set off to the Lone Star state to absorb the cowboy culture, eat
good BBQ, enjoy great live music and warm up from Montreal’s
long winter. Landing in San Antonio, we had no idea what to expect.
The only thing I know about San Antonio is the Spurs, and what
I learned from the Alamo from the movie Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.
The minute we were on Texas soil inside the airport, we were taken
by the seats in the waiting area. Rocking chairs! After settling
in to our hotel, we hit the pavement to explore. The first destination
was a place to nosh. Not so easy. Two Italians with discerning
palettes. A sommelier who works in a top Montreal restaurant with
his partner who's a foodie and a gardner. A collision course for
many bad places to choose from we stopped in at diner across the
street from the Alamo. We figured we could order breakfast. Eggs,
toast fairly safe. The man behind the counter barks out «
Breakfast is over » but we decided to stay anyway. At the
counter, i ordered a club sandwich and my partner ordered a plate
of fries. How could anyone mess up a classic deli sandwich like
the club ? We were given a ticket and told «have a seat»
until our number was called. Sitting and waiting for our food
gave us the time to look around and check out the decor. Massive
Texas state flags, big stuffed American Eagle. Everything IS bigger
in Texas. Ten minutes later our number was called and we were
ready for our first Texas meal. As I went to get our food, the
wonderful anticipation of a gynormous sandwich and a heaping plate
of homefries sent hunger pains shooting through my stomach like
shots of a corral gunfight. When I arrived at the counter, I laughed
when I saw the two plates. It was the least appetizing sandwich
I ’d ever seen. Sliced ham instead of chicken breast, bright
neon orange cheese slapped between two slices of bread and lubricated
with lots of mayo. The fries on both plates was the biggest laugh.
I could see the bottom of the plate there was so few of them.
The plates looked like someone ate off the plate before we did.
Before I dropped the plates at our table, i smiled, looked at
my partner and said « i hope your hungry ». She looked
at me in fear and when i dropped the plate her face dropped even
lower and then cracked a smile. I can’t remember the last
time i laughed that long.
The mission that was the site of historic battles that are cemented
in Texas and U.S. history that martyered Davy Crockett, James
Bowie. The lineup was about 100 people and with such a high number
and long line the anticipation was higher. The San Antonio river
that runs through the downtown core and one storey below street
level, there are walkways lined with shops and restaurants. Super
touristy but it was something to see and full of people. Boats
float by full of people looking around and listening to the tour
guide. We stopped for a bite at a romantic nice table along the
water. Upon advice from the concierge, The County Line was the
place for BBQ in downtown San Antonio. My prayers were to be answered
as i was going to sink my teeth into big, juicy, BBQ ribs and
all would be well. I ordered an appetizer portion of Pork ribs
and a « cold certified » Coors Light. The ribs arrived
and they were loaded with tangy BBQ sauce. The ribs were good
and satisfying but pas plus que ca. not over the top. Better than
most places back in Montreal, i was expecting alot more. I knew
that there would be better ribs ahead.
Texas, authentic BBQ is the freshness of the meat and the way
its cooked. In most commercial places, BBQ ribs are boiled for
too long, doused with sauce and then cooked over a flame or baked.
The term fall of the bone is a marketing term to mean a good thing.
Not to Texans though. Authentic BBQ is the smoke that cooks the
meat ever so slowly. At Busbee’s the ribs, chicken and brisket
are oak-smoked for 16 hours! The ribs were awesome! I’ve
never tasted anything like them. Tender and succulent were the
texture, flavours of wood smoke, and just the right amount of
tangy BBQ sauce. I kept saying Oh my god these are the best ribs
i’ve ever tasted! Pow! Pow! went the fireworks in my head
when the first ounce of meat hit my palate for the first time.
In between OMG’s I was overwhelmed. The feeling of eating
something authentic in its homeland or surroundings is something
you just need to sink your teeth into and wait for the euforia
to find out. The last time it happened to me was eating the best
Key Lime pie in Tampa, Florida. Before that was a tomato salad
at my grandmothers table in Italy with olive oil from her trees
and tomatoes from her garden. Busbee’s BBQ is definetly
a place to go if eating authentic Texas BBQ is on your bucket
next day we rented a car and headed into Texas hill country
up state highway 16 to Bandera, Texas. Bandera is a small
town of about less than a thousand people. It claims to
be the cowboy capital of the world. Along the way we passed
several dude ranches. Retreats for people in the country
to relax, go horseback riding, and home country cooking.
