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Ask Houston about his craft and you can tell he's studied barbecue inside and out. The ribs are so good because he knows the tricks: He takes the time to remove the membrane, that slightly chewy coating along the underside of the bone that keeps smoke from penetrating the meat. He never brines them, because then they just end up tasting like ham. He wouldn't dream of parboiling them, a common restaurant shortcut used to cut the cooking time. Instead, Houston is exacting in his preparation, a trait he no doubt picked up while cooking chow in the Marine Corps or working on restaurant development for Marriott Hotels. It's why his number-one goal, he says, is consistency. "If I can't be consistent to the T," he says proudly, "then I'd rather not do it at all."
Houston first launched DDS in Fort Myers in 2005. Cooking "competition-style" 'cue from his big red trailer, he developed a devoted following serving ribs, chicken, pulled pork, seafood, and daily-made fixings. When he was forced to leave his well-known spot because of nearby construction, Houston looked to sites in Atlanta and at the Swap Shop in Fort Lauderdale. Though he couldn't secure a space inside the Shop, he decided the area was just too ripe to pass up, so he moved into the Exxon lot adjacent to the market. His goal is to open his first brick-and-mortar store in Broward and eventually expand his concept elsewhere.
Meanwhile, we'll have to settle for ordering DDS' pulled pork sandwich ($4.99) from the raised takeout counter on his truck. I'm convinced this is the best food deal in South Florida right now: You get two inch-thick slices of buttery, garlicky Texas toast to go with a mound of dripping pulled pork so big it looks as if a forklift plopped it in the foil-lined to-go container. I could talk for days about how the shredded meat is eminently tender — though never clumping into a tuna-salad-like mash like some pulled meat does — and so wet with its own "gravy" that it needs no sauce at all. For a dollar more, you can perfect it by adding some of Houston's own mayonnaisey coleslaw on top.
3101 W. Sunrise Blvd.
Lauderdale Lakes, FL 33311
Region: Fort Lauderdale
You need more reasons to get up and visit DDS right now? How about the mac 'n' cheese ($1.50 with any meal, $2.50 otherwise), a velvety, heart-stopping wad o' pasta, cheddar, and jack cheeses baked until golden? Or the deep-fried seafood box ($13.99) — hardback blue crabs caked in crunchy corn meal and rolled around in garlic oil, ultra-fresh fillets of moist grouper and tilapia, and pink shrimp cut to look like some exotic flower? Braver folk may opt for the souse ($4.99), that Southern classic of odd pig parts brined and stewed. For dessert, I suggest the creamiest, richest slice of sweet potato pie you'll find, only $2.75.
About the only complaint I can muster is that there's no telephone — so instead of being able to call your feast in, you'll have to hoof it down there and wait in line for your food, sometimes for quite long. It's not inconsequential, but it's hardly a deal breaker with grub this good. Still, feel free to write me and tell me I don't know anything about great barbecue, that DDS is nothing compared to the joints you've been to in Dallas or Atlanta or Asheville. Well, go ahead and haul yourself to said destination. I'll hold down the fort here, along with a lot of other very happy Floridians.
Scene: Four friends drive out of the wilds of unincorporated Broward, hands sticky and bellies full. As a pink-hued blanket envelops the horizon, they have an epiphany: Great barbecue is neither fast nor easy. But it's always worth it.