It's Houston Black Restaurant Week, but this year "weeks" would be a more appropriate moniker, as the event takes place for 14 days, from April 17 through 30. That means twice as much time to partake in the eclectic fare that summarizes the black community's contributions to Houston's restaurant scene. Last year, I visited Ray's BBQ Shack, which is participating again this year, once again serving the killer deal of all the meats on the menu, plus two sides for $25.
But HBRW is about discovering something new. I had never heard of the Shack before (until recently, it was the Sausage & Boudin Shack), but a single menu item compelled me to make the trek to Sunnyside: smoked-then-smothered oxtails.
For a soul food restaurant, service was uncommonly brusque, but I didn't need to be coddled. I just needed somewhere to sit down. Inside there's a handful of tables; outside, there's a stretch of patio filled with a pool table, places to sit and room for occasional live music and film screenings. I was the only one staying—most customers seemed to be in a hurry.
But a plate of oxtails like this all but requires you to enter slow motion. One bite of the lightly smoky meat set everything on pause. The collagenous pebbles of meat falling from bone are girded with a caramel-flavored sauce just a few notches less dark than the richest roux-based gumbo, which in turn soaks the rice. As I write this, my fingers still smell smoky and sweet from holding the small bones as I bit in.
The bed of rice doesn't count as a side, so there are still three to choose. The stewed yams are vanilla scented, the greens vegetarian but lacking the bitterness that meat is usually used to cover. The beans? There's less of them than boudin in a cup, leaving a spicy tingle on my lips and a whiff of smoke with each bite.
This is the soul food meal we Gastronauts dream of turning up in our explorations. Thanks for your help, HBRW.