Business justifiably boomed since being featured in a nationally aired special on PBS several years ago that aimed to highlight the best regional sandwiches throughout the country. This being Texas, and Thelma’s being a barbecue joint, it was their tasty, very messy beef brisket sandwich that was so honored. Since then, Thelma has also been honored with a photo on the back cover of one of barbecue maven Steve Raichlen’s cookbooks.
Thelma’s uses both hickory and pecan to cook its meats. The pride of that fire and smoke is the brisket. The result is usually moist, tender and very flavorful. Thelma’s brisket has a flavor that is slightly different than that of the more frequently found mesquite-cooked barbecue.
Unfortunately, it’s not as consistent as it should be as the place might be operating just above ideal capacity at times. The brisket is usually very good, but sometimes within an order there is a piece that is hard, unlike it should be, possibly overcooked. The meaty ribs are moist and messy, as expected, and the kielbasa-like sausage (called links here) is also worth ordering. Thelma’s also serves ham and chicken, including an entire bird, for a couple additional meat choices. Each is served with a judicious amount of their distinctive sweet barbecue sauce that tastes of more than a hint of molasses. A dinner plate featuring one or two of the meats for less than eight and nine bucks, respectively, and a couple of plentiful side dishes and bread can be great values. The amount of food is amazingly large, even for super-size Houston. The choice of sides includes green beans, pinto beans, potato salad, cole slaw, dirty rice, okra, cabbage, yams and fries. With the exception of the sugary yams, most are just passable complements for the meats. The fries seem to have detoured in a freezer before reaching the deep-fryer, and are bland and can be avoided.
Be forewarned, with a couple of exceptions, the sandwiches are nearly impossible to eat since they are stuffed with so much meat, especially for the comparatively flimsy bread. These are tasty, but often require a knife and fork.
Thelma’s Fish Sandwich features fresh, moist, firm, and nearly perfectly fried catfish fillets. Like the other sandwiches, it is simple, with large unadorned hamburger buns enclosing the meat or fish. It is especially good when spread with hollandaise sauce. Though probably not after a full dinner plate, you might have room for one of their rich, sweet, homemade pies or cakes that are arrayed on the counter where you place your order. The pecan pie is very good, and the Lemon Cake is quite tasty, too.
Thelma’s can get packed quickly during the lunchtime hours. The scruffy, cramped dining room full of mismatched tables and chairs can only seat about forty-five patrons. Calling ahead and getting something to bring back to the desk is not usually a bad idea. You’ll still likely smell like barbecue for the rest of the day, though.
3755 Southmore Blvd, Houston TX, 77004 (713) 228-2262
Copyright Mike Riccetti. Adapted from Houston Dining on the Cheap, and used with permission.
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Image Credit: Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau (photographer: Michael Stencel)