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We 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 disaster.
Too 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.
The 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.
In 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 list.

One 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.
«HOW 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.