Barbecue restaurant Oak Leaf Smokehouse opened quietly last week on Telephone Rd in the location previously occupied by Pete's BBQ. The small, family-owned restaurant is a joint endeavor by the husband and wife team of Brian Lewis and Lisa Kuhfeldt. Once the restaurant gets thing dialed in, they'll expand the menu beyond the five meats and four sides currently on offer, but, for now, Oak Leaf is only open from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. everyday. The meat comes from a gas-fired, wood-fueled Southern Pride smoker with an array of rotating trays. To attract a diverse array of diners, all four side dishes are both vegetarian and gluten free.
Lewis began smoking meat several years ago in response to his wife's complaints about not enjoying barbecue. As he began to experiment, he started to accumulate equipment and estimates that he went through five or six smokers in the same number of years. Kuhfeldt came around over time and found that she liked barbecue; she just didn't like the barbecue she had tried previously. Those experiments also prompted him to learn about Kansas City and Carolina barbecue styles; Oak Leaf is focusing on Texas barbecue for now, but Lewis would like to incorporate those other forms, too.
That's not the only extent of the restaurant's ambitions. Lewis says he's aiming to overtake Gatlin's BBQ as Houston's best barbecue and wants to be in the conversation for the best in Texas. While the meat will take some fine tuning to approach such lofty heights, the homemade sides and from scratch barbecue sauce (no ketchup involved) are the first signs of that commitment. If he succeeds, it will fly in the face of the conventional wisdom that gas-fired smokers are incapable of producing truly great barbecue, but Lewis is confident he can get there.
In the meantime, the Houston barbecue scene has a new player, and the evolving east side has a new restaurant that's already attracting attention from the locals. With only a marquee and a brief post on Facebook, Oak Leaf has already sold out of its meat everyday its been open.