TNT Diner

Central Texas barbecue restaurant BBQ2U now open and has a few things you’ve never seen

A Texas tray, a combination meal at BBQ2U in Gig Harbor, with four ribs, fried okra and macaroni and cheese.
A Texas tray, a combination meal at BBQ2U in Gig Harbor, with four ribs, fried okra and macaroni and cheese. skidd@thenewstribune.com

Barbecue fans have flocked to BBQ2U since its March 2 opening.

On its first day, it ran out of meat.

Same with the second, third, fourth days.

If there’s one tip owner Gary Parker wants his diners to know, it’s that his barbecue restaurant is like a Texas barbecue restaurant in every way.

When the ‘cue is out, it’s out. It’s a Texas tradition.

“We are operating just like the real Texas joints. Like Franklin BBQ in Austin (Texas). Meaning, we make as much as we can and sell until we sell out,” said Parker.

Lesson: Get there early.

Like you’d find in Texas, the restaurant is cafeteria style with complete counter service, meaning diners are served everything at the counter.

Here’s a first-bite report with navigation tips, which you’ll need because this restaurant’s style of service is unlike any in the area.

It’s this paper’s policy to avoid criticism of food and service in a restaurant’s first month.

BBQ2U dining room 1
The dining room of BBQ2U in Gig Harbor. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

That line: Service is entirely cafeteria style. Enter the line and load up with a big metal tray and plastic silverware.

Grab cold sides and bottled drinks from the tall cold case by the register. Hot sides are dished at the front counter. Meats are carved at the counter, weighed and slapped onto heavy butcher paper that is then slapped onto the big tray that doubles as your plate. Find your own table.

BBQ2U pickles (2)
Serve-yourself jalapenos, dill pickle chips and sliced onions at BBQ2U in Gig Harbor. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

Sweet tea and extras: To the right of the front counter are serve-yourself fountain sodas, plus pickled jalapenos, sliced onions and dill pickle chips. Two vats hold iced tea. One is with sweet tea (strong and just the right level of sweet for me) and the other is unsweetened.

Sauces: One kind of house barbecue sauce on every table (tangy, a little sweet, spicy and smoky), plus Sriracha-flavored Tabasco.

BBQ2U tray cart
A cart with trays and silverware. Load up on both before you order at the counter. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

The dining room: Comfortable and casual, with nods to Texas and an homage to pigs incorporated throughout the decor. Low frills seating with simple metal chairs, wood tables for 2-4 diners each, polished concrete floor and a roll of paper towels slapped onto every table. Room for about 40.

The owners: Gary Parker is an Austin transplant who has been missing Central Texas barbecue since he left Texas 20 years ago to come work at Intel in DuPont. Having just retired from that Intel job, barbecue became his second-act career choice. He built a following cooking for friends, family and for tailgaters at his son John’s car races. Parker runs the restaurant with wife Cindi.

BBQ2U decor
Pigs and Texas are the theme in the decor at BBQ2U in Gig Harbor. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

The menu: Pulled pork is Carolina style, but otherwise Central Texas is the theme here. Parker cooks on a big kitchen smoker fueled with Texas mesquite or post oak (or fruitwood or local alder in a pinch).

The meats: Brisket, beef ribs (one of few in the area to serve these), pork ribs, pulled pork, smoked chicken thighs, smoked turkey breast, sausage. No meats are served sauced.

The sides: Fried okra, macaroni and cheese, baked beans, potato salad, coleslaw, banana pudding. $3 small, $6 medium, $10 large.

BBQ2U brisket plate
A brisket plate with beans and cole slaw, plus dill pickle chips, from BBQ2U in Gig Harbor. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

Texas trays: Combination meals are served with one meat and a choice of two sides. Trays come with a choice of brisket, turkey breast, chicken or spare ribs ($12 each) or pulled pork and sausage ($11 each). Add a second meat for $4.

Also: A la carte sandwiches included chicken or sausage ($6), pulled pork ($8), or brisket or turkey breast ($9). Meat-by-the-pound lists chicken ($8), pulled pork ($16), brisket or beef ribs ($20) and turkey breast ($12). A la carte ribs are $2.50 a bone. Sausages are $3 a link.

BBq2U brisket 2
A pile of sliced brisket rubbed with salt and pepper, from BBQ2U in Gig Harbor. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

Get the: Smoky, tender, fatty sliced brisket was rubbed Central Texas style with a simple salt-and-pepper seasoning. It made a great first impression.

Pork ribs, a St. Louis cut, also carried that same simple rub.

BBQ2U rib profile 2
Ribs are rubbed with a simple salt-and-pepper based seasoning at BBQ2U in Gig Harbor. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

Both carried a hearty lick of smoke and a ring that deeply penetrated the surfaces. The brisket glistened behind the counter with a beautiful bark. I watched the juices pool as the counter worker sliced off pieces. Same with the ribs.

On the Texas tray, the brisket portion looked to be about a half pound and ribs were four bones deep.

Chicken thighs were boneless, well seasoned, smoky and came as a pair on the Texas tray.

BBQ2U fried okra
Fried okra from BBQ2U in Gig Harbor. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

For sides, fried okra carried light crunch. Macaroni and cheese was of the creamy, school-cafeteria style with big elbow macaroni. Cooked down baked beans — more mustardy than sweet — were thick with bacon slices.

BBQ2U potato salad
Creamy potato salad, made with red potatoes and pickle relish, from BBQ2U in Gig Harbor. Sue Kidd skidd@thenewstribune.com

Coleslaw came mayo-dressed with shredded carrots. Potato salad was built with skins-on red potatoes and a creamy dressing (not sweet) with pickle relish. Bright yellow banana pudding was plopped on top of a layer of sliced bananas with Nilla wafers jammed into the corners.

Beer: By-the-bottle beer list of 16 choices ($3 to $4.50). Of course, Texas brew Shiner Bock is on the list.

Vegetarians: Pass.

BBQ2U

Where: 4814 Point Fosdick Drive NW, Gig Harbor

Info: 253-313-5656 or facebook.com/BBQ2U

Hours: 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, or until the meat runs out

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