It’s a bit of an understatement to say that I had some BBQ for lunch today, and perhaps closer to the truth to say that thanks to Luling City Market (Luling, TX) my faith in American restaurants has been rejuvenated. The food was wonderful, but even better, the restaurant itself was as well honed as the finest Parisian neighborhood restaurant.
One enters through the two dining rooms, packed with local families and couples (equally Mexican, White, and Black), and finds in the back the enclosed smokehouse where one orders the meat. For $8 a pound one gets brisket and pork ribs, and for $1.75 more a smoked homemade beef sausage. Pickles and onions and fluffy white bread are available, and many people ordering for a family carried off a whole loaf of bread still in the plastic bag. The meat is served on two layers of butcher paper with the corners folded up to make it easier to carry to your table.
From a counter in the middle of the dining room one can order soft drinks (Big Red and root beer seemed most popular), potato salad, and beans. If you had two people you could save a bit of time by each hitting one line, but the experience wouldn’t really be complete for either one. The sauce (sweet, mustardy, red-peppery, black-peppery goodness) is already in bottles on the tables, but you can get more from the counter if the bottle is empty.
The beef sausage was coarse and juicy, almost like a burger that was smoked in a casing. It was good, but not really my thing. The ribs were sweet, succulent, and salty, also good, but I like my pork a little drier and spicier. The beans were straightforward, unspiced pintos — a nice complement, but forgettable. The potato salad was standard mayonnaised stuff, but perked up nicely with some of the sauce added. But the brisket, the brisket was perfect: crispy on the outside, moist and juicy inside, wood smoke throughout, too good even for the otherwise tremendous sauce.
There may be better brisket out there (I’ve yet to eat the neighboring BBQ mecca of Lockhart) but this was pretty good. And as restaurants go, this is the sort of place one should take food conscious Europeans or Asians to show them that at least in parts of this country we know how to eat too.
I went to Kreuz Market in Lockhart today, and while good it didn’t exceed my expectations the way that Luling City Market did. While the smoked prime rib was delicious, at $20/lb I’m pretty sure it wasn’t more than twice as good as the brisket at Luling. The brisket at Kreuz’s ($10/lb vs $8/lb) was excellent (probably juicier than Luling) but a bit salty for my taste. The clod shoulder (also $10/lb) was very good, and an interesting example of a drier cut, but not as good as the brisket at either establishment.
The sides at Kreuz (German Potato Salad and Saurkraut) were disappointing, and the overall ambiance was of disinterested workers and industrial scale. It was friendly, but definitely felt like a commercial establishment rather than a neighborhood favorite. Certainly Kreuz has better BBQ than can be found just about anywhere else in the country, but given the choice for a single visit I’d definitely choose Luling City Market. I’m still hoping to try the other Lockhart establishments, though.