Pizzitola’s. Great name for a pizza joint.
And that’s exactly what what some potential customers mistakenly thought until the place changed its signs several years ago, adding references to barbecue, said manager Lexie Moore.
“Everyone thanked us for bringing barbecue to the neighborhood,” Moore said. “We had it all the time.”
We arrived at Pizzitola’s Bar-B-Cue on Shepherd Drive in Houston about an hour or so before closing on a Friday night.
The joint touts itself as “Houston’s Home for Spareribs” and they weren’t bad. Neither was the sausage. But the brisket was closer to roast beef, dry and without much taste.
The real story of Pizzitola’s, though, is its history rather than its smoked meats.
The joint’s lineage traces to the 1930s and pitmaster John Davis, who ran Shepherd Drive Bar-B-Q. “John P. Davis, World’s Greatest Barbecue Man,” says one sign on Pizzitola’s wall.
According to a 1988 Houston Post article that also hangs on the wall, Davis, who was black, segregated his customers. Blacks in the front and whites in the back.
Jerry Pizzitola, who played football for the Texas Aggies in the early 1960s, took over operations from the Davis family in the early 1980s and changed the name. He retained the original wood-fired brick pits, which are still used.
According to the Houston Chronicle, the two 12 foot-by-6 foot pits are examples of “traditional open pit barbecue that can’t be found anywhere else in Houston.”
Moore said retaining that history comes with some limitations. Pizzitola’s can’t make major changes to its building.
“If we do, we lose our grandfather clause on the pits,” he said as he gave us a tour of the place.
That would be a shame.
Photos ©Philip Lamb (top) & Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse