Diane & Justin Fourton, owners of Pecan Lodge. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Note: The Dallas Morning News editorial department selects a Texan of the Year. Posse member Bruce Tomaso recently nominated Diane and Justin Fourton of Pecan Lodge for the honor. With permission, we are reprinting Bruce's Viewpoints column from The News.


Wendy Davis can talk on her feet. Ted Cruz can talk with his foot in his mouth.

But neither of them can cook a world-class smoked brisket. Neither of them helped change the public face of Texas cuisine.

The people who did that are Justin and Diane Fourton, my nominees for 2013 Dallas Morning News Texan(s) of the Year.

Justin and Diane own Pecan Lodge at the Dallas Farmers Market. If you like barbecue and haven’t eaten there, go.

It’s open Wednesdays through Sundays, lunch only. They start serving at 11 a.m. The line starts forming before 10.

The Fourtons have dazzled culinary high priests near and far. In 2010, the year Pecan Lodge opened, D magazine named it one of the city’s best new restaurants. (This floored Diane, who remembers thinking, “How does D magazine even know who we are?”)

Guy Fieri, the overloud Food Network guy with the blond spiked hair, featured Pecan Lodge on Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives. Daniel Vaughn, Texas’ most influential barbecue writer, gave the joint a rare 5-star rating, saying, “There isn’t much that Justin can’t successfully transform under a bath of mesquite smoke.”

Even more prestigious: The Texas BBQ Posse, of which I am a proud member, chose Pecan Lodge as one of its six favorite joints statewide. The posse, for those few who don’t know, is a distinguished and exclusive gastronomical society that grants membership only to those who ask.

Then, this past May, the Fourtons got the barbecue equivalent of a predawn phone call from Norway’s Nobel Committee: Texas Monthly, which issues its celebrated list of “50 Best BBQ Joints” once every five years, had placed Pecan Lodge in its top four.

This is not to say that Justin, who runs the pits at Pecan Lodge, has broken new ground in the craft of slowly cooking meats with wood. Or that other Texas pitmasters — most famously, Austin’s Aaron Franklin — aren’t turning out great barbecue. Justin’s methods, like those of his peers, are as old as Texas itself.

What separates the Fourtons, and qualifies them as Texans of the Year, is that they’ve earned respect in a city whose most-talked-about cuisine is normally served in five courses on white tablecloths.

In the heart of downtown Dallas, they’re flourishing with the same classic barbecue usually associated with the Texas Hill Country.

No longer must one trek to Lexington or Lockhart or Luling (or even Austin) to experience state-of-the-art Texas barbecue. An office worker in a high-rise on Pacific Avenue can do it. A conventioneer visiting from Ashtabula, Ohio, can do it. A family from Plano can do it.

The Fourtons have opened a big window through which countless thousands of visitors have gladly reached for a platter of Texas culinary culture.

“All the publicity that we’ve been getting becomes, in a way, publicity for Dallas,” Justin said. “As Dallas residents, that’s something we feel really good about.”

In early October, Notre Dame’s football team played Arizona State University at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. My son, a Notre Dame junior, came home for the game and brought along a couple of buddies from the Midwest. Wishing to treat our guests to an authentic Texas dining adventure, I drove to Pecan Lodge that Saturday morning to grab a takeout order of brisket, ribs and sausage.

Almost everyone in line was wearing either Fighting Irish or Sun Devils gear. These were clearly out-of-towners. Through word of mouth, or TV, or Google, they’d discovered that Pecan Lodge at the Farmers Market was the place for barbecue in Dallas.

Money can’t buy that kind of publicity. And it hasn’t. The Fourtons have no advertising budget.

If one needed a second reason to consider them for Texans of the Year — and one shouldn’t, after tasting their food — there’s this: Almost single-handedly for the past three years, they’ve kept the Farmers Market from turning into a ghost town.

The city, after years of annual operating losses, has sold most of the property to private developers who promise the standard “showcase,” “vibrant urban center” and “anchor destination.” There will be shops and restaurants. Apartments. And of course, farm-fresh fruits and vegetables.

Whether any of that gets built — and whether Pecan Lodge will be part of the vibrant urban center anchor showcase destination — remains to be seen.

I’m skeptical. I may end up eating my words. But I’d rather eat a plate of the Fourtons’ barbecue.

Bruce Tomaso, an assistant Metro editor at The News, once ate at eight barbecue joints in seven Texas towns in just over 24 hours. He can be reached at btomaso@dallasnews.com.

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