A South Florida guy, LeBron James included, could learn a few things in San Antonio, says Jay Armstead, hoops fan and barbecue whiz.
Armstead is the owner and master of the parking-lot smoker at Texas Hold ’Em BBQ, which opened recently in a new waterside location on Federal Highway after several years down the road near Fort Lauderdale’s Gateway Theatre.
Texas Hold ‘Em’s signature brisket didn’t come naturally to Armstead, a Queens, N.Y., native and a 20-year Fort Lauderdale resident. When he opened his first location on Sunrise Boulevard near Powerline Road, his reputation stemmed from his way with spareribs. The name of the place (from the card game, Armstead says) began to draw visiting Texans who expected a certain style of meat and something with more heat than the tomato-based, Kansas City-style sauce he was serving.
“When you’ve got a barbecue place with Texas in your name, you’ve got to come correct,” he says.
So Armstead decided to switch to Texas-style barbecue, and went straight to the source, making several trips to Austin’s famed Salt Lick and Rudy’s in San Antonio, where chefs invited him into the kitchen to gather tips on how to choose and prepare brisket.
Texas Hold ‘Em’s brisket spends 14 to 16 hours in the smoker, manned by Armstead himself, before it reveals what he calls “that nice bark, that charry crunch” that distinguishes Texas barbecue.
Armstead’s success story follows a trail of barbecue sauce that would do Horatio Alger proud. He began more than a decade ago with a smoker in the parking lot of a Shell gas station at Sunrise Boulevard and Powerline Road, then moved the smoker a few blocks away to a Sunrise brick-and-mortar he called Texas Hold ‘Em BBQ.
After some success, Armstead moved to a spot downtown off Andrews Avenue near Hardy Park, then to the north side of the Sunrise curve across the street from the Gateway Theater. He did three years of decent business there, he says, before turnover in the center (Wolf Camera and We Take the Cake departed) and its awkward geography took its toll.
Old fans have followed Armstead to the new location (“Memorial Day was insane. Insane,” he says) at 2528 N. Federal Highway (look for the A-frame with the longhorns painted on it). The parking lot backs onto the Middle River, where a newly upgraded dock has been drawing brisk boater business. The interior of the former Chowder Heads has been brightened up and now includes Texas Hold ‘Em’s familiar jazz and blues album jackets (Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Rollins and Willie Dixon).
You can expect the Heat to be on the flat-screen behind the bar on Saturday.
“It’s going to be a tough series,” says Armstead, a reformed Knicks fan who follows the Brooklyn Nets. “Tim Duncan, Parker, Ginobili — that’s a lot of experience. They have a coach that’s won it four times. I’m not saying the Heat can’t do it, but they could find some trouble.”
Texas Hold ‘Em is open 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Friday, noon-11 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Info: 954-527-4115.
STEERS AND BEERS
Texas Hold ‘Em’s old space across from the Gateway Theatre sits in a knot of roadway where Sunrise and Federal Highway unspool. “A tricky location,” Armstead calls it.
Drivers headed east on Sunrise or north on Federal have to make U-turns to reach the strip center, and motorists rounding the bend from Federal onto Sunrise going west could miss the turn into the parking lot entirely if they aren’t paying attention. It was too much hassle for many people, Armstead believes.
But if there is anyone who can create a restaurant that makes you want to slow down and take notice it’s Elliot Wolf, who just added the meat-centric Red Cow to a portfolio that includes Coconuts on Fort Lauderdale beach and Foxy Brown on Broward Boulevard.
Opened two weeks ago where Texas Hold 'Em used to be, Red Cow is as bright and beautiful as you’d expect (with tractor seats at the bar), and the menu includes welcome moments of Wolfian intrigue (fried quail and waffle appetizer; jalapeno cheddar sausage; “pork-strami”).
The bar also has its treasures for the beer lover, with 11 drafts that include the hoppy Brooklyn Sorachi Ace, Green Flash West Coast IPA (San Diego) and Boynton Beach’s own Due South Caramel.
Red Cow is at 1025 N. Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. Info: 954-652-1524.
T's FOR YOU
WRMF radio's Party in the Park, featuring the Plain White T’s, will kick off Boca Raton’s new Summer Sunset Music Series at Mizner Park Amphitheater (590 Plaza Real) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The series of pop, jazz and classical shows scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 11 will be free, but the kickoff concert with the Plain White T’s (“Hey There Delilah”) is $20 (general admission, standing room only). The T's will perform songs from a new EP, "Should've Gone to Bed," along with the memorable hits "Hey There Delilah," "1, 2, 3, 4" and "Rhythm of Love." If you really need to sit down, chairs can be rented for $5. Tickets: FrontGateTickets.com. More info: 561-544-8600, MiznerAmphitheater.com, DowntownBoca.org.
