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.
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:
And a grilled pepper jack cheese sandwich topped with a fried egg and smothered in pepper jack cream sauce:
In fairness, there were a few salads on the menu, like this Grilled Salmon Cobb Salad:
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.
Follow the sign to the dungeon-like pit room to place your order:
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.
The wood-paneled dining area seems like it would be a great place to meet (meat?) men.
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.
Incidentally, Lockhart is home to the Caldwell County Courthouse, a beautiful Texas courthouse, built in 1894.
The fire was going strong:
The dining room was big and bright, pine-paneled, of course:
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:
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.
The interior is pretty basic, with a bar that sees a fair amount of action.
Queue up, order a side or two, and then select your meat:
We always ask for lean brisket:
Don’t worry — it’s still served on butcher paper for an authentic Texas barbecue experience.
Pehaps our favorite thing about Luling City Market is this:
This mustard-based barbecue sauce is spicy, vinegary, perfect.
The sauce is available for purchase, and we usually have a bottle at home.
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|| |
- 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.
- Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk together until completely combined. Do not cook.