The Honky Tonk Kid’s World Tour
Update: Honky Tonk Kid closed in April 2022. Follow chef David Gorham on Instagram, or go by Southern Roots Brewing Co. to try the menu items he’s created for them.
Six days a week, David Gorham rises well before dawn and heads to his restaurant, Honky Tonk Kid BBQ. He checks the barbeque pits and removes the tender briskets, sausages, chickens, and ribs from their 12–14 hour stretch in the smoker, then sets them aside to rest. Next, he preps all of the cooked sides and daily specials from scratch—decadent mac and cheese and smoky-sweet baked beans—before his staff arrives mid-morning to help finish up.
At 11 am, the doors open to a hungry lunch crowd. Order at the register, snag a table, and wait for your meal while admiring the photographs on the wall. They were taken by Gorham’s father, a professional photographer and barbeque aficionado, whose death spurred David Gorham to pursue his dream of opening a new kind of restaurant in Waco: Texas barbeque with a twist.
Gorham’s traditional barbeque dishes are deliciously on-point. Juicy brisket rubbed with Balcones Distilling’s Rumble whiskey, tender smoky chicken, and crispy-edged ribs that are the very essence of porkiness are served with classic sides like potato salad, slaw, pinto beans, and one of Gorham’s specialties, mac and cheese.
It took Gorham three years to perfect his mac and cheese recipe, which boasts parmesan, mozzarella, cheddar, swiss, and muenster cheeses.
“I finally have it where I like it,” he says. “There was an umami burst that I was looking for, and I just wasn’t getting it. I have a secret ingredient for my mac and cheese now that allows it to have this umami burst—a pop, a touch of something that you’re like, ‘What is this? Why do I want more of this?’”
It’s an addictive, comforting-yet-complex side that can stand firmly on its own as a main entree (try the Mac Attack, where smoked meats are piled on top of the creamy mac and sprinkled with apple-smoked bacon and panko crumbs).
But it’s the daily specials that really spark Gorham’s creativity. When he isn’t in the kitchen, Gorham spends most of his time scouring the ends of the earth for recipe inspiration—from South Korea to India and Japan to Jamaica.
Every week, he offers something new and unexpected. Take his recent special, takoyaki, a Japanese dish in which moist, fluffy poofs made with an eggy wheat batter are filled with smoky pork and veggies, cooked in a special pan until golden-delicious, and sprinkled with scallions and a tangy-sweet sauce. You’ve likely never had anything like it, and with Gorham’s smoky touches, you’re unlikely to find it anywhere else.
One week you might find Seoul Tacos on the menu (citrus slaw, roasted corn salsa, choice of barbeque meats, and a Gojuchang barbeque sauce) and the next week, a rich brisket Irish stew. “I try to bring in what I can,” says Gorham, whose specials invite guests to tour the globe from the comfort of their own plates. His recent Mardi Gras dessert, a colorfully-iced king cake, stole the show with a panettone-like crumb laced with cinnamon and filled with cream cheese, guava paste, candied pecans, and dried fruit soaked in Balcones Distilling’s rum.
And while Gorham sells t-shirts that boast “World’s Worst Vegan,” his fans know the joke is entirely tongue-in-cheek. From the outset, Gorham has been determined to have a little something for everyone, and his menu always features at least one vegan dish (currently it’s the charred plantain and black bean tacos).
Gorham Brings the World’s Best Dishes to Waco
When Gorham was young, he would help his parents with the cooking, making American comfort meals like hot dogs and mac and cheese. On weekends, he and his dad would throw a brisket on the backyard smoker.
After a stint in college studying engineering, Gorham began working at a local Waco smokehouse while attending the culinary arts program at Texas State Technical College (TSTC). His dad’s health had been declining for years, but during a remission in his illness, the two of them purchased a food truck and began to make preparations for Honky Tonk Kid.
Then, suddenly, his dad’s illness returned worse than ever, and far too soon, Gorham’s father passed away. The shock and the grief drove Gorham to quit his job and move to Australia.
