Patillo’s Bar-B-Q – Beaumont TX
Growing up in Beaumont, Patillo’s is the first BBQ joint I ever went to. It celebrates its 100th year in continuous business this year. I went to high school just down the street on 11th St, and came here a lot in high school. Even brought a couple of dates here. The 11th St. location closed last year after the owners sold the property to Jack in the Box. It reopened in a previous location on Washington Blvd that had been around since the 1950s but closed after a hurricane a few years ago. It’s been remodeled and brought up to code. There’s a certain time-capsule quality about the barbecue here – this is by all accounts the same barbecue that’s been cooked by this family at least for the last few decades, if not the last century. And that’s a good thing in my opinion. The barbecue is unique and personal in a way.
Brisket is sliced thin soaked in a throwback sauce that is neither tomato, vinegar or mustard-based. It has a watery consistency, with a base that’s vaguely of beef stock, with plenty of fat floating throughout, and spiked with black pepper, chile powder and possibly some cumin. It’s a fascinating recipe, certainly different, but it works. For me the quintessential dish here is the East TX juicy link, which is made up of left over beef bits and traditionally seasoned with chile and paprika and big chunks of garlic. These are the most authentic juicy links I’ve ever found, thanks to the fat content. A lot of barbecue joints in East TX have cut back on the fat content of their links for health reasons. Not Patillo’s. It literally explodes with liquid fat that’s the color, consistency and flavor of the fat you scrape off the top of a pot of Texas red chili. This is the way they used to make juicy links in East TX.
Lenox Barbecue – Houston TX
When you open the door to Lenox Bar-B-Q, you walk into a kitchen. You’re not sure if you’re supposed to be there. Employees, some who look like they’ve been there for decades, wave you in. You walk past them as they make sides and trim briskets. You place your order in the back, next to wood-paneled offices that look like they haven’t changed since the 1970s. This is technically a takeout joint, so you stand around in a narrow hallway waiting for your order. You’ll probably be standing next to construction workers or policemen. Lenox has been around for more than 60 years. In 2009, the property was condemned to allow a light-rail line to run though here. Lenox had a big closing party to mourn the tearing down of the building. But owner Erik Mrok got a great idea. He just tore down the front half of the building which was the dining room. The kitchen and smokers were in the back half of the building, so he kept that, and now the front door is what used to be the kitchen door.
The smokers here are more than 40 years old and are the original prototypes of the all-wood rotisserie smokers made famous by the Oyler Co. The smoke room here is like nothing else I’ve seen in Texas – big, steel, hot, loud, sooty smokers in a tiny room. My friend Fulmer says it’s like being in the engine room of a World War II German U-boat. Mrok considered disassembling and moving his smokers elsewhere, but when the Oyler people came to look at them they said if they tried to take them apart and move them, they’d just fall apart. So the kitchen and smokers stayed. The barbecue here can be hit-or-miss, but mostly hit in my experience. Only open for lunch, 11-2 weekdays.
Snow’s BBQ – Lexington TX
A lot has changed in the world of Texas barbecue since Snow’s BBQ was the surprise #1 pick in the Texas Monthly Barbecue issue of June 2008. Bobby Mueller of Louie Mueller Barbecue would pass away unexpectedly a few months later. Lance Kirkpatrick, longtime LM employee, now has his own worthy joint in Austin – Stiles Switch. Son John Mueller, once the presumptive heir to the LM dynasty, has opened his own place in Austin. Older son Wayne has taken over the reins at LM and has made it better than ever. Aaron Franklin came out of nowhere to be the new king of Texas barbecue. National media is spreading the gospel of Texas barbecue far and wide. Food personalities like Anthony Bourdain and Guy Fieri make their pilgrimages, trailed by entourages and camera crews and hordes of dedicated viewers, leaving in their wake some quiet grumbling by the Texas barbecue faithful.
And through it all, Snow’s BBQ has remained the same. Showing up at 10am on a Saturday, there’s rarely a long line anymore (they’re all at Franklin’s I guess) and if there is, regulars and locals know to go around to the pits where Tootsie or Kerry will ring you up with a pound of this or that – no waiting. Wanna show cousin Marty from up north the pits? Hershel Tomanetz, Tootsie’s son, is always eager to give you a tour. The best experience in Texas barbecue is still getting up early on a crisp, cool, sunny Saturday morning in October, driving the 2 hours to Lexington, ordering a steaming pile of fatty brisket and eating a barbecue breakfast at Snow’s.