Off The Bone Barbeque
Dwight Harvey spent 38 years working for a company that made food for other people. He couldn’t be blamed, then, for wanting to do something else once he happened upon his retirement from Frito-Lay; maybe just take a couple years to relax, to go fishing a couple of times a week and find a really comfortable chair in the living room to call home base until he was finally decompressed after the decades of corporate toil.
But Harvey had no intention of slowing down. All of his time was now his own, and he was going to make the most of it.
“Retirement is retirement,” Harvey says with a chuckle. “You can only play so much golf and do so much fishing. After that, you’re kind of sitting there saying, ‘Okay, now what?’ And we found after talking to other people at Frito that had retired that they didn’t have anything to do. So this is what my wife and I decided we wanted to retire to.”
What Harvey and his wife, Rose (she worked at Frito-Lay for 40 years), retired to was the renovation of an old gas station on Lamar Avenue that the now call Off The Bone Barbeque. They retired to hours, days, weeks and months of smoke, rub, all sorts of different meats and tireless tinkering with recipes and cuts. The Harveys retired into a heck of a lot of work, and what they’ve created is a barbecue haven unique to Dallas: no cut takes precedence over another, all meats are treated with equal reverence and the sauce sits at a place of honor. Dwight Harvey had no intention of recreating a particular barbecue; he had every intention of perfecting his own.
“Through the years of me cooking, the family experienced a lot of processes of trial and error, because that’s what I like to do, is cook and eat,” he says with a smile. “The family experienced a lot of that until we finally got the right combination. And it started with the ribs, because that’s one of my favorite things to eat – and we use baby back ribs here – most places tend to use spareribs, but we’re exclusive to the baby back ribs; that’s what we prefer. So it started out ribs, and then we went to brisket, then we did the same thing with chicken, then sausage.”
What resulted from Harvey’s years of trial and error was his discovery that when meats were long-smoked over indirect heat – the venerable low and slow method – he preferred the flavor of Pecan wood to anything else, observing that “Pecan is sweeter, but you still get the smokiness that you want.”
And then there’s the sauce. There are those in this state that believe barbecue should be served sans sauce. And the Harveys are fine with that – they know their meats can stand on their own without adornment.
Nonetheless, they like barbecue sauce, and they’ve worked hard on their recipe. They’re proud of it, and they’re going to serve plenty of it.
“Our meats are good with or without the sauce, but there are plenty of other places you can go to where you taste the meat and say, ‘Oh my, this needs sauce,'” says Rose, who creates all the dessert offerings at Off The Bone. “We try not to disguise the flavor of the meat, but to me it’s about the meat and the sauce. Because I’m a dipper, and I want as much sauce on there as I can get.”
Off The Bone’s style of barbecue isn’t Texas-style with regard to the sauce and the wood and the baby-back ribs, and Harvey calls it a little more ‘gourmet’ than most other places, which might be accurate, but it’s certainly not a typical ‘gourmet’ restaurant. So, what kind of barbecue restaurant is it exactly? It evades easy categorization.
But what is clear is that Off The Bone Barbecue is Family Style. Family style in the sense that Dwight and Rose started the restaurant with their kids in mind, hoping they might continue the tradition. Family style in that it was the Harveys who worked on the recipes, tasted the variations from day to day and year to year until they perfected them all. Family style in that they work together, day after day, and couldn’t be happier about it. Family Style in that it’s only their son Steve who could best describe what the secret to Off The Bone Barbeque really is:
“You asked if there was a hidden secret to good barbecue, well, coming from a son’s perspective, I think one of the secrets that sets up a barbecue place for success is being very personal, and everything here is reflective of [Dwight and Rose]. When I was growing up, I had friends from all over Dallas – from Highland Park to South Dallas – and one of the biggest treats for my friends was to come over for dinner because of the warmth they felt, the food that they tasted, the desserts that they had, and the way that they felt – like family. We were, and still are, a very close-knit family and they could feel that immediately – and it wasn’t until I went off to college that I realized that wasn’t normal.
So we incorporate that life, that same style, here. From when they walk in it’s kind of like walking into our living room, walking into our kitchen. The way we greet them, the way that we love on them, the way that we invite them back. And then to the way that we prepare our food, everything is done by hand. Hand cut, hand selected, hand chosen. I’m sure we could save costs and labor costs and all these other things that we probably should be doing, but the style that my parents have made is reflective of our family. So when we get visitors, whether they’re coming from MLK or they pull in to a Bentley from the Ritz Carlton, they’re like ‘Oh my gosh,’ and that’s similar to the feeling I remember having as a child.
So to me, if I could figure a way to brand that, that’s really the Off The Bone Barbeque secret. Everything just has to back that up.”
Dwight and Rose Harvey spent four decades with a company that made food for other people, and they’re still doing it. But now they’re making people feel at home, too.
And that’s about as Family Style as it gets.
by Rich Vana