Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fritze vs. Buzzie

We set off for a picnic…and found brisket and smoked sausage. We’ve learned that many of the small Texas towns are not large enough to have a restaurant or, if there is a restaurant or two, the hours can be erratic. So knowing that we would be spending the day on the road, I packed ham and cheese sandwiches and potato chips just to play it safe. We found ourselves near Boerne and, during a conversation with Cowgirl Sue and Cowboy Ron at the Enchanted Ranch (more later), learned that Fritze’s in Boerne had good brisket. So the sandwiches would wait until dinner that night, and off to Fritze’s we went.

Located in what looks to be a recycled fast food restaurant with the walls lined with painted corrugated metal,
this is the type of place where you go to the counter, grab a tray, and order your food. No frills means lower prices. Say hooray!!

I went with one of the lunch specials – the large sausage platter with two sides (beans and dill slaw) and beverage for $8.00. To this, I added a cup of the spicy chili. Chuck’s choice was the large brisket platter with beans and potato salad.

Texas beans are a totally different style than Southern sweet, tomato-tasting beans. Here, while there may be some meat and spice seasoning, the predominant flavor is that of the beans themselves served in their cooking liquid. This style will take some getting used to, but if Fritze’s are representative, I could develop a taste for Texas beans. These contained pieces of smoked meat and were subtly seasoned with what I took to be cumin.

I was offered the choice of sweet slaw or dill slaw. Not knowing what the latter was – for research purposes, I ordered it. Chuck took a taste of the slaw and did not find it to his liking. I, on the other hand, thought it delicious. Shredded cabbage was tossed with a clear slightly sweet and slightly tart dressing. What made this slaw special was a generous addition of dill weed. I have been putting dill weed in my creamy slaw for years, and I think that cabbage and dill have a real affinity. I would go back to Fritze’s for the slaw alone.

My chili (without beans – in Texas, putting beans in chili is a sacrilege) would have been better if hotter in temperature. But it was spicy and had the smoky taste that cumin adds to chili.

Now to the meats. Chuck’s brisket was good but not great. About half of the slices contained what seemed to be a bonus addition of fat and required diligent trimming. Once defatted, the meat was moist, tender, and had a very good smoke flavor. If the meat had been leaner, the brisket would have been more than satisfactory. On the other hand, my sausage was wonderful. Juicy and lean both, it was well-seasoned and well-smoked. The Hill Country of Texas was settled by German immigrants, and if there is one thing the Germans know it’s their sausage!

Both of our meats were accompanied by a very good barbeque sauce that was totally different in taste and consistency from the Memphis sauces. A little bit sweet, a little bit tart, and a little bit tomato flavored; it was the perfect counterpoint to both smoked meats.

Because of tepid chili and fatty brisket, I am only giving Fritze’s a 4.0 Addies. Were we to return, we would both have the sausage, and I would ask for the dill slaw as both of my sides.

This time we specifically went for brisket and sausage.

To a place that had everything. The reputation: One of Texas Monthly’s Top 50 Barbecue eateries in Texas. The name: Buzzie’s Barbecue. The location: away from the downtown in an area that leads you to keep saying, “Are you sure you punched the right address into the GPS?” The architecture: a barbecue oven out back of a simple structure with a simple sign. The procedure: a cafeteria-style line for picking up trays and tableware and placing your order. The dining area: tables with a paper towel holder on the table.

Everything was in place for a memorable meal. Except for one thing: the food.

To have a basis for comparison to Fritze’s, Chuck ordered the brisket with beans and potato salad, and I the smoked sausage with slaw and beans. First for the good (sort of). The potato salad, beans, and barbeque sauce were average at best. While my sausage was a generous serving of two good-sized links, it was lacking in sausage flavor and tasted too much of smoke. The slaw was strange - shredded cabbage and carrots that seemed to be lacking any form of dressing. This just tasted like cabbage and carrots.

Chuck’s brisket was full of fat and difficult to chew. Later that evening it dawned on me, many of his slices of brisket had been cut with the grain as opposed to against the grain. Not good.

We were so primed to enjoy Texas-style barbecue at one of Texas Monthly’s top 50 barbecue restaurants. We came away disappointed. Buzzie’s gets my lowest ranking to date – a generous 2.5 Addies on a scale of 1.0 to 5.0. This may have been the most disappointing meal of our six-month journey.

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