Photography by Jessica Turner.

When Michael Lane was a student at Culinary Institute of America, he would drive 75 miles each way to Franklin Lake, New Jersey, to work for Tony Chernalis’ Market Basket. He worked for the $25-million catering company for two years, paying his way through school and learning the ins and outs of a kitchen. A native Houstonian, he spent the next few years working at iconic Café Annie, the Pappas concepts and with Dean Fearing. Lane eventually started his own seven-figure catering company, modeled after Chernalis’ business, before becoming a restaurant consultant. He’s back in the kitchen at Oak’d, a Central Texas-style smokehouse offering locally sourced wagyu brisket. And he plans on it being a family affair. 

“If I do a restaurant I am going to do something I can leave to my kids,” Lane says. “Barbecue is really one of the only few concepts that you can build a really good product and a really good reputation is generational.”

Lane’s three kids — 14, 12 and 10 — come up to wipe down tables, serve food and do other tasks around the restaurant once or twice a week. Oak’d is staffed with 10 people. In the early days of the pandemic and restaurant, Lane and another staff member would put the meat on the smoker at 7 p.m. each day and watch the brisket cook low and slow, spritzing ever so often to develop a thick bark. 

“There’s just a lot of different variables. You got to be here. You can’t just be the kind of restaurant where you just put them in and go home, go to sleep, come back next morning. It doesn’t work that way,” Lane says.

It’s one of the few barbecue joints in town where the brisket is locally sourced, buttery wagyu from Rosewood and Hunt Ranches. The pork butt is a shorter cut, so there’s the perfect ratio between bark and fatty meat. Each side, like the organic kale salad featuring smoked almonds, has one smoked element incorporated into the recipe to carry the oak flavor throughout the menu. The newly launched breakfast and brunch menu has the Texas-favorite brisket taco. Lane’s love for Southwestern food is evident with the featured chilaquiles entree and smoked carnitas tacos.

“No one around in this part of town was doing brunch, so I think we’re gonna do pretty good,” Lane says.

Located in the Old Town Shopping Center, Oak’d is one of the few local barbecue joints this far north. Once a week, Lane will stop at a firehouse and feed the whole crew lunch. As the son of an Army doctor, he feeds a group of about 100 or more military reservists an appreciation breakfast every eight to 10 weeks.

“I’d love to get back to supporting other people. It doesn’t matter if it’s a nonprofit or helping someone else with their restaurant,” Lane says.

He’s launching a master class with other pitmasters across the metroplex to help anyone with an interest in barbecue get their start, whether it’s a weekend hobby or a new business.

 Oak’d, which opened pandemic be damned, is already profitable. They threw a thank you dinner for regulars who came and supported the restaurant on the one-year mark. They are starting to see weekend trippers coming in from Waco and even Central Texas barbecue capital Austin.

“I like to hear their stories when they come in and talk to them,” Lane says. “I want to make sure that they feel welcome.”

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