By Donna Cornelius
Debates about which state has the best barbecue can get heated in a hurry. But a Mountain Brook restaurant that opened in March puts forth a pretty tasty case for Texas.
“In Alabama, barbecue is more focused on ribs and pork,” said Tom Sheffer, owner of Icehouse Texas BBQ on Culver Road. “In Kentucky, where I’m from, it’s more mutton and chicken.”
The Lone Star State, where it’s said everything is bigger, has a heavy-duty contender in the barbecue wars: brisket. This cut of beef can be tough if it’s not prepared properly – but when it is, look out.
“Brisket is less forgiving than other meats and has to be cooked low and slow,” Sheffer said.
Justin Green, the pit master at Icehouse, has the cooking method down pat. You almost don’t need a knife to eat his tender, flavor-forward brisket – but you’ll be glad to see a handy roll of paper towels on each table at the restaurant.
Green, who’s from Arkansas, said another difference in Texas barbecue is the sauce – or lack of it.
“They don’t do sauces, except maybe on the side,” he said. “The thought is that the meat is good enough to stand on its own.”
He and Sheffer know many Alabama folks are partial to sauce, so Icehouse serves theirs in separate containers. Green said there are three kinds of sauces.
“You have sweet, heat and tangy,” he said. Icehouse smokes its meat at the restaurant.
“In Texas, they use oak, not hickory,” Sheffer said. “The best is post oak – a type of native oak they use for fence posts on ranches. We ship it in from there. It’s great for pork. We use local pecan wood, too.”
Sheffer said one reason he chose Texas barbecue for his new restaurant is because he loved Texas growing up.
“And the fun part of the Texas thing is that you can play off Tex-Mex, too, so we can have tacos and chips and queso,” he said.
As a tribute to central Texas culture, side dishes include German potato salad and Czech-inspired kohlrabi slaw.
“Our turkey has been a surprise hit, and so has our sausage,” Sheffer said. “Brisket has been even more popular than we thought. We also have barbecued bologna.”
Dessert offerings are Texas-themed, too.
“Pecan pie is a Texas and Southern favorite,” Sheffer said. “We also have Texas sheet cake, which is heavy on the chocolate.”
Each Icehouse cocktail is named after an old Texas country song. “Red-headed Stranger” is a ruby red grapefruit margarita. “Make the World Go Away” is a Manhattan with Old Forester, sweet vermouth and orange bitters. “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” combines Tito’s vodka and sweet tea.
Also on the drinks menu are beer and wine.
Brunch, served only on Saturdays, has Austin, Texas-style breakfast tacos, eggs and brisket, mimosas and bloody Marys.
Carry-out and catering are available.
Sheffer said the restaurant’s name comes from, as one might guess, Texas.
“In the 1800s, icehouses in Texas were places where you bought cut ice,” he said. “Later, they sold butter and eggs. Now, they’re usually places to get good food.”
Sheffer owns the Green Apple Restaurant Group, which includes Avo and Dram in Mountain Brook, Jackson’s in Homewood and Nashville, and now Icehouse. He said the family company’s name comes from a drink that was wildly popular when he started the business.
“When we opened in 2000, we couldn’t make green apple martinis fast enough,” he said.
Homewood Soda Fountain Planned
Another eatery will be added to the group later this summer when Sheffer opens Soda Jerk in Homewood’s Edgewood neighborhood.
“It will be a riff on the old soda fountain but up-to-date,” he said. “We’ll have hamburgers, hot dogs, deep-fried grilled cheeses, a few tacos like poke and fried chicken, fries, onion rings and kale salad. We’ll also have a big ice cream program with ice cream, shakes and frozen custards with mix-ins.”
A full bar will offer frozen drinks plus wine and beer on tap.
“We’ll have a bocce court and a lot of outdoor seating and an outdoor bar,” Sheffer said. “Inside, we’ll have a counter, subway tile and reclaimed barn wood booths like the ones at Icehouse.”
Sheffer said Soda Jerk, like his other restaurants, will focus on freshness and quality.
“We like the small spaces,” he said. “We like to do a few things really well.”
Icehouse is at 2708 Culver Road in Mountain Brook. It’s open Mondays to Fridays from 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m.-9 p.m., and Sundays from noon-4 p.m. For more information, call 438-6950 or visit the restaurant’s Facebook page. Soda Jerk will be at 920 Oxmoor Road in Homewood. ❖