I've always been impressed with the barbecue that the Whole Foods Market in Montrose turns out of its Southern Pride smokers, so I expected to be just as taken with the barbecue at its newest store on Voss. When it debuted in April, the Voss store stocked itself with much more than just groceries and ready-made barbecue, offering an in-house bar and additional prepared food areas, each with their own specialization: serve-yourself pizza-by-the-slice ($3.50 each or two slices for $6), made-to-order tacos and sandwiches, boxes full of fresh sushi and a much-trumpted ramen bar, where—like those tacos and sandwiches—you can build your bowl to your own weird specifications, including an equally-trumpeted option to top your ramen with Whole Foods' in-house barbecue.
I like this idea a lot in theory. Houstonians are finally embracing ramen, our city's barbecue scene is ramping up more now than ever and grocery giants like Whole Foods and H-E-B are acknowledging the fact that Houstonians use supermarkets for more than just weekly grocery shopping. It's convenient for both consumers and the grocery stores, which already have all the ingredients they need on hand, and it's just plain fun. It's fun to stand at a little kiosk and decorate your ramen or taco or sandwich as you see fit, then find out if the odd combinations you threw together are any good. My combination this week at the Whole Foods ramen kiosk? Barbecued brisket, spicy barbecue sauce, grilled jalapeños, grilled corn, lime and cilantro, all things I felt would complement the brisket without clashing with the ramen broth.
Sadly, I was wrong. This isn't the fault of the barbecue, however, which is every bit as good as it is at the Whole Foods in Montrose. But when paired with the ramen as suggested—indeed, encouraged—they're two great tastes that don't taste great together (though "great" is perhaps a little generous for the wad of stuck-together noodles and wan, thin broth that came with my brisket ramen). I lugged my giant bowl of ill-advised Texas ramen to my second lunch stop this past Monday, Roegels Barbecue Co., where my dining companions agreed that the brisket itself was unimpeachable, with several very nice fatty bits swimming in the broth, but that the ramen needed serious improvement otherwise.
Until that happens, I have two suggestions: One, just get the barbecue at Whole Foods on its own. It's not Killen's or Franklin's but it's quite good and reliable and there for you when you need it. Two, if you have your heart set on this elusive ramen/barbecue combo, get the Texas ramen (same name; easy to remember) at Soma Sushi, which started as a special but proved so popular that it's been added to the lunch and dinner menus full-time.
At Soma, chef Gabe Medina carefully creates a special tonkotsu broth with Mangalitsa lard from Revival Market that actually pairs well with the meat and "fixings" in the bowl: barbecued pork belly, corn, cilantro, mushrooms and green onions. The decadent broth is rich and creamy owing to the extra-fatty lard (yes, lard can be extra fatty) and the noodles, bless them, are thick and chewy and never tangled in a sticky clump, proof positive that, yes, sometimes Texas ramen can be done—and done right.