Mmm… Ribs (Country Tavern in Kilgore)

3 Jan

My better half swears that the ribs cooked by his sister-in-law’s father are the best in the world (ooh, that was a mouthful!)  He swears nothing even comes close, not Smitty’s, not Cooper’s.  Then, where does the East Texas Rib Master go for ribs when he wants to eat out?  He gives the same answer as half of the resident in East Texas, Country Tavern (State Highway 31 & FM 2767, Kilgore).

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The Country Tavern, we’re told, has been around for at least 30 years.  There’s a nice exact figure for the history books.  The place used to be a total dive, a rowdy honky tonk with a cramped dance floor and a worn out pool table.  After a tragic car accident, Country Tavern took on new ownership and cosmetic updates a few years ago.  Country Tavern is no longer a dingy dark warehouse, but the essence of the haphazardly thrown-together watering hole is still there.  Smoking is now only allowed at the bar and not at the tables.  A newer pool table accompanies the jukebox in the bar area. 

There’s no menu at the Country Tavern.  And even though the kitchen offers other items (namely brisket and sausage), everyone knows Country Tavern is a ribs and draft kind of joint.  No beer for us on this visit, we had a long drive back to Dallas after dinner.  We started off with a large rib plate ($17) and two glasses of sweet tea.

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It’s a standard Texas order of ribs, forgettable potato salad, white bread, and pickle slices.  The sauce is warmed in the bottle and brought out with your order.  East Texas BBQ follows the tradition of pork and sauce focused Arkansas and Tennesee BBQ rather than beef-heavy sauce-free Central Texas BBQ (with the exception of brisket, though brisket in East Texas is typically consumed with BBQ sauce).  Country Tavern’s sweet, thick sauce is no exception to the rule.  Instead of a “no sauce needed” attitude, the focus here is on the slightly tangy, sweet sauce. 

The ribs cannot be compared to those at Smitty’s or Cooper’s of the Central Texas school of BBQ philosophy.  These are simply a different style.  The fall off the bone tender, finger-licking good ribs remind me of high school road trips to Memphis.  The ribs from Country Tavern lacked smoke compared to typical Central Texas BBQ.  I found the ribs enjoyable, but by personal preference, yearned for more smoke.  The combination of the sweet BBQ sauce and the sweet tea was too much for my low sugar-tolerance self.  But my better half opted for a second order of just ribs.

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This close-up photo shows the nice (but sticky from a sugary glaze) bark on the ribs.  The burnt, almost caramelized, ends of the bark were my favorite part of the ribs.  But again, low on smoke.

The fun-loving, carefree atmosphere at Country Tavern is a complete contrast to the stiff BBQ purist attitude of Central Texas.  Through its long history, the ribs at Country Tavern have evolved into legendary status in their own right.  But unlike the legends in Central Texas, the service at Country Tavern comes complete with silverware, sauce, and even a hot towel for clean up when you’re done with your messy dinner.  However, would I trade these creature comforts for pit-smoked perfection in my ribs?  Well, call me a purist, but most definitely yes.

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14 Responses to “Mmm… Ribs (Country Tavern in Kilgore)”

  1. foodczar 01/07/2008 at 11:09 am #

    Great report, Donna! You had me all ready to plan a day trip to Kilgore, but your notes on the sugar glaze and lack of smoke turned me off. Oh, well. However, that brings up another question: Have you been to Rudy’s BarBQ at any of their locations? Seems to me they are the only place in the Metroplex that has BBQ quality close to that of Central Texas. There is also a new one in Frisco on the Tollway which is very good and HAS A DRIVE-THRU! How great is that?? What do you think of Rudy’s?

  2. donnaaries 01/07/2008 at 2:41 pm #

    I’ve tried the Rudy’s College Station location once. I don’t remember it being memorable (hence I don’t really remember it). Is the Frisco location much different? Maybe I’ll check it out when I’m going north.