And thats just what we did.
After breakfast at the OST. (OST is an achronym for Old
Spanish Trail), a landmark restaurant in Bandera. It looked
like something out of a movie. Deer heads on the wall,
the bar stools were old saddles, the salad bar was in
a chuckwagon, and the back seating area was a room dedicated
to John Wayne. Pictures and posters of the Duke himself
on the walls. It doesnt get more cowboy than that. We
had breakfast and several cups of coffee. The people in
the restaurant all looked alike. Flannel shirts, kitch
sweaters with wildneress motifs, cowboy boots, and oh
yes, cowboy hats. As much as we tried to fit in, my partner
and I looked like totally urban.
We did an hour and a half of horseback riding at the Flying
L ranch, we moseyed back into town for lunch with quite
an appetite. Rather than going back to the OST we chose
to try the BBQ place a few doors down called Busbee’s
BBQ. Walking in, the big chalkboard read chicken, beef
ribs, pork ribs, brisket. I wanted to order everyting
! I stuck with my same order to be able to judge at the
end of the trip, where the best BBQ pork ribs were. A
half rack of pork ribs was served with a side of corn
on the cob, beans and bread. To wash it down, a cold beer.
In case your wondering, wine is nowhere to be found on
BBQ menus eventhough a good zinfandel or shiraz would
certainly pair well.
of the inspirations for our trip was a NY times article back in
March 1991 that mentions the small city of Lockhart, Texas and
an important city on the BBQ belt. In fact Texas legislature passed
a resolution in 2003 proclaiming Lockhart the BBQ capital of Texas.
Lockhart is about 30 minutes south on Highway 183. A town of about
10, 000 people. Hungry BBQ visitors out number them. Peter Lewis’s
article singles out two historic places in particular. Kreuz BBQ
and Black’s. explains that each place is a few blocks apart
geographically but different in terms of the meat. Off we went
to see what was all the fuss about. Kreuz was the first stop and
months of anticipation was about to end. The horse would return
to stable and all would be well. I was going to sink my teeth
into the most tender, succulent, pork ribs and be in the club.
Staring at the spedometer the whole way, trying to ignore the
piercing hunger pains we couldn’t get there fast enough.
Once we drove into the parking lot, I couldnt believe it. As soon
as we approached the door, the smell stopped me dead in my tracks.
The smell of woodsmoke filled my lungs and I was getting closer
to heaven. Down the hall, we walked in to the area where the ribs
were cooked and orders were placed. I stopped and stood in amazement.
The smell became more intense, and I my eyes had never seen something
like this. Long brick oven style smoker things with a top that
opens like a car hood and wood logs that go in on the bottom.
Once the top opened there they were.
MUCH DO YOU WANT!» I heard a voice shouting at me but I
was transfixed on the ribs in the smoker. The guy took out a big
slab and placed it on the cutting board and waited for me to answer.
«Uh THE WHOLE THING» . The guy took the slab, with
a cleaver cut the ribs then, dropped in on butcher paper and onto
a scale. The numbers read thirty dollars. Wont be long now! At
Kreuz, the sign on the way in said 'no utensils, no plates, and
no sauce. Good BBQ needs no sauce'. Interesting mantra. We walked
to a table in the dining room and sat down carrying the butcher
paper and enough ribs for a family of four. When I took the first
rib into my hands and stared at it, I noticed it was covered in
cracked black pepper and and the meat had a pinkish colour. Putting
it towards my nose, more wood. I opened my mouth and took a bite.
Then I took another. and another. One rib was done and on to the
next. And to the next. By the fifth one, I said to myself these
ribs could be summed up in one word. Intense.
Intense woodsmoke flavour. After four ribs the wood begins to
become intrusive. Intense black pepper. The first few ribs that
I ate so fast I nearly inhaled them, the spicy pepper didn’t
bother me, but after a few the black pepper crumbs formed a thin
coating on my toungue and after each one, it became too much.
Intense meat-after polishing off each rib and looking down at
the pile still in the butcher paper the pile didnt seem to get
smaller. I remember being full and still seeing more ribs that
what I ate.
These ribs were very good but not great. The ribs were meaty and
fresh. Each bite was a mouthfull. However the pepper and smoke
was a bit too loud for my ears. There was 6-7 ribs left in the
paper so i went to the counter for a doggie bag. «can i
please have a container for the leftovers» ? the guy looked
at me, turned around and ripped off more butcher paper. I laughed
at myself and went back to sit down.