Pedigreed Pit Master Brings His Own Brand Of Barbecue To Montrose
Smoked pork tacos, brisket-stuffed tamales and salsa with barbecue? It’s not typical barbecue joint fare, because The Pit Room at 1201 Richmond won’t be a typical barbecue joint when it (hopefully) opens later this year.
Pit master John Avila — who’s stoked wood-burning fires as far away as Brooklyn and as famous as Franklin’s Barbecue in Austin — is banking on a unique blend of Tex-Mex and Central Texas barbecue with his newest Houston project.
“My grandfather had a joint in Bryan, Texas,” says Avila. “It was barbecue and Mexican food. To me, this seems normal. People would come in for barbecue and take a half dozen tamales home for lunch.”
Combining the best of German smokehouses and Mexican ranchers, The Pit Room will also utilize regional and seasonal Texas ingredients for an ever-changing, exciting menu with a few twists and turns.
“We do venture off and represent East Texas by doing boudin balls and a boudin ball po’boy,” he says. “We’ll have specials as the seasons change. When it’s duck season, we’ll have smoked duck on the menu. When it’s deer season, we hope to introduce some wild boar and venison sausage and some venison dishes. We want Texas to really tell us what we’re doing.”
Avila — who is also the founder of El Burro & The Bull in East Downtown — is one of a growing number of barbecue craftsmen changing the landscape of Houston’s culinary scene. He thinks this new wave of pit masters and restaurants is opening up a new world of ‘cue to Houstonians outside of the invitation-only Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo Cook Off. The Houston Barbecue Fest is just one example of how far the Houston scene has come, and Avila is happy to represent.
“There’s some small-batch barbecue coming out now that we really take pride in and it’s a game-changer,” says Avila. “I feel good about it, because we’re in a strong position to take on a leadership role to the general public. It’s a good chance to get out there and really do something new.”
Avila’s plans for The Pit Room include an actual pit room, where guests can watch the magic happen. The end result of such magic will be served inside, or on one of three patios included in the build-out, which Avila says “makes up for a lot of space,” since permitting only allowed them to add 99 square feet to the existing structure.
“That building is a lot more challenging than we expected, but I think I knew from the very beginning that we were going to make it as much of a new place as the city would allow,” says Avila.
All the effort will be worth it for Avila to have a permanent place in Montrose, which until recently has been sparse in the way of independent barbecue eateries. Drew’s BBQ opened this year just down from The Pit Room at 819 Richmond and Pappa Charlie’s Barbeque pop-up at Jackson’s Watering Hole served up brisket regularly before moving to a brick and mortar locale in East Downtown. Avila thinks it’s all part of a larger movement within individual Houston neighborhoods.
“We feel like that part of Richmond — that something is really happening there,” he explains. “We’re finding that neighborhoods [in Houston] are becoming a little tighter, people are becoming a little closer in, so being able to have a watering hole or a smokehouse or have a place to buy things in your own neighborhood, it’s almost like your own little boroughs.”
And Avila is serious about staying true to the neighborhood, wanting their official approval before opening up to the general public.
“Soft opening [in December] will be a good chance for us to bring in the local folks and get them into the space, to see the place, have dinner and enjoy it,” he says. “I feel like it’s almost like getting their permission. If they come in and give us a thumbs up, I think that will make us feel a little more confident moving forward.”
With that seal of approval, Avila hopes to be in full swing by the beginning of 2016, serving all of Houston quality barbecue, but he doesn’t take that for granted.
“We’re excited to be serving Houstonians,” says Avila. “Houstonians aren’t an easy ‘win.’ They require truth and honesty in what we’re doing. We’re really focused on that: Building something true and humble and doing good business.”