  3. foodczar 01/08/2008 at 11:24 am #

    Please check it out, Donna. Needless to say, Rudy’s is excellent, especially the barbecued turkey, due to the fact that it is oak-smoked. However, I feel it cannot quite compare to Coopers or Louis Muellers, but then how many ‘cue places can truly make that claim? My chief interest is in finding an everyday Texas-style barbecue place I can enjoy in the metroplex. Dickeys and Sonny Bryans are OK, Red, Hot and Blue is Memphis-style and I have yet to find another place nearly as good. I’m going to County Line in Garland soon, a place I know well from it’s Riverwalk, San Antonio location, and I’ll report on that as well.

  4. Danny 01/22/2008 at 7:11 pm #

    Mmmmm… ribs. Tony Roma’s had some awesome ribs. But, alas, their Dallas area restaurants are no more.

    I’ll be making my first dive into rediculously-trendy Atlanta dining at the Luckie Food Lounge this weekend when Jackie comes to visit. Wish me luck! http://www.luckiefoodlounge.com

  5. Mae Dean 01/27/2008 at 8:13 am #

    I enjoyed your blog-review of Country Tavern so much that I’ve included it on The Perpetual Vacationers. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Amy M. 07/10/2008 at 4:55 pm #

    I am from East Texas and have had BBQ in many places in Texas. I think this is by far the best BBQ I have ever had anywhere. The sauce is the best and makes the ribs very succulent and enjoyable. As one restaurant says, “It’s finger-lickin’ good.” Sorry you didn’t find it very enjoyable. I always order a second helping to take home – even better the next day!

  7. Lee 01/09/2009 at 8:11 am #

    For me, BBQ is about smoke & tender beef or pork & unforgettable sausage. If BBQ only taste good with a sauce on it, then the BBQ Joint is covering up an overcooked dry meat. Sure a sauce can add to the overall flavor of the meat, but, for me, it’s all about the juicy tender meaty smoke flavor with no sauce.

    One of my favorite places in DFW is Angelo’s in Ft. Worth. Not as good as the boys down in South or Central Texas, but definitely very good…..my favorite are a plate of ribs with a schooner of cold beer and sitting in the ‘back’ area watching a good football game.

    Two of the better East Texas BBQ places I have found are:

    1. Mt. Zion BBQ in Huntsville…get there early before she runs out of fresh baked pie.

    2. Goode Company Barbeque
    5109 Kirby Dr
    Houston, TX 77098-5011
    (713) 522-2530

    Note: If your driving from I-45 to Houston from North Texas, be sure and stop in Centerville for some of the better jerky I have found….Jerky Shop is on the West side of I-45 & a decent BBQ on the East Side of I-45, which has some decent thick heavily smoked center cut pork chops as well as BBQ, plus, the have an endless bean pot & sweet tea jar.

  8. Wes 08/14/2009 at 10:00 am #

    I used to live in Longview in the ’80s and at one time our group from work went to lunch every Friday at the Country Tavern. I live in Austin now and make regular trips to Coopers in Llano and other places in Central Texas. Its been a long time since I’ve eaten at the Country Tavern, so I can’t make a direct comparison too well. But I DO remember the Country Tavern as having the best ribs I’ve ever eaten (for my taste). I need to make a trip there sometime soon to verify my memory!!

    P.s. — Besides the ribs, I loved the East Texas “honky tonk” atmosphere of this place too!!

