The BBQ for Two at Amarillo Restaurant & Tavern in Monroe comes with your choice of three meats and two sides, plus cornbread. (Sara Bruestle/The Herald)

The BBQ for Two at Amarillo Restaurant & Tavern in Monroe comes with your choice of three meats and two sides, plus cornbread. (Sara Bruestle/The Herald)

A storied Nebraska barbecue tradition continues in Monroe

The Amarillo Restaurant Tavern, an Omaha-area institution for 3 decades, opens on E. Main Street.

MONROE — Named for a city in Texas, the Amarillo Restaurant serves Texas-style barbecue, but it’s not in the Lone Star State. It’s right here.

I’ve been waiting, as patiently as I can, to go to the Amarillo because the owners are from Nebraska and that’s where the restaurant originated. (I’m from Lincoln.)

For about 30 years, Cornhusker State residents got their barbecue fix at the Amarillo when it was in a suburb of Omaha.

Original owner Gordon Campbell, of Omaha, named his restaurant after George Strait’s “Amarillo by Morning.” His wife liked the song.

Readers of the The Omaha World-Herald voted Amarillo the top barbecue restaurant in the city. Campbell’s brisket had a celebrity following: Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson all have eaten at Amarillo.

In 2010, Campbell decided to retire. In a proxy auction, the rights to Amarillo Restaurant were sold to Connie and Brian Adams. They hoped the restaurant was their ticket out of the corporate world.

The couple was smoking meats their neighbors brought over — they had a commercial smoker on their driveway — and was on the lookout for a place for the restaurant when Brian, who was working in medical sales, was transferred in 2014 to Washington. Shoot.

But the Adamses, now living in Lake Stevens, didn’t give up on Amarillo. It took them four more years, but last month they opened the Amarillo Restaurant and Tavern on E. Main Street in the former tavern known as Paradise. The building is 115 years old and the original bar in back is still there.

Connie and Brian hired a chef, who they sent to Texas to learn from the pit masters, and remodeled the tavern. Inside, with its light-finished wood and metal signs, it feels very much like you’ve stepped into Amarillo, Texas.

On the menu is Texas-style barbecue, steaks and burgers. If you go, be ready to eat some meat. (There are salads, sandwiches, vegetarian burgers and lots of sides.) The kitchen continues to offer Campbell’s recipes, which are 30 years old and were designed to complement the flavor of hickory wood.

“A lot of barbecue places, when they say ‘Texas-style’ a good majority use oak, but one thing that put us closer to Nebraska is hickory,” Connie Adams said. “It doesn’t grow out here in Washington; it’s easier to get in Nebraska.”

I took The Daily Herald’s Mark Carlson with me to lunch. We split the BBQ for Two ($36), which comes with your choice of three meats — four ribs, a half-pound of pulled pork, brisket, corned beef, a sausage link and/or a half chicken — plus two sides and two cornbread muffins. We went for the ribs, brisket and chicken and asked for three sides: coleslaw ($3), a baked sweet potato ($3) and mac and cheese ($5).

All three sides were good picks but, oh, that mac and cheese. It’s an Amarillo signature recipe with a not-too-heavy sauce of Jack, cheddar and blue cheeses. I typically avoid mac and cheese at bars, but this? I could have eaten an entire plate of it. It’s freshly made and absolutely delicious.

We had our choice of original, spicy and sweet barbecue sauce, plus a special white barbecue sauce for the chicken, but we thought they were unnecessary.

“The meats were very flavorful,” Mark said. “The sauces get in the way. Dressing up plain chicken or pork, they’d be welcome.”

I didn’t even try the sauces. I couldn’t bring myself to mask the flavor already dry-rubbed and smoked into the meat. The brisket, chicken and sausage were all deliciously barbecued. I get hungry again just thinking about it.

“I liked the sausage,” Mark said. “The flavor was earthy and distinctive.” But his chicken breast (I ate the dark and juicy leg and thigh meat) was overcooked. “The meat was on the papery and dry side,” he said.

The next time I eat at Amarillo, I want to try one of their steaks. Nebraska is known for its beef, so I figure the Adamses know the right way to grill a steak.

Sara Bruestle: sbruestle@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3046. Twitter: @sarabruestle.

If you go

What: The Amarillo Restaurant & Tavern

Where: 116 E. Main St., Monroe

When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

More: 360-217-8484 or www.facebook.com/TheAmarillo

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