Annie Bulloch is a freelance writer who has lived in Houston most of her life. Her main obsessions are food--both cooking and eating--and pop culture, especially comics, movies and TV.
feed the beast
Houston’s Enduring Eats: Multiple Generations Find Comfort Food at Barbecue Inn
In our Enduring Eats series, Annie Bulloch explores Houston-area restaurants that have been in business for 30 years or more.
Barbecue Inn opened in 1946 in a little house at the corner of Crosstimbers and Yale, a bit north of Loop 610 near Garden Oaks. Louis and Nell Skrehot founded the restaurant and raised their sons Louis, Jr. and Wayne in the business. Today, the restaurant is in the same location and remains in the family, with Wayne and his son David now running the show.
Original copies of Barbecue Inn’s 1946 and 1965 menus are on display in the restaurant lobby. Aside from the prices, very little of the menu has changed since 1965.
There are a few exceptions, though. For instance, the 1965 menu included canned soups as appetizers, which unsurprisingly got phased out. Catfish replaced trout. Veal and ham steaks disappeared sometime in the intervening 50 years, and items like coleslaw and ranch dressing eventually were added. (Yes, Barbecue Inn existed in the fabled Time Before Ranch Dressing, which was invented in the 1950s and only found mass popularity in the early 1980s.) And most importantly—because it is my personal favorite—chicken-fried chicken was added to the menu alongside chicken-fried steak.
But about 80 percent of the menu is the same, and the basics — barbecue and fried chicken — were on the menu all the way back in 1946.
While it’s called Barbecue Inn, and the barbecue is fine, the real star is the fried chicken. The menu specifies that fried chicken orders will take an extra 25-30 minutes, and it is well worth the wait. The crunchy coating adheres to the juicy, flavorful meat beautifully, so you get all the flavor and texture in every bite.
My great-grandparents frequently brought my grandmother and great-uncle to Barbecue Inn for fried chicken in the 1940s and ‘50s, and my mother fondly remembers eating the fried seafood platter when dining with her family as a young girl in the ‘60s. My relatives insist that the food hasn’t really changed. Having multiple generations of the same family run the restaurant has given it a continuity upon which other multi-generational families can rely.
I went to Barbecue Inn for dinner on a recent Friday night, and the dining room was as busy as ever. Many of the patrons were over 50 years old (some well over 50), but there were plenty of younger people there as well. Almost every plate contained fried chicken or seafood. No matter what food trends come along, simple, delicious comfort food doesn’t go out of style.
On this visit, I brought a friend who has lived in Houston for years, but never had heard of Barbecue Inn. She was game for a time-travel adventure, and we had fun noting the relics of past times, such as the candy and mints for sale under glass at the front counter, and the area of the restaurant that’s sectioned off by a wall that’s purely a formality. Once upon a time, it divided the smoking and non-smoking sections. In those days, “non-smoking” just meant “not sitting immediately next to active smokers, who are probably at least 10 or 15 feet away.”
I ordered my usual chicken fried chicken, and my friend chose the stuffed crab and fried shrimp. Both come with a green salad and either fries or a baked potato. If you order oil and vinegar dressing, they very much deliver separate cruets of salad oil and vinegar to the table so you can dress your salad to your taste. I asked for blue cheese dressing on my salad, and they do not skimp on the dressing. A basket of assorted packets of crackers also comes with the meal, and it includes melba toast. Melba toast!
When our entrees arrived—after the extra time it took to fry my chicken, of course—our conversation quickly ground to a halt so we could chow down. We slowed down long enough to exchange a bite of my chicken for one of her shrimp, and ultimately joined the clean plate club.
After nearly 70 years in business, Barbecue Inn’s formula for success still works. It’s not self-consciously kitschy. It’s a neighborhood institution where being old-fashioned isn’t a gimmick. My friend and I left too stuffed with
fried food and potatoes to handle any of the delicious pie, but that’s okay. I’ll be back soon.
116 W. Crosstimbers Street
Houston, Texas 77018
10:30 AM-9:30PM Tuesday-Saturday
Closed Sunday and Monday