“It was the farthest place I could go, and I knew another barbequer who was from Australia. She gave me three numbers [to call] and one of them responded.” Tonio, owner of the Gem Bar in Melbourne, took Gorham in, let him live above the bar, and put him to work.
While he’d been exposed to international cuisine at TSTC, where the culinary program includes learning to cook a variety of global dishes, it was in Australia that Gorham was able to fully experience the food he’d been researching.
“When I went to Melbourne, they have food from all over. The street I was living on, I could literally walk down the street and it would be Japanese, Mexican, Chinese, Korean, Greek, African, and two chains on the entire block. The rest were all local places, and I never had to eat at the same place twice. I put on 15 pounds, easy. It was some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life.”
When his work permit expired, Gorham returned home to Waco with a head full of ideas, ready to start a new chapter. In 2012 he opened Honky Tonk Kid BBQ, and he has plans to continue expanding his culinary repertoire, constantly challenging himself to conjure new and interesting flavors. His latest obsession is tapas, but he isn’t ready to reveal his plans just yet. Whatever it is, you can be sure it will be unique and tasty.
Jamaican Curry with Smoked Tofu
This is one of Gorham’s vegan specialties and showcases his knack for combining unexpected ingredients. It’s simple to make, but you’ll want to start this recipe a day in advance, to prepare the tofu properly. If you have a smoker, smoke that tofu! But if you don’t, this will work just as well with seared tofu. Take a page out of Gorham’s book and make this recipe your own.
1 lb block extra firm/hard tofu
1 ½–2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp white pepper
½ tsp allspice
2 T coconut or vegetable oil for frying
2 T vegetable or coconut oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 pepper diced (Gorham uses charred jalapenos when he has them)
4 cloves garlic, finely diced
4 c red potatoes, par cooked and still firm, cubed into bite-size pieces
2 T your fave Jamaican curry spice blend
2 tsp thyme
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp sea salt
3 c chickpeas/garbanzos
2 c vegetable broth
Place the entire block of tofu, package and all, in your freezer. Let chill until solid. Then store the packaged tofu in your fridge, or place the unwrapped frozen tofu in a bowl of chilled water in the fridge.
Once thawed, remove the tofu from fridge and wrap it in a couple of kitchen towels. Weigh down tofu with a few heavy objects on top to press out excess moisture (a plate weighted with soup cans on top works well, as will a heavy cast-iron skillet). Allow to drain for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Cube tofu into bite-size pieces, toss with spices, and let chill for another 30–60 minutes. At this point, Gorham smokes his tofu at 225° F, about 30–40 minutes, then chars it on a hot griddle. If you don’t have a smoker, skip that step and char the tofu. Set cooked tofu aside while you cook the vegetables.
Place wok or large, high-sided sauté pan over high heat and add oil. Add peppers to wok, then gradually add onions and garlic. Once they’re partially cooked, add potatoes and cook for 5 minutes, tossing as you go. Add curry powder and spices, cook 5 minutes more. Add chickpeas, tofu, and vegetable broth just until the ingredients are covered. (Gorham likes to add half the tofu to the wok and reserve the other half for garnish at the end. This adds a contrast of flavors, but you can also add all the tofu at once.) Simmer on low until potatoes are tender and sauce has thickened. Serve alone or with rice and enjoy.
Whether you’re craving classic barbeque or looking for something new to wake up your palate, Honky Tonk Kid has got what you need. Follow them on Instagram for all the latest specials, and move fast, because every week is a new culinary adventure, no plane ticket required.
Honky Tonk Kid BBQ is open Wednesday and Thursday from 11 am to 3 pm, Friday and Saturday from 11:00 am to 7 pm, and Sunday from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm at 112 Mary Ave, just off University Parks Drive.
Learn more about Waco’s local food scene on the Waco Insider podcast Eat, Drink, Repeat, hosted by Angelica Mazé.
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