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Restaurant Reviews

Belly Up to the Barbecue

You can find lots of fascinating dictionary definitions that start with the word Texas. For instance a Texas citrus mite is a red spider that causes injury to the leaves of citrus trees. Texas fever is a disease suffered by cattle and transmitted by the cattle tick. A Texas leaguer is, in baseball, a fly ball that falls between the infielder and outfielder. You can even read a definition of the word Texas itself: Aside from being the second-largest state, it's a structure built on the awning deck of a steamboat.

But nowhere does Webster's supply a definition for a Texas state of mind. Ask a Texan what it means and you'll probably hear some blather about feeling free and easy in the wide-open spaces. Or you could be in for a gusher of state pride -- how everything in Texas is bigger and better than anywhere else (almost anywhere else, if we're forced to count Alaska) -- or a paean to the Dallas Cowboys, inarguably the cockiest football team in the nation.

If you ask a denizen of Delray Beach what it means, however, you're likely to get a definitive answer: Texas State of Mind BBQ is a barbecue joint, located on NE Sixth Avenue. And a darn good one at that.

Unlike most of the newish eateries in Delray Beach, Texas State of Mind is neither swank nor trendy. You can swallow a full meal for a comfortable ten bucks. The small menu offers nothing reinvented, no fusion, not an iota of global. The place specializes, not just in a region, but in one raunchy -- sorry, I meant ranchy -- state. Yippee. Real American food for us slightly fake South Florida people.

'Course, the atmosphere, as is often the case in barbecue joints, is practically nil. Occupying a spacious, square, freestanding building, Texas State of Mind is brightly lighted like a convenience store and just as accessible -- the restaurant has parking lots on either side, with storefront windows open to both. Inside, the place is about as laid-back as a garage sale. Kitchenette-style tables are covered with blue-and-white- or red-and-white-checked plastic. The wood paneling is hung with all sorts of Texas memorabilia, including cowboy boots and a Texas flag -- a reminder that if Texas could be its own country again, it would. An enclosed porch in the back boasts patio furniture.

In addition to a fast-food counter that locals use for takeout, Texas State of Mind offers friendly table service and cooked-to-order fare. Most of the barbecued meats, of course, have been simmered for hours till tender. Order the beef brisket sliced to see what I mean, or chopped if you don't quite believe me. Or try the baby-back ribs, so meaty they looked like they were from mostly-grown oinkers, slow-cooked until the pork slid off the bones as quick as a kid on a slide. You can also get boneless pork sliced or chopped like the brisket, though this seemed to have been roasted without much sauce. Some of it was dry, but a swirl of clove-scented barbecue sauce fixed it up nicely.

Chicken is just about the only barbecued item that's cooked on the spot, simply because the restaurant uses boneless double chicken breasts and grills them to juicy succulence. The sizzling poultry was brushed with the tangy sauce rather than drenched in it, and I was pleased to find that the skin had been removed. See, barbecue can be less of a dietary sin that way.

But don't think you're going to get off lightly here -- certainly not portionwise. The barbecue comes as a sandwich with crisp French fries or creamy coleslaw or as a platter with a choice of two "side posts." Side posts include chunky potato salad, roasted corn on the cob, and savory baked beans that taste as if they've been stewed with pork fat. Even a simple burger runs up to a hefty half-pound of ground beef.

Calorically speaking, you're not saving any this holiday season if you order such starters as the jalapeño "poppers." These were large, dark green chile peppers -- meaty like poblanos and a touch less acidic than I usually find jalapeños -- stuffed with cream cheese, dipped in egg and bread crumbs, and deep-fried. It was hard to fault these crunchy appetizers, which oozed textural contrast in every bite. The same peppers, along with chopped white onions, garnished a bowl of Texas chili, a zesty blend of ground beef and kidney beans. I found this stew a little too soupy for my taste, however, and the temperature a tad too lukewarm -- a problem some of the barbecued items shared.

You won't impress Jenny Craig with the chicken-wings appetizer, either. But then, if she's not your mother, your wife, or your girlfriend, why should you care? Breaded and deep-fried, the wings actually boasted a good amount of meat as well as crisp skin. A dozen wings are a bargain for $4.95; adding celery and blue cheese dressing will run you an extra 75 cents, but they make this treat bigger and -- no doubt about it -- better.

In fact Texas State of Mind doesn't miss an opportunity to remind the customer that bigger is better. Sweetened or unsweetened iced tea, lemonade, and root beer were jumbo as elephants. Even a side salad was gargantuan, a veritable head of chopped iceberg lettuce, sliced cucumbers, and quartered tomatoes. The same salad becomes a meal when chicken breast is grilled and laid on top (that's the "Houston") or when it's tossed with Parmesan cheese and caesar dressing (the "Dallas").

Despite its lack of atmosphere, I've clearly found the place to go when I'm in the mood for a good plate of grub, which I have to admit is fairly often. A meal here does as much to put you in a Texas State of Body as it does to satisfy your Texas State of Mind, since it's almost impossible to come away from the place feeling anything less than very, very full. That leaves room only for hope that "bigger and better" applies not just to states but to bellies as well.

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Jen Karetnick is an award-winning dining critic, food-travel writer, and author of the books Ice Cube Tray Recipes, Mango, and The 500 Hidden Secrets of Miami.
Contact: Jen Karetnick

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