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Kent Rathbun’s Hickory restaurant stars excellent sausage, BBQ brisket

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I don’t think chef Kent Rathbun (Abacus, Jasper’s) set out to open a casual place whose best dishes are smoked pork sausage and barbecued brisket, but those two items are the stars of his menu at Hickory, Rathbun’s new Plano restaurant.

Sure, he also serves more than a half-dozen burgers, crazy good mac and cheese (constructed with al dente elbow macaroni, cornbread crumbles and spicy queso as a sauce base) and damn good cocktails, but judging from a recent visit shortly after Hickory opened for business, Rathbun’s honeypot here is pork sausage and brisket.

“I didn’t set out to make pork sausage,” Rathbun told me after my visit.  “I developed the recipe for a rabbit sausage a few years ago, working out the ideal ratio of fat to meat and just the right spices, then translated it to pork for Hickory.” He coarsely grinds the pork, adding bacon to the mix then smokes the cased sausages till they’re plump and tender. Then he cuts them into one-inch segments and serves them with a cast iron ramekin of spicy queso. Pick up a link, dip it into the queso, then pop it into your pie hole. Your mouth will thank you.

It’ll also be mightily pleased with a few hunks of Hickory’s low-and-slow brisket — the moist, fatty part — fully rendered and protected by a dark, smokey bark from an overnight cook in Hickory’s wood-fueled J&R smoker.

“I tell my servers that anyone who knows their barbecue will want the fatty part, so that’s really all we serve when you order brisket. We cut off the leaner part in the kitchen, chop it up and use it in our chili,” Rathbun told me.

For dessert, opt for the “giant cupcake,” a four-inch flourless chocolate cake, or the seasonal cobbler, chockfull of blackberries and more crumble than cobbler.

Hickory, 8100 Dallas Pkwy Ste 115, Plano, (972) 712-7077.

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