This evening (well, late in the afternoon) I was joined by my grandma for an early dinner at Back Forty Texas BBQ. This western-themed restaurant is located on Orlando Ave near Riverside and seems to be one of just three locations (2nd and 3rd being in Shingle Springs and Pleasant Hill). Interestingly (or maybe not), this is the southern-most restaurant on my list so it’s kind of fitting that it’s Texas BBQ, I guess. I feel like I’ve been past this place about a million times and this is the first time I have actually gone in.
It was just 4:30PM when we arrived. The place seemed totally dead. We waited in the entryway for about 2 minutes. I could hear a few people in the dining room and I could see two cooks in the kitchen, which was right behind the front desk/registers. I was thrown off by the dual registers and large, full menu that was on the wall behind them. I had thought that this was a full service restaurant, but this had me questioning it. A woman emerged from the back and took us to a booth in the left dining room. Another dining room (above) is off to the right and was empty and somewhat dark. The room we were taken into actually had more diners than I expected. There were about 4 or 5 tables seated, all booths around the walls. A couple of 8-seater tables with big wooden chairs dominated the middle of this section. A mix of country and blues-rock played at a volume slightly higher than you’d expect.
We were left to explore the menu for a while. It was probably about 5-6 minutes before our server came by to take our drink orders, and by then we were actually ready to order. Both of us immediately noticed the Early Bird Special on a 1/3 sized page in the middle of the menu which seemed like a good deal – Choice of meat (there were about 5 or so to choose from, and I know there was beef brisket, chicken strips and pork ribs, there was probably also BBQ chicken and I can’t remember the rest), choice of 2 items off The Fixin’s List (Tossed House Salad, Caesar Salad, Homemake Soup(s) [Baked Potat0 or Vegetable soup], BBQ Beans, Creamy Potato Salad, Granny Smith Apple Coleslaw, White Cheddar Mac ‘n Cheese, Fried Okra, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Spicy Onion Rings, Tater Barrels, Texas Wedge Cut Fries, Sweet Potato Chips, Fresh Steamed Vegetables) and a choice of Cornbread with Honey-Butter, Banana Loaf or a Fresh Baked Mini-Loaf. All that was $9.99 and is served from 3-6 which we were smack in the middle of. Happy Hour drinks were in effect too so I got a 12oz (might have been 14oz) Shock Top for $3 (which in hindsight wasn’t that great a deal, 12oz isn’t much, 14oz so-so).
Anyway, we ordered away, my grandma looking for advice on choosing between the chicken strips and the pork ribs. The server gave a very honest opinion, along the lines of chicken strips are chicken strips, and recommended the ribs. She went with those , picked the veggies, coleslaw and cornbread. I went with the beef brisket (choice of lean or juicy, I went juicy) with a house salad, white cheddar mac ‘n cheese and cornbread. Another employee must have overheard the very beginning of our order with the drinks because right as our server was finishing up they brought a water and my Shock Top out. She asked if I wanted a lemon for it but I passed. We were left with our drinks for a few minutes before she came back with my salad and the two cornbreads. My salad came with the requested blue cheese which actually had some chunks in it. The salad itself was your typical house salad. Nothing too exciting, everything was nice and fresh though.
The cornbread was a good-sized piece for one person. Slicing into it revealed a couple whole kernels of corn. Taste-wise I thought this was ok. The honey-butter was good. The cornbread was really dry though. It was dry enough that once I had exhausted the little cup of honey-butter I did not want any more. Our food came rather quickly. I was just finishing up my last bite of cornbread when it showed up (about 7 minutes after the bread and salad had arrived).
It may simply be because we ordered the early bird special but I was a slightly disappointed in the portion size (all said and done I left full, though I had a big lunch earlier that contributed to that). Her plate had three pork ribs, mine had about four strips of brisket. My brisket looked very “juicy” and tender like it should fall apart as soon as I touched my fork to it. Turned out I needed to do a bit of slicing with my knife to get some bite-sized pieces. The BBQ sauce was served on the side, so I first tried a bite plain. It didn’t have a ton of flavor and was slightly on the dry side. I went ahead and added a small amount of sauce across all the brisket. That made a huge difference. The sweet BBQ sauce was pretty rich and intense in flavor, and it added that last bit of needed moisture. I’ve had brisket a few times and most of the time it’s been pretty amazing, even without sauce. In comparison this was kind of a let down. It was ok at best.
The white cheddar mac ‘n cheese had arrived looking like it had sat in the little dish for a while and had developed a dull surface appearance, like it had a skin. I mixed it up to reveal the cheese-sauce. The noodles were quite soft and the cheese had a texture that coated your mouth and was very creamy. It was a very, very mild cheddar, I would have preferred something much sharper. My grandma seemed happy with her pork ribs and sides. I did taste the apple coleslaw and it was pretty good.
I have to wonder if the time we went and the early bird special was a contributing factor to the quality, like it’s a method they use to clear out any remaining BBQ from lunch. It seems like they have the capability of making pretty good food here, and the fact that it seems to have been here forever proves that people keep going back. Perhaps I will return someday, but based on this experience on it’s own, I might visit Dickey’s BBQ Pit first (OK who am I kidding, I’ll drive right out of Roseville and go to Lucille’s Smokehouse in Rocklin if I really want some good BBQ). One weird thing I wanted to mention is that in-between songs at one point there was an advertisement for Back Forty catering service. That seemed really strange to me.