104 East Scott Ave.
Wichita Falls, TX
Someone once told me Wichita Falls, Texas is the only place in the world where you can be knee deep in muck and still get pelted in the face with sand.
Driving through this gritty industrial/ranching/oil town, all I can do is pity whoever’s in charge of the local Tourism and Convention Bureau.
That boy has his work cut out for him.
Where the muddy Red River cuts through the dusty West Texas Plains, Wichita Falls doesn’t offer much in the way of excitement.
But that’s okay.
Desolate little dots on the Texas map like Lockhart, Luling, and Driftwood draw tourists to these tumbleweed-strewn roads seeking something more important than the ruins of Spanish missions and Six Flags roller coasters.
Unfortunately, Wichita Fall’s most popular barbeque joint doesn’t do much to boost Wichita Fall’s tourism industry.
The Branding Iron looks promising at first. The place is a dump.
A decades-old building made of cinder block on the outskirts of downtown, it looks like the Branding Iron has been expanded a time or two.
I chose to sit in the back of the restaurant with a metal shed roof and insulation falling out just above the animal heads mounted on the wall.
The cinder blocks were charred black in some spots, like this section had been a barbeque pit in another life.
Cowboy paraphernalia and dead flies set the dark mood while the late lunch crowd began to file out into the blinding Texas sun.
A classic Frederic Remington sculpture covered in an inch of decade-old dust sat haphazardly on an antique desk.
It occurred to me that this single piece of art is probably worth more than the appraised value of the entire building.
No doubt about it, the Branding Iron comes by its divey credentials honestly.
That’s usually a good thing when searching for good ‘que.
But not always.
Like most Texas barbeque joints, you stand in line, grab a plastic tray, and tell the guy with the knife what kind of meat you want.
With great precision, he diced up a pile of brisket and Texas hot links, dumped them on a pre-formed metal plate and slid it to me with a smile.
That should’ve been my first warning sign.
At legendary Texas barbeque pits like Angelo’s and Smitty’s, the cleaver-wielding pit masters scowl at you like they want to serrate your lung when they hand you your food.
In another unusual twist, the sides here are self-serve.
Maybe that’s why I uncharacteristically chose the pea salad over the bland-looking ranch-style pinto beans.
When you have to scoop up your own glops of sides, you get a pretty good look at ‘em.
For some reason, the pea salad looked intriguing to me.
Of course I’ve never voluntarily eaten a salad in my life.
But this isn’t that kind of salad.
Think potato salad, macaroni salad, ham salad.
Branding Iron’s pea salad was a cool, refreshing mishmash of cheese, eggs, peas and something red – maybe pimento.
Different and interesting.
Unfortunately, that was the beginning and end of the positive part of this review.
The fried okra was overcooked into shriveled bites of petrified crunch. Even a generous application of jalapeño hot sauce couldn’t make them edible.
Likewise, the tableside squeeze bottle of sweet BBQ sauce couldn’t salvage the meat.
The brisket just didn’t have the firmness or flavor of good mesquite-smoked Texas brisket. Dry and tasteless with a limp mushy texture, this brisket isn’t going to win over any true Texas barbeque connoisseurs.
The fact that it was served at room temperature didn’t help either.
Ditto for the sausage. Despite a noticeable spice kick, the hot links didn’t have that dense smoky Texas flavor you expect when dining in the Lone Star State.
At least my chocolate meringue pie wasn’t bad. (Is it possible for pie to be bad?)
But by the time I finished my meal, I had lost my enthusiasm for dessert.
I just wanted to shake the dust off this dusty town and get back on the road.
I left Wichita Falls with a sense of disappointment.
I wanted to find a reason to like this place.
Uncovering hidden roadside gems set in homely working class towns of forgotten middle America is what it’s all about.
My apologies to that hapless Wichita Falls tourism guy, the Branding Iron just isn’t one of them.
Rating: Wouldn’t Wear Shirt if They Paid Me.