Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Home Team: Messin' with Texas, Day Three

Clear plates. Full stomachs. Can't Lose.

Posted by Aaron Siegel on Tue, Jul 30, 2013 at 1:07 PM

After a bit of a delay, here's installment three of the epic Home Team Barbecue crawl through Texas from Aaron Siegel.

By day three we were feeling it. Our bodies were starting to reject the barbecue and the heat. Our vital organs were saying give me fruits, vegetables, and AC, but we took ourselves in the exact opposite direction. We weren't going to let 104-degree heat and bloated bellies keep us from missing our trip to Lockhart, Texas, the heart of Central Texas barbecue, where they stick to old-school fundamentals that have stood the test of time. With Smitty’s Market, Kreuz Market, and Blacks BBQ, Lockhart boasts the biggest names in barbecue. 

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Our first stop of the day was Kreuz Market, which has been around since 1900. In the late 1990s, Kreuz moved to a giant brick building with a parking lot large enough to park cars for a Willie Nelson concert. The first thing we noticed, besides the size of the building, was the giant field of beautiful, meticulously stacked post oak. It looked like someone had stacked every piece of wood using blueprints and an architect as a guide. We entered Kreuz’s cathedral-like interior. The split dining rooms had too many seats to count. If I had to guess, I'd say somewhere around 500.

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As we walked towards the famous chopping block where celebrated pitmaster Roy Perez wields his knives, we stopped dead in our tracks to marvel at the amazing brick pits. Local legend is that, when Kreuz moved from their original historic location in downtown Lockhart, they took a load of hot coals from the old location and started up the new pits (sort of like the way someone would treat a sourdough starter for bread, but much more nostalgic in my mind). 

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Long rows of red brick pits are topped with massive steel doors that are opened and closed via an intricate cable wire system with offset weights to open and close. They can cook a ton of meat in this place, and it was time to indulge. Not much separates customers from the pits and Roy Perez and his chopping block. You feel very close to the operation. Perez cuts most of the meat himself on his 100-year-old circular chopping block. Ashes and meat juices splattered his apron, and his sideburns were full-on lamb chops, making his look like a barbecuing Elvis. Maybe Elvis is still alive. He's just busy carving meat in Lockhart these days.

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Perez couldn’t have been nicer to our group of curious meat eaters and answered every question we threw at him. We ordered everything that was available. The smoked pork chops were something we hadn’t seen yet in Texas, and they definitely stood out along with the brisket.  It went perfectly with my liter of Mexican coke. Nothing like an ice cold bottled Coke. 
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From Kruez, we headed down the road about five minutes into the heart of downtown Lockhart. I barely had enough time to wipe off the sausage fat off my face before we walked through the dark, smoke-hazed screened doors of Smitty’s Market. As we walked in, the hall to the register reminded me a lot of Kreuz. Same style brick pits and open fires burning on the floor right next to them. One false step and you'd be walking on fire.

We were greeted by an older gentleman wearing a Smitty’s workshirt. His name was Virgil, as it was clearly displayed on his shirt, and I can only assume that he was the proprietor.  Slightly stooped and sporting a silver head of hair, Virgil deflected our compliments and quickly praised his staff, saying, “These guys do the real work. I just watch ’em to make sure they are doin' it right.”
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We ordered everything on the menu, including their legendary sausage and spare ribs. We put our meat heavy tray down on the table and gathered around again like a starving herd of hyenas. The ribs and sausage did not disappoint. In fact, most of the spare ribs we ate in Texas were really well done. As we were crushing our barbecue again I saw something green on another tray. Two avocado halves sat alongside crackers, a thick slice of cheddar cheese, some chili peppers, and white bread. It was nice to eat something that wasn’t walking around at some point, and we all agreed that Smitty’s lived up to its billing and more. The food coma was coming on strong, but we had one more joint on our list.

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A few minutes later, and we were sitting down to eat again. This time it was Black’s BBQ. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t getting a little light-headed at this point. I guess if you are going to black out, it might as well be at Black’s.
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The crew was pretty spent,  but we gathered around another pile of authentic Texas barbecue. The sausage and brisket stood out at Black’s and honestly that’s about all I remember. We paid our respects to the gracious staff, stumbled out the door, and headed back to the lake.

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Desperately in need of some downtime, we decided to forego a boat ride to County Line BBQ that evening and instead entertain an old childhood friend. Randy Metting is the director of marketing at Dulce Vida organic tequila, so naturally he was toting some product when he arrived. You can imagine what happened next. We sat around and recounted the day feeling a sense of accomplishment and soaking in the great inspiration that we had received from our Texas travels.

We'd hit nine barbecue joints in less than three days. That only meant one thing — lots of leftovers. We had to have something to soak up the tequila before bed, right? I grabbed several of the sausage links we had in the refrigerator, wielded a cleaver I discovered in the drawer, and began to chop the sausage roughly. I covered a large pile of tortilla chips with the chopped sausage, covered the mess with some sharp cheddar and Monterey jack cheese, baked it in the oven until it was a gooey mess, and garnished it with some pickled jalapeños, sriracha, and sour cream (new menu item?). Man! It might have been the best thing we ate all day, or maybe it was just the tequila talking.

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Our heads hit the pillows hard that night, and we dreamed about our last day in Texas in which we'd hit one last spot before heading home with full bellies and lots of ideas.

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