Sunday, April 12, 2009

City Market in Luling, TX

A few hours later, I found myself in Luling, TX. A quaint little town south of Austin, Luling is famous for the Watermelon Thump and the City Market. As I walked inside the restaurant, I was filled with a sense of validation. I was in the presence of greatness.

You walk inside and the place looks exactly like you think a classic barbecue joint should. Part general store and part butcher shop, the wooden walls hold the smells of decades of barbecue.

The most unique part of the famous Texas barbecue spots is that they have separate rooms for ordering meat and sides. The pit is usually kept sealed off in the back, so you go in, order the meat you want and watch them open the pit to pull out the brisket, sausage and ribs. They slice it right in front of you and weigh it by the pound. From there they put it on butcher paper and ring you up, and you go out into the seating area to find a table and order your drink and sides at another counter. Wonderfully odd.

As I walked into the pit room at City Market, it was like entering heaven. The smell of smoked meat was overwhelming, and I felt like a kid looking at his first Playboy when they opened the pit to reveal hundreds of pounds of smoked goodness.

The four men working the pit stood proudly, like kings of the castle. When I told them I had driven in from Phoenix, they simply nodded, basically telling me “that’s cute son, let me know when you’ve crossed an ocean”.

Despite the blow off, I happily ordered a pound of brisket and a sausage link (I arrived too late for ribs) and walked out into the seating area. I went up to the front counter and ordered a Lone Star and some white bread. That’s when I noticed the small blocks of cheddar cheese laid out in 50, 60 and 75 cent increments. Proudly unrefrigerated and wrapped in plastic, this was definitely a new thing for me. As was the barbecue sauce in an old hot sauce bottle sitting open on the counter. I ordered a $0.60 piece of cheese and took the bottle of orange, spicy, mustard flavored sauce to my table.

If you walked into a normal restaurant and saw open sauce bottles and warm cheddar cheese on the counter, you would probably walk right out. But here it just seems to make sense, adding to the character.

The sausage had a crisp casing and popped with juice when you bit into it. Not overly flavorful, it had a unique taste that was much different than the smoked sausage I grew up on. The brisket was the real deal. It had a dark, flavorful outside and a wonderful smoke ring all the way around. While a couple of pieces were dry, others were tender, juicy and quite simply wonderful. An amazing combination of smoke and meat that left no doubt in my mind why this place was famous.

Happy and quite full, I left to scout out the next day’s locales.

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