Moonie’s Texas Barbecue
Where: 5545 Atlanta Highway, Flowery Branch
When: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily
More info: www.mooniesbbq.com or 678-828-8366
When Moonie’s Texas Barbecue first opened in 2011, customers were frequently met with a customary Texas barbecue greeting: “Sorry, we’re out.”
The sign on the door notified people the small restaurant in Flowery Branch had no more meat to serve, which is typical for a Texas-style business, manager Tyler Jacobus said.
“That’s how they do it in Texas, even at Franklin’s Barbecue (a well-known Texas establishment),” Jacobus said. “That was the business plan here — to cook in the morning and serve until we ran out. But people weren’t used to that and a lot of people got angry.”
Jacobus explained people wait in line for hours for barbecue in Texas. And some still don’t get food.
However, he and owner Jason Martin, known to customers as “Pitmaster J,” have formulated a Flowery Branch version of Texas-style business. The restaurant rarely runs out of the Texan meat anymore.
In Northeast Georgia, Martin focuses his version of barbecue on beef.
“Brisket is the main dish,” said Martin, whose passion for Texas barbecue ignited while he lived in Austin, Texas, with his wife for 11 years. “At a lot of places in Texas, you won’t even find pork like you do in Georgia.”
The managers arrive at 6:30 a.m. daily to count meat and prepare the smoker. Brisket goes on between 7 and 7:30 a.m. and smokes for eight to nine hours. All other meats are done smoking by 11 a.m. when the restaurant unlocks the doors for the lunch rush, which sees a number of regulars such as Eric Johnson, who doesn’t have a favorite dish.
“Everything is handmade and I like having the options,” he said. “It’s so good to begin with, but sometimes I will get the brisket moist with sauce or ribs. I like the macaroni and cheese and the slaw.”
At times, Johnson deviates from the Texas brisket and enjoys a pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw. But the man admits even the pork is different at Moonie’s.
“The smoker they use is actually from Texas, and with the owner being from Texas, they know how to do it right,” Johnson said. “I think people like Moonie’s because they are tired of chain restaurants and want something different.”
The main difference between the Flowery Branch food and Texas-inspired meats is the use of wood. Texas barbecue uses oak instead of hickory or cherry, giving the meat a unique smoke flavor. Martin and other purveyors of this barbecue style use simple rubs on their meats. Brisket is seasoned with just salt and pepper. Turkey and pork have a slightly more complex rub, but none like other barbecue styles.
“It’s very different,” Martin said. “I think people here like it because it is a very rich flavor. I once had an 85-year-old man come in who had never tried brisket before and he loved it. I’ve also met quite a few transplants from Texas around here.”
Moonie’s originally opened on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays because Martin was a full-time computer programmer. But the weekends were so busy the team slowly expanded its hours. Moonie’s is now open daily with menu options ranging from ribs and brisket to turkey.
“The brisket plate with mac and cheese and creamed corn is probably the most popular,” Jacobus said. “The great thing about our menu is you can get whatever you want. It’s all done by weight, so if you want one slice of brisket, one rib and a sausage, we can do that.”
Martin and Jacobus emphasized the menu is customized for each hungry patron. Customers may choose from nine side options and seven different meats.
All of the recipes are Martin’s creations from his time in Texas.
“I came up with most of them by just experimenting,” Martin said. “Everyone in Texas knows how to make chili, and there’s a popular place in Texas that does creamed corn, so I just replicated it.”
He created the macaroni and cheese on a whim one day, and combined many of the sauce elements he liked for Moonie’s sauces. Brunswick stew and the macaroni are Southern-inspired sides with a Georgian influence rather than Texas.
Other than some side substitutions and increasing quantity, little has changed since Moonie’s opened.
“We have an electronic menu now, and a couple of restaurants in Atlanta have seen our smoker and bought the same one,” Jacobus said. “It’s not the one we used when we opened, but other than that we haven’t changed much.”
To identify how much meat the crew will smoke daily, they refer to catering orders, call-ahead requests and dine-in or carry-out expectations. Moonie’s offers full-service catering and custom orders.
“We do everything from delivery to setup and serving,” Jacobus said. “If you tell us you need a certain amount of meat for an event, we will make sure we add it to the smoker. It fits 1,000 pounds of meat. We can customize anything the way you like it.”