Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hill Country, Day Two

We began the second day in Lockhart’s Kreuz Market, which has to be one of the few remaining American restaurants founded in the nineteenth century. A victim of too much success, in 1999 it moved from the downtown smokehouse that it made historic to Lockhart’s outskirts. Kreuz is now housed in a giant red shed of a roadhouse that, like many of its Texas barbeque brethren, could well suit a putsch. Patrons order meats by the pound inside the cavernous pit – and just like at Meyer’s, they may not enter until summoned.

The smell of smoked meat was so intoxicating that it was difficult to focus on the menu. We entrusted the ordering to our expert, Gregg, who was rendered powerless by the glorious smoky aroma. In his BBQ-fueled stupor, he failed to order the shoulder clod that we saw only at Kreuz’s, leaving us just with a pound each of beef brisket, ham, beef and pork ribs, prime rib, pork chops, and sausage. I love my younger brother, but I remain bitter.

Kreuz, in spite of its reputation as a purist’s redoubt, was the only establishment that sold legitimate side dishes; nevertheless, they were segregated and sold in one of the large dining rooms flanking the pit. The exemplary side dishes included a vinegary German potato salad (which is to say, one not tainted by that culinary ejaculate, mayonnaise), a hot and zesty sauerkraut concoction, and satisfying baked beans.

Kreuz's brisket was the best of the trip. It had a great crust and smoky ring from the post-oak, and was tender, though not meltingly so. Both sets of ribs were delicious. Ironically, in the heart of beef country, the pork chop may have been the best thing of all. Of course, I didn’t have the clod so I can’t say with certainty. (Thanks, Gregg.) The pork chop stands out and was transcendently good with its deep smoky flavor and meaty texture. (OK, so “meaty texture” isn’t exactly the most evocative description, but dude, IT WAS MEAT AND ME LIKE MEAT.) It alone would warrant a return trip to the reddest of states. Kreuz forbids the use of forks, but this “rule” seemed more a physiological response than a normative obligation. Passing it around and eating it with our hands was totally apropos, and I was proud of any similarities to the opening scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The only drawback: Kreuz’s sausage, much like every other smokehouse’s (save Mueller’s), tasted like a greasy, unprocessed Dodger Dog.

We then moved on to Smitty’s, which is located in Kreuz’s original (and comparatively compact) location. We were somewhat nervous about going there because it had to follow Kreuz’s wild success. But Smitty’s aroma swept through its corner of tiny downtown Lockhart, its adjacent lot enticingly filled with rows upon rows of chopped post-oak. We entered directly into the hot, smoky pit, its exposed flames licking the air around the door. (There is no way this degree of danger would be tolerated in risk-averse California. I thought that it would be illegal in Texas, until I read that Texas does not even regulate its crane industry.) I could only imagine how many careless and drunken fools have fallen into the fire.

Despite its sterling pedigree and colorful setting, Smitty’s food was a disappointment. The brisket was exceedingly greasy and salty, as were the pork ribs and pork chop. The Sterns, writing in Gourmet, aptly described the sausage as “so succulent that if you plan to snap it into two pieces, you must treat it like a bottle of Champagne you are about to uncork.” However, this statement should not be construed as praise. The sausage tasted like liquefied fat. I could not swallow more than one bite. Incidentally, Smitty’s was the most racially integrated of any of the smokehouses that we visited on our trip. That was its only plus.

Our last smokehouse of the day was Black’s, a real oddity. Toward the end of the corridor where patrons enter was a pathetic salad bar of items that didn’t belong in a salad and looked like they could have prepared when Black’s opened, in 1932. My interest in eating was crushed by the salad bar's wan potato and macaroni salads and oleaginous agglomerations of beans. The interior wasn’t charmless, but after the Smitty’s fiasco and this “salad” bar, we didn’t want to stick around. So we confined ourselves to the outdoor picnic table and noshed on a pound of brisket. Seasoned only with salt and pepper, the brisket was pleasant, if somewhat greasy.

After these disappointments, T2P wisely demanded a return to Kreuz for one more pork chop. Naturally, we obliged, devoured the chop and then traveled to San Antonio for a dose of traditional tourism. We have vowed to return to Lockhart to correct Gregg’s error and try the shoulder clod.

Kreuz Market
619 N. Colorado St.
(512) 398-2361

Smitty’s Market
208 S. Commerce St.
(512) 398-9344

Black’s Barbecue
215 N. Main St.
(512) 398-2712


Anonymous said...

Outstanding review, heinous. IT TASTES LIKE MEAT.

Steve said...

Heinous -

J-wy was talking about a potential fathers & sons-only trip down to bbq capitals in upcoming years, but I think that's total bullshit.

Only a deranged Clintonite could dream up something that stupid.

Phil Gramm

BBQ Snob said...

Great report. If you're ever in the Lockhart area again, be sure to head down Highway 183 another 15 minutes and try City Market in Luling.