I was told that there was a space in the parking deck and I thought, where in the parking deck, says Bart Wilson, owner of Barts and the entrepreneur who started the business. This is kind of a funny thing for this area because a lot of the people are not used to urban sites. You go to other cities where there are parking garages and there are restaurants in them or retail stores. Its a common thing. But here it is a really foreign idea.
The rustic look of the Texas countryside was kept in mind when the design was being made. I knew that in Texas when you go to a barbecue restaurant and its out in the country there is always a stone patio or a walkway leading up to it. Its just like a trademark, and I thought: Im gonna bring that element in here. Then the stone on the walls is very typical of construction in Texas. Then there is the barn wood (on the walls) that is an element. All that wood is from Suttons Bay off a farm. A very, very old farm that was built in the 1860s, Wilson says. I wanted to keep it really simple and clean; something that fit the downtown area but still had the rustic feel to it. Its Texas rustic with a modern twist.
Wilson spent most of his early working years in the food industry so he felt he was well-prepared for starting his own restaurant. When I lived in Texas I worked for about 15 years in the restaurant business. So really you could say that I have been building up to it my entire life. I was never able to get really good barbecue in this area, so I thought Texas-style barbecue: everybody loves that. People from all walks of life and all ages. So I thought well that would be pretty cool to have a good Texas barbecue up here, he says.
If you are looking for taste of the West, then Barts is definitely the place to be. Wilson explains that his restaurant comes from a wide-ranging group of barbecue styles, but stays true to the Texas type that is so revered. There are about four major styles of barbecue in the United States. If you look at the major markets you have like an East Coast Style barbecue, you have like a St. Louis, then a West Coast Style and a Texas Style, Wilson says. Texas Style barbecue is a dry rub based barbecue. What that means is that there is no sauce put on the meat at all. It is smoked for a period of time; for example the brisket takes anywhere from 6 to 12 hours depending on how many you are doing and how big the cut is too. So basically it is a very slow, low temperature cooking process. We have a smoker here that we use on the premises and it is fueled with Oak wood.
It is the brisket that really separates this restaurant as far as the Traverse City area is concerned. In Texas a good barbecue restaurant is judged by how good its beef brisket is. Its not about the ribs or the sausage. And a lot of people up here have never even tried brisket. So we have customers who come in and ask what this brisket is. And really the best way to describe it is to sample it. Usually when they try it they are all over it, Wilson says. Brisket is a cut of meat that comes from the ribs or lower chest of an animal, usually from a cow. Because it is an extremely tough type of meat it must be slowly cooked for long periods of time to soften it up, and this slow-cooking process is almost considered an art form in Texas.
Barts menu is comprised of various sizes of pork ribs, sausage, chicken and, of course, brisket. These main courses also come with a generous amount of sides like potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans, pinto beans and fries.
For dessert you can try Barts Moms pecan pie, or some apple, cherry or peach cobbler.
As far as barbecue sauce is concerned, Barts offers three different homemade recipes. Everything made here is my recipe except for my moms pecan pie. We have a sweet and mild sauce which is more like a Kansas City style sauce. In Texas you have more of a tangy style sauce that tends to be a little thinner; its not super spicy but it has a little bit of a punch to it. And we also have a hot sauce that is not so hot that it burns your tongue. Its almost like a good Thai sauce with its blend of peppers. Its extraordinary. And thats what I strive for; it has that barbecue flavor and is good and warm but it doesnt kill your taste buds.
When asked what makes his restaurant unique, Wilson is candid. Everything is made from scratch here and I think that makes a difference. Our recipes are very simple. We have expanded our menu too to include a lot of things that you wouldnt find in a lot of barbecue restaurants. Thats like salads for example, he says. We are also gonna offer brisket tacos. If you like spicy food then its for you. I make a killer dish thats like a stuffed jalapeno thats skewered and char broiled. They are just awesome. I have also had people tell me we have the best ribs they have ever had [so that is unique].
As for future plans, Wilson designed his restaurant with the intent of replicating it. The intention is to build a chain. In fact he has already had people approach him about franchising it, but is reluctant because once franchising starts a lot of control is lost. Id like to get another one open in 18 - 24 months. At that point we might do a stand alone commissary kitchen where we will bottle our sauce and make our own sausage to get it ready for the restaurants and also sell it. Right now we just need to get more customers in here, keep our doors open and make sure our profitability is where it needs to be to sustain the restaurant.