Pinkerton’s brings smoked meats, decent sides and exceptional cobbler to downtown San Antonio

click to enlarge PInkerton's Barbecue opened in February near the Frost Bank Tower. - Ron Bechtol
Ron Bechtol
PInkerton's Barbecue opened in February near the Frost Bank Tower.
I’m breaking a long-held personal rule by suggesting this, but eat dessert first to make sure there’s room. And then order more to take home.

Aunt Ruby’s Blueberry Cobbler from Pinkerton’s Barbecue travels well if you can resist the urge to dive in again as soon as you get back to your own table. The cake-meets-crumb topping is the perfect combination of tender and crunchy, and the just-sweet-enough blueberries aren’t mired in goop.

Which is not to trash the rest of the menu at posh Pinkerton’s Barbecue, which opened in February on an entire shady block in the shadow of the new Frost Bank Tower. Fans of subtly smoked brisket will be thrilled to “come and eat it,” as owner Grant Pinkerton suggests. The meat is moist, thickly cut and wreathed in a visual bark with little textural bite. This may be the just the right style for a barbecue sandwich, since it doesn’t fight the restaurant’s sturdy, better-than-basic bun.

The restaurant’s lacquered pork also slides easily from its ribs — although, for the life of me, I can’t say which of the two I got, dry rub or glazed. I asked for dry rub, but the pair on the tray looked proudly glossy. Regardless, the tender meat was not too sweet, a plus in my book, but also not too distinctive when compared to some more inventive options around town.

Smoked turkey, again thickly cut, was another possibility from the pit. In my mind, turkey is always the barbecue bridesmaid, never the bride, no matter what kind of dress you put it in. Pinkerton’s didn’t change my mind on that. Even so, it’s impeccably moist and made a great foil for the house sauce: fruity, sweetish, hot-ish — something for everyone, in other words. Just don’t use too much or the turkey taste will disappear altogether.

Of course, there’s also sausage. While my order’s snappy skin was spot-on, the jalapeño cheese link — regular ones are also an option — was a disappointment. I largely blame the cheese: it seemed to be of the American ilk and lent more lubrication than taste. But this may be a personal thing. If I’m consuming cheesy calories, I want them to be creamy, even funky, not oily.

Pulled pork, chopped pork, and chicken wings are Pinkerton’s other meaty offerings, served in various forms. It pays to have an idea of what you want before arriving, since the abrupt entry situation can lead to a clot of deer-in-the-headlights newbies trying to read the strung-out menu just inside the door. There are no pre-ordained combo plates, adding to the anxiety.

The odd setup calls for diners to order sides first.Those options include jalapeño cheese rice, potato salad, coleslaw, South Texas beans, rosemary bacon mac and cheese, and duck-and-sausage jambalaya. They also come in various sizes, adding another layer of complexity and hesitation.

Desserts are pre-packaged, and of the two — bread pudding is the other possibility — I never saw more than one at a time.

An ordering snafu on one visit meant that I got beans twice, and though they are smoky, thicker than most and meaty, perhaps from the addition of burnt ends, I had a lingering suspicion they included chili powder. Was that the presumed “South Texas” part? Discreetly dressed, the bi-colored slaw was moderately tangy and defiantly crunchy. The mustard-tinged potato salad was merely adequate, but then, so is most potato salad at joints around Texas. The jambalaya does stand out, though, even if the duck is hard to distinguish in the clingy rice’s exuberant seasoning. Small isn’t an option with this classic Cajun dish, so consider sharing it.

While the ordering process was cumbersome, service was thoughtful once I found a spot at one of the generously spaced picnic tables. Servers replaced a paper towel roll just in time, brought a to-go container without me asking and quickly retrieved trays. The park-like outdoor setting, somehow appropriate to Pinkerton’s domesticated ’cue, makes this an especially family-friendly destination as well.

Go and eat it. Cobbler first, if that suits your style.

Pinkerton’s Barbecue
107 W. Houston St. | | (210) 983-0088

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Price Range: Barbecue runs $16-28 per pound

Best Bets: Jambalaya, South Texas beans, brisket, brisket sandwich, pork ribs, blueberry cobbler

The Skinny: Pinkerton’s has blown into town on a whiff of mesquite and oak smoke from Houston — and bypassing Austin, so there’s that. Its polite evocation of a country roadhouse sits on an entire city block in the shadow of the glassy, faceted Frost Tower. The flagship brisket is equally urbanized: moist, tender and discreetly smoky. Pork ribs are ease-off-the-bone tender. The sausages are structurally sound, and the sides are resoundingly adequate. The blueberry cobbler, however, is exquisite. Order two.

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