Welcome to our weekly column, Lunch Box. It’s pretty simple: every week, one of D’s writers will report back on a fun place to get lunch. Think of it like being in a book club. If you want to join the club, all you have to do is go eat something delicious.
Back in August, when it was 130 degrees every day and we were all hoping our shoes didn’t melt on the sidewalks, someone asked if I wanted some barbecue. The thought was revolting. It wasn’t even the possibility of standing in line outside: just eating that much meat in that much heat sounded like an Olympic challenge.
This weather, though, is a different story. I wake up cold under the covers and start thinking about jalapeño sausage. One cool morning recently, I ditched the office and walked up the Katy Trail to Kent Rathbun’s barbecue patio.
Over his time in Dallas, Rathbun has created an iconic elk-slinging moment on Iron Chef and operated famed steakhouse Abacus for 17 years. Now he’s got Katy Trail Station, a friendly patio at the trail’s northern end, with very good barbecue sandwiches and accomplished sides.
It’s smoked-meat weather, the food is good, and the chef is famous. So where is everybody? Why’s the patio so calm? The answer is complicated.
The short version is that Katy Trail Station opened quietly, as an offshoot of Rathbun’s pandemic-era barbecue hustle.
“We did Rathbun’s Curbside BBQ out of the parking lot of Lovers Seafood for the longest time,” the chef recalls. “As Covid starting to get under control, I kept telling my guys, we’re going to have to work hard to transition this to a catering operation. At some point, the city is not going to let us do what we’re doing. At some point during Covid, everybody was a little rogue, and I was one of them. We were selling barbecue on the side of the street sometimes, pulling our trailers up different places. At some point I knew the health department was going to come.”
Where to Get It:
Katy Trail Station
4825 Cole Ave.
Open for lunch Tuesday through Sunday
Sure enough, Dallas laid down the law. One thing led to another, and Rathbun planted a trailer along the Katy Trail, on the property of a developer with a nose for good business (and good meats). He says it’s the first permitted food trailer (not truck) in Dallas city limits. Initially, Katy Trail Station only served as a pickup point for Rathbun’s Curbside bulk orders, but now it’s decked out with tables and umbrellas. A gate opens directly onto the trail.
You can still pick up Curbside takeout orders on weekends. (Book online for big orders, like a whole brisket or a football-watching party order.) But the Station’s patio is now open six lunches a week, with dinner—and a grand opening party—coming soon. Its current low profile—despite previous good press from Dallas Observer barbecue aficionado Chris Wolfgang—is in part because Rathbun didn’t want to build too much hype until the business had a liquor license.
When you visit, try a brisket sandwich plate with your choice of two sides. You can ask for brisket sliced or chopped; I opted for sliced and my meat arrived thick-cut and perfectly tender. As barbecue brisket goes, Rathbun’s is low on the bite of smoke flavor. I don’t say that as a good or bad thing. Just letting you know. The sauce has a bracing vinegary bite—so much better than sweet sauces—and the meat was fabulously tender. The cut presented on my sandwich was at an ideal midpoint between lean and fatty, too: firm enough to hold its shape and keep the sandwich orderly, but juicy enough to be easy to eat.
Rathbun’s cheffy experience really shows up in the terrific sides. His mac and cheese deploys smoked gouda on long, squiggly cavatappi. But wait: there’s more to it than that.
“We take half of the pasta and sauté it in olive oil until it gets golden brown,” Rathbun explains. “You get this really nutty flavor and nutty aroma going on, and it kind of caramelizes the outside of that raw pasta. Then we add the other half and we cook it like risotto. Instead of adding a bunch of water, we cook it in chicken stock until the noodles are al dente. Instead of rinsing it, we put it out on sheet pans and cool it. All the flavor from the olive oil, seasonings, toasting—it all stays in the pasta.”
The slaw folds in red and green cabbage, thinly sliced Granny Smith apples, carrots, and peppers, plus bright cilantro-lime vinaigrette and a dusting of crumbled cotija cheese. It tastes like patio weather. There are two kinds of slaw at barbecue restaurants: the kind that fills you up so you can’t eat more barbecue, and the kind that refreshes you so you can go back to the meats. This is the second kind. It’s a winner.
The whole plate is. After lunch, I continued to play hooky from the office by walking down the Katy Trail. It was a very fine morning. This plan would work either way: go for a lovely walk with barbecue at the end for a reward, or walk off your sandwich after you’ve enjoyed it. The only thing that will make your midday break better is if you shirk your job to enjoy it.
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Brian Reinhart became D Magazine’s dining critic in 2022 after six years of writing about restaurants for the Dallas Observer and the Dallas Morning News.