FOCUS ON LEIBOVITZ
This is the final weekend to catch the exhibition “Annie Leibovitz,” a survey of more than three dozen images by the renowned photographer at the Norton Museum of Art (1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach). The works, up through Sunday, include rarely seen portraits of Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio, David Byrne and Andy Warhol. On Thursday night, the museum’s chatty 5-9 p.m. Art After Dark series will be tied to Leibovitz, with a 5:30 p.m. tour of the exhibit and a 6 p.m. screening of “Annie Leibovitz: Life Though A Lens.” Local musician Nick Eberhardt will provide an indie-folk soundtrack from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday admission is free for Florida residents all summer. Regular museum admission: $12, $5 students, ages 12 and younger free. Info: 561-832-5196, Norton.org.
LOCAL, LOCAL MUSIC
For nearly five years, Chrystal Hartigan has been a champion of local musicians while hosting her monthly second-Monday Songwriters Showcase in the Abdo New River Room at Fort Lauderdale’s Broward Center for the Performing Arts. (This Monday check out Alex Martinez of Sound Sleeper and Roger Houdaille, founder of Ex Norwegian.) Beginning Thursday, Hartigan will shine her spotlight on performers at three Art After Dark showcases at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach. This Thursday, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Museum Theater, Hartigan’s theme will be female singer-songwriters: Gin Blische, formerly of Inhouse, from West Palm Beach; Wilton Manors’ Charlene Chuckaree, a k a "A Girl Named Chuck”; and Miami’s Inez Barlatier, with Jayan Bertrand. Other songwriter nights will be held at the Norton July 11 and Aug. 1. Admission to the Norton is free every Thursday through the summer. Info: Norton.org, ChrystalHartiganPresents.com.
One of the more-inspired annual events in South Florida, the Hukilau is always good for a few stiff drinks, bared navels and gloriously tacky tiki attire. The celebration of Polynesian culture runs through Sunday at Fort Lauderdale’s famed Mai Kai restaurant and the hotel that organizers still call the Yankee Clipper (also known as the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel). Among the highlights will be a late-night pearl dive by Marina the Mermaid at the Clipper’s Wreck Bar on Friday at 11:30 p.m., a vintage Hawaiian shirt seminar on Saturday, and appearances by Bettie Page photographer Bunny Yeager and cocktail expert Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, also on Saturday. To get you in the mood, here’s Berry’s “Kiliki Cooler,” named for Hukilau founder Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White: In a shaker, pour two ounces of Appleton V/X rum, a half-ounce each of fresh lime juice, unsweetened pineapple juice, orange juice, passion fruit syrup and Fee Brothers coffee syrup. Shake well with ice cubes and pour unstrained into a double Old Fashioned glass. Tickets and schedule info: TheHukilau.com.
Musician-comic-performance artist Reggie Watts’ work is a collection of found objects that often coalesce into something entirely unpredictable and new. Plus, he just doesn’t give a damn, which makes for pure, honest, edge-of-your-seat entertainment. A rare thing. Watts is doing a three-night run Thursday-Saturday at the Light Box at the Goldman Warehouse (404 NW 26th St., Miami). Tickets: $35-$100. Info: 866-811-4111, TheLightBoxMiami.org.
The Lumineers, who went from rootsy Denver bar band to Grammy-nominated ubiquity (thanks to the infectious foot-stomper “Ho, Hey”) will bring their national tour to Boca Raton’s Sunset Cove Amphitheater on Oct. 20, with tickets ($35) on sale Friday at 10 a.m. at all Ticketmaster locations.
GOOD BYE, MAC
Citing a “scheduling conflict,” Fleetwood Mac on Wednesday abruptly canceled its Saturday performance at the BB&T Center in Sunrise. Refunds are available at point of purchase. At least we are not alone: The band canceled a June 18 show in Montreal at the same time. Info: FleetwoodMac.com.
MEET IL VOLO
Italian pop-opera trio Il Volo will make a CD-signing appearance in Miami on Friday for the expanded reissue of the album “We Are Love,” which is being released in conjunction with the PBS TV special of the same name that began airing on PBS stations nationwide this week. The special was shot in March in front of thousands of giddy South Florida fans at the Fillmore Miami Beach. Il Volo’s appearance is at 12:30 p.m. at the Costco at 13450 SW 120th Ave., in Miami. The trio is scheduled to return for a Sept. 21 concert at AmericanAirlines Arena. Tickets have yet to go on sale. Info: IlVoloMusic.com.