Thursday, January 27, 2011

Maybe It’s Us

One of the reasons we chose San Marcos for our Texas stop is that it is less than twenty miles from Lockhart, TX. If, like me, you have seen too many reruns of Barbecue Paradise on the Travel Channel, you know that Lockhart is home to three of the temples of Texas barbecue—Black’s Barbecue, Smitty’s Market, and Kreuz Market.

We spent December of 2008 in Kerrville, another Texas Hill Country town, and had the chance to sample maybe six barbecue restaurants in that area. While we had some great smoked German sausage and very good smoked turkey, we felt that all of the brisket—the king of Texas barbecue—to be lacking. But we were sure that Lockhart would be the answer to our brisket quest.

We started our search with Kreuz Market, “…started in 1900 by Charles Kreuz as a meat market and grocery store. To prevent wasting meat by letting it spoil, most markets would cook the better cuts on barbecue pits and use the lesser cuts to make sausage. Customers would buy their barbecue and sausage (which was wrapped in butcher paper), then buy some items from the grocery store to go along with it, and eat it off the butcher paper with their hands and a pocket knife with NO SAUCE.

“Charles passed the business along to his sons and son-in-law, who ran it until 1948, when Edgar Schmidt, who had worked there since 1936, bought the market from the Kreuz's.... In 1984, Edgar sold the business to his sons, Rick and Don Schmidt, and they ran the increasingly popular restaurant until Don's retirement in 1997” (from the restaurant’s web site).

Here things get murky. “…Several years ago, owing to a complicated family feud, it moved out of town (from the place that is now Smitty's) to an immense roadside dining barn with all the charm of an airplane hangar” (

When you walk through the doors, a vast, dark, and empty (that day) dining area is to the left. You walk about a hundred feet to a sign reading “Wait here for next available counter person” (or something to that effect). Then you enter the smoking room to place your meat order and pay for your meat. If you are taking the meat out, they wrap your order in three layers of butcher’s paper and tape it shut. If you are eating in, they lay your meat on three layers of butcher’s paper and fold the four corners up into a pouch. This is your tray and plate.

Oh, and you get plastic knives.

The meat choices were shoulder clod (lean beef), beef brisket, pork chops, pork ribs, and beef ribs, and these are sold by the pound. The sausage, regular or jalapeno cheese, are sold by the ring. We ordered a pound of brisket and one regular sausage ring.

Then you proceed to a dining room where you can also order your sides and/or beverages. The sides include cheese, jalapeno cheese, dill pickles, sweet pickles, tomatoes, avocados, jalapenos, chips, German potatoes, sauerkraut, and beans. If you are ordering any of the sides, you will be given plastic spoons. You will not be given a fork.

For sides, we chose the beans and German potatoes. The beans were pretty good and contained bits of green pepper and tomatoes. The potatoes? Well, we ate about twenty percent of the order and tossed the rest away. I thought that German potatoes would be similar to German potato salad. You know, with a little vinegar and a little sugar and a lot of fried bacon. I was wrong. These were basically boiled potato chunks with some smoked meat shreds mixed in. OK. We didn’t really come for the sides. How about the meat?

First a note on no forks (as the owner famously says, ‘God put two of them at the end of your arms’). You use your knife to cut off slices of sausage or brisket and then either use the knife as a spear or you use your hands as utensils. So we cut some slices of sausage and with began to eat with our fingers. At first we really liked the sausage.
It was a finer grind than most German-style sausages and was full of black pepper. But about half way through the small ring, it began losing its moisture and the casing got tough and hard to eat.

On to the brisket. I was encouraged when I saw the large amount of burnt ends—those dark and crusty ends and edges that have an intense smoke flavor and are inclined to be tougher and drier. I first dined on burnt ends at a barbecue place in Kansas City, MO, whose name I can’t remember, but whose burnt ends I will never forget. You expect these to be chewy and a light touch of sauce (Kreuz’s sauce was a cross between North Carolina and hot sauce) eases the dryness. But we didn’t expect the interior meat to be as dry as the burnt ends. This is Lockhart? This is the epicenter of smoked beef brisket? What a disappointment!

Well, folks. We have reached a milestone. After thirty months on the road, we have had our first 0.0 Addie meal. Our expec-tations were so high.

Were they too high?

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