Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q — among the oldest mom-and-pop BBQ restaurants in Texas — beckons from Tyler.
It’s an evocative symbol of southern culture, and an enticement to culinary explorers: the old BBQ stand with the faded sign, so small you wonder where they fit the smokers. Almost every town has one, and each comes with a blustering title that establishes a claim of unique superiority. After all, we’ve all sampled the “best” BBQ in Texas, often several times over in a variety of places. For an authentic BBQ experience that surpasses all the hype — and lives up to its name — hop in the car and make the drive to 525 S. Beckham Avenue in Tyler.
Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q has long been a destination eatery. For more than 50 years, Stanley’s has built upon its reputation as one of the oldest mom-and-pop BBQ joints in the Lone Star State. Originally opened in 1958 by J.D. Stanley, the location had previously hosted an even older BBQ restaurant. Now revitalized under owners Nick and Jen Pencis, Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q is acquiring a whole new generation of fans.
With accolades from prestigious voices such as Texas Monthly and Food & Wine, the restaurant’s lure has far surpassed that of the typical local eatery. None of its fame has cost Stanley’s an ounce of its charm, however, and visitors and locals alike can count on a down-home experience as authentic as the delectable food.
Stanley’s renaissance began when Nick and Jen bought the business in 2006. Raised in the restaurant and music industries, Nick saw an opportunity to unite the two strands of his background.
“My dad was a chef, then moved on to being a manager in private clubs,” says Nick. “I became interested in those two things: becoming a musician and getting into the restaurant business.”
When Nick and his wife took over Stanley’s, they knew they wanted to honor the spirit of the place while adding their own stamp. An expansion has granted additional kitchen and seating space, along with a full-service bar. The most notable addition, however, is the live music schedule.
“I see one of J.D.’s sons often, and he tells me that his dad would love what we’re doing,” says Nick. “He always wanted to do music.”
As a professional drummer, Nick understands the impact of live music. With Stanley’s, he wanted to create a comprehensive experience for guests, with delicious food, quality drinks and top-notch entertainment. What started as a weekly showcase has grown to encompass live music every night of the week.
“Live music has always been a part of my life, and there was nothing happening here,” says Nick. “As we made plans to create more pit space and longer hours, we decided it was important to include music. It’s been one of those things that’s really paid off.”
While the promise of entertainment can add incentive to a trip from Fort Worth, Stanley’s real draw remains its food. The Stanley’s “experience” may have evolved; but as for the BBQ, you can’t improve on perfection.
“It’s important to honor the roots of what makes a place special,” says Nick. “Why would we change a recipe that is so phenomenal? Even though I never met [J.D. Stanley], it’s important to honor his legacy.”
All the recognition as one of Texas’s premier BBQ restaurants prove that Mr. Stanley’s legacy has been duly honored. If you live in Fort Worth, the most difficult aspect of your Stanley’s experience isn’t the drive to Tyler — it’s choosing what to eat.
“If you’re a traditionalist and want to judge the restaurant on the Texas Trinity, we have a sample plate that’s meats and no sides,” says Nick. “You can choose brisket, ribs, sausage and turkey for a phenomenal plate.”
Stanley’s Famous Bar-B-Q also stakes its reputation on its sandwiches, which are an important component of East Texas BBQ. In addition to the tried and true chopped beef, Stanley’s has its original Motherclucker, which Texas Monthly named the best BBQ sandwich in Texas. As a taste experience, it’s best described as “unforgettable” — a word that has broad application at Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q.
“When you go to a restaurant, you want good food and to have people take care of you,” says Nick. “We try to offer a lot of things that impact your heart and mind, and make you feel good. I want that to be what Stanley’s is about: to have as many things as possible that make people happy.”