As if anyone needed further evidence that Scene employees will do anything for free food, I recently convinced a splinter group of the editorial staff to accompany to me to Rooster's Texas Style BBQ, for a sampling of so-called "calf fries." In their defense, my freeloading companions did not know what I knew about calf fries — i.e., that they're a euphemism for deep-fried bull's testicles, a fact I had stumbled across on an earlier visit to Rooster's with my family.
"And we'll share a side of calf fries," my husband said innocently, as he wrapped up the extensive order for our party of five.
After a moment's hesitation, the server asked sheepishly, "You know those are bull testicles, right?"
"I did not know that," my spouse replied, audibly nonplussed. He shifted slightly in his chair, then ordered a side of testes-free fries. (The exchange precipitated a frank anatomical conversation with our three young sons, who proceeded to eat lunch with one hand placed protectively in their laps. After lunch, when I strapped the youngest Fox into his five-point harness carseat, he chided, "Mom, you're pinching my calf fries!" The family lexicon will never be the same.)
Needless to say, when I rounded up my colleagues for a return trip to Rooster's — with the express intention of sampling calf fries — I did not drop the bomb about bull balls until we had already reached our destination in the North Gulch and my companions were too hungry to argue. They gracefully resigned themselves to the mandatory testicular noshing that lay ahead.
Located in the spot that formerly housed Café 123, Rooster's bears a strong resemblance to its predecessor, Judge Bean's BBQ. That's no coincidence: Rooster Beane and Aubrey Bean are brothers, though one kept the "e" on the family name. Like Aubrey (a.k.a. "Judge") Bean, who preceded him in the brick-clad storefront at the corner of 12th and Grundy, Rooster majors in Texas-style barbecue, with beef brisket headlining the meaty menu of smoked specialties. A native of Smyrna, Tenn., Rooster picked up the finer points of Western 'cue while living in Dallas and launched his nameplate last year. He gutted and rehabbed the restaurant, which still wears a gritty exposed-brick-and-neon-sign décor of the former Bean enterprise, and filled it with a mélange of seating, including picnic tables and some tufted leather sofas by the hearth. Like his bro, Rooster smokes meat out back 24 hours a day, but he says he distinguishes himself from the Judge by dialing down the spicy heat.
That's not to say Rooster's decadent shrimp diablos were shrinking violets. The bacon-wrapped bundles of smoked cheese and plump shrimp stuffed inside jalapeno peppers packed a familiar diabolical punch, and while we were delighted to find the Bean(e) Family signature snack reprised in Brother Rooster's repertoire, we were relieved that we didn't order more than one fiendishly hot little bundle per person.
There was also an audible sigh of relief at my table when the server apologized for the restaurant's temporary shortage of calf fries. As luck would have it, Rooster's was flat out of fried bovine gonads on the day we arrived, so we settled for a spree of less glandular items from the smoker.
Leave it to a man who stuffs shrimp and cheese into bacon-wrapped peppers to ratchet up the classic meat-and-three equation with an additional protein. Rooster's Texas Two Step includes two meats plus two sides, so our group was able to taste a wide variety of offerings.
Ribs were dusted with dry rub and smoked for three hours, then licked with tomato-based sauce, wrapped and smoked for another three hours. Chicken was injected with sauce and finished with dry rub, for a juicy, blackened bird infused with mild spices. Brisket was smoked over low heat for a full 24 hours, then sliced into thin strips. While some of the meats arrived with a texture that suggested a little too much time spent waiting around in the kitchen, chicken wings alighted on the table fresh from a sizzling bath in the fryer, earning praise as an unexpected standout.
From barbecued meats, sweet baked beans laced with brisket, pinto beans tinged with chili spices, and bronzed fried okra to wide-cut French fries, mac-and-cheese, onion straws and fried pickles, there was scarcely a hint of color on our table that was not an earth tone. (Let's be honest, those stewed green beans are really more brown than green, and the iceberg lettuce salad topped with a kibble of diced chicken breast and shredded cheese doesn't really count. Many thanks to our attentive server for deleting the uneaten salad from our bill without our mentioning it.) Rooster's is not a place for vegetable lovers, but it does serve a quesadilla bulging with caramelized onions, squash, mushrooms and peppers and oozing with molten Monterey Jack.
If there is one item particularly worth crowing about, it is the onion straws. Dredged in Cajun flour mixture, the shaved strings emerge from the fryer as a sweet and salty tangle of glassy strands in a crisp sandy coating, eclipsing virtually everything else on the plate. In fact, the success of the onion straws bodes well for the calf fries, which, our server explained, are deep-fried in the same signature seasoning and "taste just like chicken."
If you don't have the cojones to try the ... well, the cojones, Rooster's has another daunting challenge in store: If you can eat the 72-ounce Big Roost Sirloin, baked potato, salad and roll in an hour, your $72 meal is free. As far as Beane is letting on, The Roost has won every time. But recently Travel Channel's Adam Richman stopped by for a taping of Man v. Food, in which country duo Preston Brust and Chris Lucas, a.k.a. the LoCash Cowboys, challenged a pair of 72-ouncers. Beane is required by the network to keep the winner a secret until the episode airs in June, but our money is on the beef. Four-and-a-half pounds of steer are surely too much to tackle — even missing a couple of special ingredients.
Rooster's serves lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. Live music is available Wednesday through Saturday evenings, with writers' night on Wednesday.
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