering meringue topping, which crowed an OK coconut custard base down below.
The Outpost has a long and storied reputation, and it may be they are relying too much on past memories to the neglect of current realities. I left full, but feeling a little disappointed, particularly when I considered the cost. The ticket for two including the dessert ran a little more than $40 and, for overall value received, did not quite meet muster.
That said, Clark’s has a loyal and devoted clientele that comes in for praise of their chicken fried steaks and tamales with chili, and besides, where else around here can you get an order of calf fries? Nowhere I suspect.
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