Downtown's New Barbecue Joint

Fourth generation pitmaster brings smoke to upscale downtown barbecue spot

Fourth generation pitmaster brings smoke to new downtown barbecue spot

Avenida Houston sidewalk rendering
Bud's Pitmaster BBQ is one of four new restaurants coming to the George R. Brown. Courtesy of Houston First Corporation

If the news that five time James Beard Award finalist Hugo Ortega is opening a restaurant at downtown's 30-story Marriott Marquis highlighted last week's announcement about the new restaurants coming to downtown's Avenida Houston, then the claim for the most mysterious newcomer concerned Bud's Pitmaster BBQ.

Although the restaurant only merited a brief mention in the press release, the idea of adding barbecue to the George R. Brown Convention Center certainly intrigues. But who is this mysterious "Bud?" What is his history with barbecue? What will he serve? Those answers have begun to emerge.

Theldon "Bud" Branch, III traces his heritage to south Texas where his grandfather T.R. Branch became the first African American to receive a package store liquor license in that part of the the state. Branch's father, known as "Little Bud" learned barbecue techniques during his time working at the legendary King Ranch.

Sidestepping the fanciful claim that "if barbeque was invented on the King’s Ranch, then Bud was one of the inventors," Little Bud and his family ultimately settled in Houston in the '70s where he served the same recipes to family and friends that he served to customers at his father's store. As an aside, this essay by award-winning food writer Robb Walsh for a more scholarly take on the combination of Native American, Mexican, African American, and Germanic cooking traditions that helped shape modern Texas barbecue.

In the '90s, Branch opened Bud's BBQ in the Sharpstown neighborhood, where he drew on recipes developed by his family. Although he ultimately closed the business to pursue other opportunities, Branch "dreamed of reopening Bud’s as a modern, urban barbecue destination using the same centuries-old recipes and methods for preparing smoked meat."

Fast forward the story to the present day, where Branch will continue his family's traditions at Bud's Pitmaster BBQ in the George R. Brown. The restaurant will utilize smokers developed by legendary pitmaster Myron Mixon, who serves as one of the judges on the popular reality TV show BBQ Pitmasters. In addition to familiar Texas meats like beef brisket and pork ribs, Bud's will serve quail, oxtail, buffalo, and more.

“I am extremely excited about launching Bud's Pitmaster Bar-B- Q and relaunching what will be the fourth generation of a family business with my two daughters Valerie and Tatiana," Branch said in a statement. "I believe Houstonians will be very pleased with our menu selections and the details we place into our smoked meats."

For many years, Houstonians who wanted barbecue downtown could only choose from either Pappas BBQ or one of the Otto's locations scattered around food courts, but the situation has recently improved as Jackson Street BBQ, Pappas Charlies Barbeque, and El Burro & the Bull (at the recently opened Conservatory food hall) have all brought Central Texas-style smoked meat to the neighborhood.

How Bud's fits in remains to be seen, but the prime location and family pedigree suggest it's on a strong footing. As with all of the new restaurants coming to Avenida Houston, Bud's will be open in time for Super Bowl LI.