  9. karen jordan 02/22/2010 at 11:34 pm #

    I JUST WANT TO LET THE OWNERS AND MANAGEMENT TEAM KNOW OF MY VERY UNPLEASANT EXPERIENCE I HAD THIS WEEKEND.IT WAS UNBELIEVABLE ,OUT OF THE 5 YEARS THAT I HAVE BEEN DRIVING TO EAST TEXAS AREA AND GOING TO COUNTRY TAVERN FOR RIBS.I BROUGHT MY SISTER WHO LIVES IN THE DALLAS AREA DOWN TO TRY YOUR WONDERFUL RIBS.BUT UNFORTUNATELY WE WAS TOLD BY YOUR EMPLOYEE CASEY THAT U DON T SELL RIBS . SHE TOLD US YOU ONLY SOLD TURKEY,SAUSAGE ,AND BEEF. AND I RESPONDED TO HER THAT I HAVE BEEN DRIVING FROM DALLAS FOR 5YRS AND ALWAYS CAME THERE FOR RIBS. AND SHE TOLD ME AND MY SISTER AS A WITNESS .THAT THERE WAS NO RIBS SOLD THERE AND SHE HAD BEEN THERE 2YRS. SO WE ORDER CHOPPED BEEF SANDWICHS BECAUSE IT WAS MY SISTERS FIRST TIME THERE.AND I JUST WANTED TO TASTE HOW GOOD YOUR BBQ WAS. BUT AS WE SAT A WAITED AT THE BAR FOR OUR ORDER.LOOKED AND OBSERVED PEOPLE SITTING IN THE DINNING AREA AT TABLES EATING RIBS. I COULD NOT BELIEVE IT!! I WAS SO UPSET THAT I WANTED TO CANCEL MY ORDER.BUT WHEN SHE RETURNED TO THE FRONT TO BRING US THE SANDWICHES WE ORDERED I TOLD HER ,WE SEE THESE PEOPLE EATING RIBS.BUT SHE SAID.THAT THEY SELL RIB PLATES NOT JUSTS RIBS.???? BUT TO ME RIBS IS RIBS. I WAS SO UPSET I SAID AND MY SISTER FELT THAT MAYBE IT WAS OUR RACE. BUT REALLY WANTED TO JUST TELL HER TO GIVE ME MY MONEY BACK AND WE WOULD NOT EVER COME THERE NEVER AGAIN.SHE WAS VERY SMART ELICK A RUDE AND LYING.THEN WE LFT .DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD AND STARTED TO EAT SANWICHES AND THEY WERE TERRIBLE FULL OF FAT THAT MY SISTER AND I JUST COULD NOT EAT THEM IT WAS MAKING US SICK.WE WOULD HAVE TURN BACK AND RETURN THEM BUT WAS SO FAR HEADED TO LONGVIEW TO VISIT ANOTHER SISTER
    FOR A CHURCH PROGRAM AND WE WERE RUNNING LATE. BUT ASKED THE OTHER YOUNG LADY THAT WAS IN TRAINING VERY EVIDENT NAME KELSY HER NAME.THIS IS A VERY SERIOUS MATTER THAT I CALLED TODAY MONDAY FEB 22 AND REPORTED IT TO MS.MITCHAM THE MANAGER ON DUTY AND SHE WAS VERY APOLIGETIC.BUT I AND CERTAINLY MY SISTER WON T BE COMING TO COUNTRY TAVERN AGAIN BECAUSE OF YOUR EMPOYEE CASEY HER VERY BAD CUSTOMER SERVICE.I HOPE NO ONE ELSE EXPERIENCE WHAT WE DID.

  10. loneriderintx 12/23/2011 at 3:52 pm #

    I have had ribs at Country Tavern on more than a few occasions over the past thirty years and I can assure you that the caramelized thin layer of sauce is not there to hide a dry,tasteless rib. Mine have always been moist with a light smoky flavor. If you have an aversion to sauce, well good for you I guess. I like all bbq, but prefer the pork-centric sauce based deep South style as practiced by your typical southern black pit master. All bbq joints are subject to a bad day. I have been to one of the top 5 ranked hill country joints and had ribs and brisket that were both dry. Disappointing yes, but I chalked it up to a bad day on their part. If I want perfect I cook my own.

    • Reaper 08/11/2013 at 6:45 am #

      If a BBQ restaurant is ever capable of a “bad” day they should shut down or figure out how that could happen. One “bad” day is not tolerated in this business and this economy. Reviews can make or break a business. So you had better make customer service, quality, and consistency of taste, price and portions your absolute top priority. Customers should not be afraid to calmly and politely express their disappointments to management as soon as problems come up. That will make the experience better for everybody.

  11. Charlie 01/13/2012 at 2:03 pm #

    @ Loneriderintx

    You’re replying to a blog written in 2008, I’m sure things might have changed by now.

    • Richard Greenfield 10/15/2012 at 11:02 am #

      I am sure I said I have been eating there for thirty years, regardless of when the blog was initiated.

  12. ALVIN & DENISE HARVEY 06/19/2013 at 10:29 am #

    Your ribs are the best I have ever eaten. They are always so tender and just a touch of sweetness. WONDERFUL!

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