THE TEXAS BARBECUE TRAIL AND LULING CITY MARKET

The last time we were in San Antonio, we made two side trips to places in the Hill Country that we have long been itching to visit.  First up — a day trip to Fredericksburg.  Although I envisioned leisurely strolling among galleries and antique stores, perhaps sampling some German food, we wound up instead spending the better part of the day at the National Museum of the Pacific War.  Not exactly what I had in mind, but for history buffs like my husband, this museum is a must see.

We did, however, stop for lunch first at the Farm Haus Bistro at the Fredericksburg Herb Farm, a quaint retreat for a peaceful getaway.

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Inside the restaurant, it was as if time stood still.  Literally.  The service was embarrassingly, unapologetically slow.  I got the feeling that the restaurant is more suited to “ladies who lunch” than impatient tourists.  And by “ladies who lunch,” I mean “ladies who lunch in elastic-waist pants.”  Among the highlights of the gut-busting lunch menu were a starter of fried macaroni and cheese:

IMG_3781An enormous slice of quiche loaded with bacon, mushrooms, and herbs suspended in a cheese custard:

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And a grilled pepper jack cheese sandwich topped with a fried egg and smothered in pepper jack cream sauce:

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In fairness, there were a few salads on the menu, like this Grilled Salmon Cobb Salad:

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I think I just had the wrong expectations for this place, which I had dreamed about visiting for years.  The food was fine and the setting was pretty, if cliched.  Certainly not the first of my fantasies that didn’t pan out.

Our next side trip was to visit some of the barbecue joints on the Texas BBQ Trail.  The trail is made up of a dozen family-owned barbecue establishments in Elgin, Lockhart, Luling, and Taylor.  Most of these are decades old, some more than a century old.   We’d heard about them for ages, and were curious to see what they had to offer.

Our first stop on the trail, and our favorite, was City Market in Luling.

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Follow the sign to the dungeon-like pit room to place your order:

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No plates, just meat on butcher paper.  As is true pretty much everywhere in Texas, pickles, onions, and white bread are complimentary (a jalapeno, however, will usually cost you).  There were a few obligatory sides (beans, cole slaw, etc.), but seeing as we planned to visit several restaurants, we passed on those.

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The wood-paneled dining area seems like it would be a great place to meet (meat?) men.

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Next on our tour was Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, which is housed in a building where barbecue has been sold since the turn of the last century.

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Enter the blackened pit room, which has been “seasoned for decades,” and place your order: IMG_3738Then head to the dining room with your meat on butcher paper and make some new friends:

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Incidentally, Lockhart is home to the Caldwell County Courthouse, a beautiful Texas courthouse, built in 1894.

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Our last stop (we learned you can only eat so much barbecue in a day), was Kreuz Market in Lockhart, which started out in 1900 as a meat market.

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The fire was going strong:

IMG_3742We dined on meat and sausage on butcher paper, and this time sprung for a side of green beans:

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The dining room was big and bright, pine-paneled, of course:

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Of the three barbecue restaurants we tried, this one was our least favorite — probably because there was no barbecue sauce — but don’t tell him:

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So how was the Hill Country barbecue?  Our take on each place was pretty much the same:  smoky, chewy, salty meat.  On butcher paper.  Messy fingers.  Smoke-scented clothing.  Great guy food.  As we waited in line in each of the smoky, blackened pit rooms, I couldn’t help but wonder “Where is OSHA?”  Barbecue aficionados will go on about the smoke ring, the texture of the sausage and the crispness of its casing, the fat cap and moistness of the brisket, but it all kind of blurred together for us.  What we all agreed on, however, is that none of the restaurants beat our favorite Houston barbecue restaurant, Luling City Market.

Luling City Market,  located at 4726 Richmond Avenue, has been around a little over 30 years.

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The interior is pretty basic, with a bar that sees a fair amount of action.

IMG_4349There’s a jackalope mounted on the wall, which after all these years in Texas, still makes me laugh:

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Queue up, order a side or two, and then select your meat:

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We always ask for lean brisket:

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Don’t worry — it’s still served on butcher paper for an authentic Texas barbecue experience.

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Pehaps our favorite thing about Luling City Market is this:

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This mustard-based barbecue sauce is spicy, vinegary, perfect.

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The sauce is available for purchase, and we usually have a bottle at home.

