Saturday, June 12, 2010

To You . . .

this may just be a deer head wearing fake braids and a bandana. To me, this is Willie Nelson.

We didn’t know that we were in the mood for barbeque until we drove past Serious Texas BBQ (STB) on the north end of Main Street in Durango (CO). But we realized that we had gone without smoked meat for too long and quickly pulled the truck into the parking lot.

It was here that we met "Willie."

This restaurant, and two other locations in Colorado and one “coming soon” in northern New Mexico, are run by Cook and Joy Swanson, two Texas transplants.

And they must be doing something right. Sunset Magazine has proclaimed that STB is the West’s Best BBQ, and the Swanson’s won the “Live with Regis and Kelly Grill-Off” with their pulled pork sandwich paired with their fruity, fiery cherry-chipotle salsa.

But we’ve been to other supposed “authentic” Texas barbeque joints-–some even in Texas-–and have come away disap-pointed.

Would history repeat?

Like most barbeque establish-ments, STB is no frills. You place your order at the front counter, grab a bottle of Zuberfizz soda from the water tank, and carry your tray to the nearest table. Other beverages are self-serve, which typically means free unlimited refills. Which raises a question that Chuck often poses: "Why would anyone order the expensive large beverage instead of the cheaper small when you get free refills?" Are those people too lazy to walk over to the beverage dispenser? Whatever.

We had our choice of eating on the open porch or inside, which was open to the open porch. Now I love outdoor eating when the weather is not too hot or too cold or too windy. But the local cottonwood trees were shedding their “cotton,” and I learned in Moab last year that I don’t have allergy immunity to cottonwood cotton.

The floor of the porch was covered with cotton. So much cotton that it looked like snow. So we took a table inside – where the cotton was less thick, but still present.

And who knew there are so many universities in Texas. The walls were covered with football jerseys, banners, and pennants from The University of Houston, Rice, Southern Methodist, Baylor, Texas Longhorns, and the Texas Tech Red Raiders. And, of course, there was the de rigueur Dallas Cowboys memorabilia along with this remnant of the unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign of one Kinky Friedman.

Enough of the incidentals. How was the food? Pretty darn tootn’ good. You can order a half-pound portion (served on butcher paper) of brisket, pork loin, turkey breast, or Elgin Texas sausage. Or you can order sandwiches: brisket with pickles, onions, and bar-b-q sauce; pork loin with pineapple-jalapeno salsa and bar-b-q sauce; pulled pork with cherry-chipotle salsa and bar-b-q sauce; Elgin (Texas) sausage with whatever; or smoked turkey with chipotle mayo and bar-b-q sauce. Or you can have the Texas Taco—chopped bar-b-q, potatoes, onions, jalapenos, and cheese on a soft flour tortilla. The two helpful women at the counter explained that this latter was their most popular item.

Sensing our indecision, they suggested we order The Sampler—brisket, pork loin, sausage, and turkey with our choice of one side. Our choices for sides were cheesy potatoes, beans, potato salad, or slaw.

The sampler it would be with a small order of beans, plus a large potato salad, and a small slaw. And the tray also included a small cup each of the chipotle-cherry and pineapple-jalapeno salsas and the chipotle mayo. To round out his meal, Chuck included a bottle of Zuberfizz (bottled in Durango) root beer.

I’ll start with what didn’t work. First, the beans. While they were tender and contained a generous amount of meat shreds, they tasted harsh from way too much chile powder. Even Chuck didn’t finish them. The slaw was o.k., but had also been “jazzed” up with chile, but not to the same degree as the beans. And I have come to the realization that I am just not a Texas brisket person. It is cut way too thick for my taste.

So what did work? The potato salad for one. This was a fine restaurant potato salad, creamy with just a touch of pickle and potatoes that had been cooked through. You wouldn’t believe how many hard potatoes we’ve been served in potato salad. And the pork loin and turkey were bar-b-q perfection. Each slice had been cut about a quarter of an inch thick and the meat was lightly smoked and moist and juicy. And both were wonderful with some of the chipotle-cherry salsa.

But the star of the plate was the Meyer’s Elgin sausage. As described on Meyer’s web site: “Meyer’s Elgin Smokehouse is based on one not-so-secret ingredient: 75 years of family pride and four generations of tradition.” The peppery sausage is made from mostly beef with natural casings, and when smoked, the pepper flavor intensifies.

Each table contains a bottle—a recycled liquor bottle—of their house-made bar-b-q sauce, which is thin like North Carolina sauce, but is neither too tart nor too sweet.

Good enough, in fact, that I bought two bottles to take with us. As I did with the outrageous chipotle-cherry salsa.

Since two of the sides came up short, our Addie rating for STB is only a 4.0 out of a max of 5.0.

Postscript: We stopped in later in the week and bought the pulled pork for at-home sandwiches. Very good pulled pork with lots of “barky” pieces.

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