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Back Issues
2012 - Spring Issue
¡Comidas Sabrosas!
The Barbecue Trail
Article: Joe Burgess
Photos: Joe Burgess
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Regardless of how they spell it, Texans are serious about their barbecue and it's generally pretty darn good. Since beer is a popular companion to barbecue, a question that might be posed is would you prefer dining at a barbecue joint that serves beer or a beer joint that serves barbecue? In the community of Taylor, Texas, northeast of Austin, there are four locations for barbecue and the emphasis is well defined for the locals. According to my poll, all the establishments pay close attention to the slow cooking of their barbecue, but the atmospheres vary immensely. I checked out two of them.

    Photo Captions

1.) Painting by Danica Lee of Taylor, Texas.
2.) Taylor Cafe owner and World War II Veteran Vencil Mares.
3.) Southside Market pit master Hilario Urquizon.
4.) Smokey's owner Juan Salinas and pit master Lulu Acevedo.
5.) Cookoff scene at Canton, Texas.
6.) Cookoff participant Rodney Stevens of Rooster Roaster in Edgwood, Texas.
Louie Mueller Barbecue -
Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor opened in 1949 and is now owned by Louie's son, Bobby. It has appeared in three feature films, two documentaries and on The Food Networks' Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The restaurant received the highly acclaimed James Beard Award in the "American Classics" Division in 2006. Brisket is the most popular selection, cooked in 50 year-old horizontal brick and steel pits using post oak wood. The spicy sauce is a "thin-dip" consistency with heaping amounts of onions and pepper, created to complement, not cover the meat. The building has a lot of character, but this restaurant is definitely a barbecue joint first, that also serves beer.

Taylor Café
Around the corner, the Taylor Café, owned by Vencil Mares, opened in 1948. After learning the trade at the Southside Market in nearby Elgin, Vencil used the money he had saved as an Army medic in World War II to purchase his Taylor location. Vencil claims his barbecue is the tenderest because, after cooking for eight hours, he wraps it in butcher paper and lets it sit in an insulated container for 10 hours to tenderize. When you walk into the café, there is no doubt that this is a beer joint that also serves barbecue, but make no mistake, Vencil personally cooks the meat seven days a week and it is indeed good barbecue. Vencil predates the advent of websites and email – just focuses on barbecue.

Southside Market & Barbeque -
Down the road, Southside Market & Barbeque in Elgin has been in business since 1886. Following several changes in ownership, it is now being operated by the third generation of Bracewells, purchased by the family in 1968. The emphasis here is the in-house brand, Elgin Hot Sausages. The restaurant and market have a huge area following and the sauce, seasoning and barbecue products can be ordered online. They do serve beer, but also have an ice cream counter – making it a great location for a family outing.

Big Boy's Bar & Grill -
South Padre Island and Corpus Christi are featured in this issue of Ventanas; so if you are in the region, don't miss Big Boy's Bar & Grill in South Padre. You can surf the free WiFi while watching sports on a whole slew of large TV screens. There's lots of beer, but it's also kid friendly – relaxed, in other words. Mesquite is used in the smokers and they play up their "14-hour Brisket Sandwich." They offer nightly entertainment and it's open till 2:00 am.

Country Tavern -
Country Tavern in Kilgore, you know, home of the Kilgore College Rangerettes, is a big hit locally as a honky-tonk that serves good barbecue. Management obviously pays attention because the service is exceptional. The ribs are meaty and the brisket tender, but I thought a little more seasoning was called for and both the sauce and beans were sweeter than most I have tasted in Texas. However, the pecan cobbler was worth writing home about, and this was the first barbecue joint I've visited that used cloth napkins and brought a scented, warm washcloth with the check.

Smokey's Barbeque -
Dropping down to the bottom of Texas by McAllen, Smokey's Barbeque in San Juan catches a lot of traffic because of its location near the national shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valley. Established in 1991, owner Juan Salinas maintains an affordable menu for his visitors, many coming up from Mexico. He says that his customers won't let him get rid of the chips and salsa or the Spanish rice served with his barbecue – my kind of barbecue joint! This one doesn't have a website either, so check out the shrine and you're only a couple of blocks away.

Bar-B-Q Man -
In Corpus Christi, it's the Bar-B-Q Man Restaurant and Patio Cantina since 1977. The DeShields family has supervised the totally in-house preparation of food for two generations, utilizing certified Angus beef brisket. The 2.4-acre facility includes a full service restaurant and bar, a party area in the Cantina Room and lots of shade trees and picnic tables.

Lone Star BBQ Society -
Keeping the population focused on barbecue, the Lone Star BBQ Society holds sanctioned cook-offs, one of which is held in October in Canton, Texas, east of Dallas. It's a chance to wrangle barbecue tidbits from the regional contestants and Canton turns the event into a full-scale festival. The downtown merchants are truly friendly and you might be interested in the fact that Canton is home to the world's largest flea market – yes, really. It spreads across 400 acres, mostly covered, with space for 7,000 vendors on First Monday Trade Days. ///
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