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Recently, I found a recipe for Luling City Market BBQ sauce on the interwebs, supposedly from City Market in Luling, which is where this restaurant sort of has its origins (purportedly, back in 1981, the owners enticed a City Market employee to come to the big city and be the pit boss, and he also brought the recipe for the barbecue sauce).  Having tasted both side-by-side, I can affirm that the recipe below is really, really close in taste to the original.  It’s a snap to make, and as an added bonus, it requires no cooking.

LULING CITY MARKET BBQ SAUCE
Print
Author:
Ingredients
  • 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 5 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup yellow mustard
  • 3 tablespoons Louisiana hot sauce
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
Instructions
  1. Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk together until completely combined. Do not cook.

IMG_4494The homemade version is on the left

Luling City Market Real Texas Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

The Farm Haus Bistro on Urbanspoon

HORSERADISH WHIPPED CREAM

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IMG_3211I found this vintage Christmas card on ebay.  It’s printed on parchment-like paper, and I think it’s really charming with its crisp graphics and old-fashioned font.

I had hoped to get this post up before Christmas.  I also hoped to get my own Christmas cards out before Christmas.  But as far as I’m concerned, the period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve is all “the holiday season,” so operating on that theory, this post and my cards are timely.  My card recipients will likely note that my cards are a tad late this year, but will hopefully forgive my tardiness and smile when they see the pictures of my family (including the dogs).  Just as I forgave the folks whose cards arrived the day after Thanksgiving (show-offs!).

Unilke the vintage Christmas card, nearly every card we receive these days is a photo card.  For me, nothing marks the passage of time quite like these Christmas cards.  It’s  remarkable to see our friends’ kids grow — from adorable infants, to gangly metal-mouthed teens, to proud graduates, and even spouses and parents (we have been at this quite a while now).  Christmas jammies, beach photos in flowing white garb, exotic locations, infants in crocheted hats — I love them all.

Getting a “Christmas card photo” has not always been easy–in fact the past two years we wound up using a collage.  My all-time favorite card was the very first one we sent out.  My daughter was 8 months old, and I put her in her fancy smocked Christmas dress, took her to the garden center, and plunked her down in the middle of the poinsettias:

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Christmas cards are just one of the many holiday traditions I look forward to every year.  One tradition, however, that I never was able to get going was the family outing to pick out a Christmas tree.  The kids have never expressed any interest in it, and the task is usually left to me and my husband.  For about a decade we had an artificial tree, which no one complained about, but for the past few years we’ve gone back to live trees.  This year we pulled a fast one on my son, and started out with a trip to Best Buy so he could pick out some computer items for Christmas, kind of like taking the dog to the park before dropping him off at the vet.  Leaving the store, he noticed we were taking a different route, and said, “Hey, where are we going?”  I said, “to the vet,” which I thought was hilarious and my son did not.  In fact, we were headed to the garden center to pick out a Christmas tree — oh, the horror of having to accompany us.  So while he stood there texting his friends, my husband and I picked out a tree.  Ah, the stuff memories are made of.

Like everyone else, many of our holiday traditions center around food.  We always have Christmas dinner at my sister-in-law’s, who does a great job of coordinating everything.  This year she floated the idea of doing something other than our traditional dinner — maybe Mexican?  After talking to her parents, she informed us that “no new ideas would be entertained this year.”  Nice try, Liz!  So we had our traditional dinner, centered around beef tenderloins that my husband grilled perfectly, and it was familiar and delicious.  To accompany the beef, I always make Horseradish Whipped Cream — a double batch so that there are leftovers for my father-in-law to enjoy at home in the following days.  Inspired by the vintage Christmas card and other holiday traditions, I’m sharing the recipe for Horseradish Whipped Cream.  It is a great accompaniment to beef, rich and tangy, and if you use a fresh jar of horseradish, it might just clear your sinuses.

HORSERADISH WHIPPED CREAM
Print
Recipe type: Sauces and Condiments
Author:
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup prepared horseradish
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ cup whipping cream
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, mix together all ingredients except whipping cream. Pour whipping cream into a medium bowl, and using an electric mixer, beat until soft peaks form. Whisk in horseradish mixture. Refrigerate until ready to use.

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Where’s the beef? 

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Horseradish Whipped Cream nestled up to beef tenderloin

And how do we keep our balance?

Because of our traditions

We’ve kept our balance for many, many years

[W]e have traditions for everything

How to sleep.  How to eat.  How to work.  How to wear clothes.

*      *      *     *     *     *

And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is

And what God expects him to do.

Tevye, in Fiddler on the Roof.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uj0KwNfLUds&feature=youtube_gdata_player