For one very brief moment Saturday, there was no line at Panther City BBQ.
But it didn’t last long.
With the sun still rising over South Main Village, customers began turning from Interstate 35W for owners Chris Magallanes’ and Ernest Morales’ Central Texas-style oak-smoked brisket, sausage and morning breakfast sandwiches or tacos.
By lunchtime, the line grew past the front gate of Panther City, a patio restaurant at 201 E. Pennsylvania Ave. in the same landmark location where Heim Barbecue began five years ago.
Every day when the coronavirus cases stay down, the lines grow longer for Panther City, with its safe open-air dining area and lots of breeze and sunshine.
“We’ve still been doing the carryout [business] all along, but we’re just now starting to see more sit-down diners come back,” said Magallanes, co-founder of Panther City six years ago as a caterer and then as a food truck.
“Any news story can change our business in a single day — case numbers, new orders, a new mandate,” he said.
This weekend, the news story that can change business is the return of a half-full college and pro football schedule.
“When sports went out, that affected us, so we’re anxious to see what happens,” Magallanes said.
Panther City BBQ opens at 11 a.m. on Sunday, so it gets plenty of pregame orders and the Sunday barbecue crowd.
It also opens at 7 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday for brisket breakfast sandwiches with sausage and egg ($10.50), carne guisada tacos ($8.50) or “Flaco’s tacos,” griddle-fried corn tacos with brisket or barbacoa (three/$10).
“People were looking for breakfast tacos, so we decided to work up a menu,” said Magallanes, a southwest Fort Worth product who grew up eating chopped beef at Cousin’s Bar-B-Q.
Morning customers can buy pounds of brisket, sausage or anything else that’s ready that day.
Then comes lunch.
Panther City is known for its black-peppery Central Texas brisket, either at lunch ($17.50 plate, $10.50 sandwich) or on the breakfast sandwich.
That sliced beef might be even more popular in a cup as “brisket elote,” with slices layered atop creamy Mexican grilled corn ($10.50).
The other smoked meats include ribs, pulled pork, turkey, pork belly “burnt ends,” bologna and either cracked-pepper or jalapeno-cheese sausage, all $17.50 as a plate or $21.50 for a three-meat combo platter.
Panther City’s barbecue style is very Tex, with a bit of Mex.
For example, the menu includes not only the typical smoked meats and sides, but also brisket tacos (three/$12), borracho beans and the breakfast carne guisada.
On an episode of the Eats Beat podcast last year, Magallanes said Panther City relies on a craft-barbecue style with an offset-smoked, “100% post oak” smoker.
“We don’t use any other smoker,” he said. When each day’s batch is sold out, they hang up the “closed” sign.
Two years ago, when Panther City filled Heim’s old location, Main Street Village near the hospital district was still a dream and the cross street was still named East Hattie.
The stand opened first as a food truck, then moved alongside Republic Street Bar.
Now, South Main Village is busy, the street has been renamed East Pennsylvania Avenue and Panther City is a small craft barbecue restaurant.
The La Pantera late-night taco menu will resume when restaurants and bars fully reopen, Magallanes said.
It’s open for breakfast and lunch Wednesday through Saturday, lunch Sunday; 682-499-5618, panthercitybbq.com.