Pearls and good barbecue have more in common than one might think.
Both take time to create. Both delight the senses. And both are highly-prized by their respective connoisseurs.
Texas has the distinction of being famous for its delicious barbecue and the unique freshwater pearls produced by the mussels of the Concho River in San Angelo.
And now Oxford has a connection to that with its own pearl of a barbecue joint.
After nearly a year of folks waiting, watching and wondering, the Concho Pearl: Texas BBQ & Drafthouse, located at 955 S. Lapeer Rd., opened Oct. 31.
Michael Spake, one of the owners, admitted renovating the vacant Big Boy restaurant was a much, much bigger project than he anticipated.
“I was naive,” he said.
Originally, a spring opening was planned and in Spake’s mind, that goal was met – sort of.
“I guess it’s spring in South America,” he joked.
Concho Pearl is making up for lost time by smoking up a storm of meats and serving up plate after plate of mouth-watering dishes.
“I think people will absolutely love the food,” Spake said.
There isn’t a protein at Concho Pearl that isn’t slow-smoked for hours and hours using a special combination of Texas pecan and mesquite woods.
“It’s a tried-and-true Texas recipe,” Spake said. “We bring all of our wood up from Texas.”
You name it, Concho Pearl smokes it – brisket, pork, ribs, turkey, chicken, sausage, salmon and shrimp are all on the menu. The brisket alone spends 17 hours soaking up the smoke.
“We smoke everyday, so everything’s fresh,” Spake said. “Something’s on the smoker every night for the next day.”
Sauce is available for diners who want it, but folks probably won’t need it because when it comes to traditional Texas BBQ, the meat, enhanced by wood smoke, is the stand-alone star.
“It’s like a good steak – the flavor’s in the meat. You don’t really need to cover it up with a bunch of sauce,” Spake explained.
Concho Pearl’s menu contains some truly unique items such as a salad featuring a deep-fried avocado stuffed with brisket.
Then there’s the Cowboy sushi, which contains zero fish.
It’s a flour tortilla stuffed with brisket, cheddar cheese, pickled onions and angry (spicy) pickles. It’s all rolled up, sliced into medallions, then drizzled with barbecue sauce.
Those who view spuds as mere starchy supporting players will think again when they encounter Concho Pearl’s brisket-stuffed baked potato. Butter, sour cream, cheddar cheese, jalapenos, green onions and chopped brisket top a 1-pound tater.
“We have the biggest loaded baked potato you’ve ever seen,” Spake said. “It’s almost enough for two.”
Spake noted “everything’s made from scratch” at Concho Pearl, even the hamburgers. You won’t find any flavorless, frozen, pre-made patties lurking inside this kitchen. The burger meat is a fresh, house-grind consisting of brisket, short rib and beef chuck.
Folks searching for something ultra-spicy to challenge their palate will love the half-pound Ghost Burger. The meat, cheese and sauce are all seasoned with ghost peppers, considered to be one of the world’s hottest peppers. A mere 20 seconds after sampling it, Spake said he got a case of the hiccups.
Folks will probably need some ice-cold suds to wash down that Ghost Burger.
Don’t worry, Concho Pearl has 24 beers on tap as part of its full bar.
But Spake emphasized the bar is by no means the star of the show, nor is it meant to be.
“We have a bar, but we’re a restaurant. It’s not bar food,” he said. “It’s all about the food here.”
Concho Pearl strives to offer diners a family-friendly atmosphere because it’s 100 percent family-owned-and-operated. Spake co-owns the place with his wife Lee Ann, mother-in-law Mary Laughlin, son Kelby Spake, daughter Danika Dunlap, son-in-law Nolan Dunlap and cousin John Young.
Young owns two restaurants in San Angelo, Texas – The Concho Pearl Icehouse and Peepsi’s BBQ.
The family hopes diners will find the Concho Pearl to be a warm, comfortable and genuine place to enjoy a meal, a home away from home.
“We want people to always feel welcome and enjoy the Texas hospitality,” Spake said. “We want to get to know people.”
“We’re not fine dining, but then again, we don’t have peanut shells on the floor, either,” he added. “We are who we are. We’re not trying to be anything else.”
Spake said so far, Concho Pearl has received a very friendly reception from Oxford as the joint’s been hopping since the opening.
“We’ve got a lot of return customers from our food truck,” he noted.
Since the summer, Concho Pearl has been fine-tuning its recipes, sharpening its teamwork skills and exposing folks to a limited menu with its popular food truck that’s been visiting festivals and events in and around Oxford.
Spake is looking forward to becoming rooted in the community and really getting to know people, something he was never able to do when he worked in the corporate world for Kmart from 1985 to 2001. His job required him to constantly move from place to place.
“We’re on our 20th home since we’ve been married,” he noted.
Spake likes Oxford because it reminds him of Dumas, Texas, the small city where both he and his wife grew up. “Oxford’s just the perfect town. It’s the right size,” he said.
Concho Pearl is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
For more information, please call (248) 800-4222.