Sunday, March 1, 2009

True BBQ - Elgin, Tx

We strolled out of Taylor Café late that Friday afternoon, with not a care in the world. Into the Chevy we pile again, pondering where to next…someone suggests Elgin, so that goes into the GPS…we’re already on the road, so it was an easy choice. A couple miles out of town our Canadian guest is amazed at the little shack on the side of the road with a big sign above it saying “GUNS”. Some old west traditions never die. The landscape between Taylor and Elgin is gentle. Trees and grasses are springing to life in the early spring sun. Ranches and acreage just pass by. Our conversations resume a breakneck pace, usually a couple going on at the same time.

As we approach the intersection to turn into Elgin, we notice Southside Market on the corner. We take a quick vote, unanimous to head in. At the NBBQA conference, Southside was featured in a couple presentations, branding and marketing. It was here that we first heard Bryan Bracewell speak of how they re-invented their brand image. He shared his passion for the family business and some of the challenges of being a 3rd generation owner. His motivation for growing this operation came naturally to him and his enthusiasm was contagious to those who met him. It made perfect sense to experience first hand the lessons we learned just one day earlier.

Our bellies were filled to capacity, so we stumbled and groaned our way out of the truck. The first thing we noticed was application or yesterday’s lesson: branding. The Southside Market emblem, sort of a coat of arms was prevalent everywhere you looked…and we hadn’t even entered the building yet. Stepping in the door you quickly realize this was a polar opposite operation at the front than from the previous two establishments. This place was meticulously clean. Everywhere you looked, Southside Market shields smiled at you. Merchandise was everywhere…bottled goods, apparel, packaged items, a full service meat counter, and of course the restaurant.

We casually strolled to the meat counter. Dave asked, “Is Bryan around?” Almost on cue, Bryan turned the corner. We introduced ourselves; a couple of us reminded him that we met him the day prior. Within minutes we were ushered through a door or two, embarking on our tour of Southside Market’s operations. This included a little extra since they not only produce sausage for consumption at the restaurant, but for regional retail distribution as well. This is a USDA approved and supervised operation and there’s nothing small about it.

Bryan spent a couple minutes giving us a family history, explaining how their revised brand vision had to be not only developed, but also sold to every interested party in the family, not a small undertaking with his grand parents. His commitment to his family is evident; it’s a commitment to take this brand to the next heights. We donned our hair nets and moved into the sausage making facility. Huge sausage stuffers, smokers, racks, storage…all the pieces for what it takes to sell LOTS of sausage. All the time the Southside Market shield was everywhere.

We moved from the sanitized confines of the sausage making part of the operation to where the smoking magic happens. Massive pits, smokers making brisket for the next day churning away, friendly staff everywhere were just indications that this operation had taken itself into the 21st century not only very well but with a passion that was undeniable.

We finally made it back out to the dining area. Bryan called back to his eager kitchen staff to let them know we wanted a “little sample platter”. We got drinks and started sauntering to our seats. Bryan emerged with one of the most incredible “little sample platter” I’d ever seen. It was huge.

Bryan let us know we didn’t have to eat it all, and he was also heading home. The time had come for him to enjoy time with his twin boys, the 4th generation Bracewells. His hospitality, passion, enthusiasm, dedication to his work and his family were a joy to witness.

There we sat, staring at this mountain of food. We dove in. Brisket and sausage and ribs and chicken and pork steak and…all so good. It was like Thanksgiving dinner sitting here with this bunch of BBQ freaks. We laughed until we cried, or maybe it was the jalapenos. We nibbled and picked until the brisket and sausage was gone. The 5 of us bonded that day, and there couldn’t have been a better way to end this True BBQ journey. There were other BBQ joints to hit, but not today.

We climbed back into the truck and rode into the sunset. How better could this adventure be scripted, an afternoon of experiencing the emotions of True BBQ capped by a perfect sun setting on the west Texas horizon? Just a couple days earlier we hardly knew each other, now, each of us feeling the effects of endorphins from our protein overload, knew we had forged new friendships, with each other, with True BBQ.

Brief Recap of True BBQ
To put a definition to “True BBQ” is doing it a disservice. It must be experienced. The 5 of us were fortunate to experience first hand some great examples; the perseverance of Vencil Mares, Wayne Mueller’s commitment to tradition, and Bryan Bracewell’s dedication to his family. But the glue that bonds all of them, their families, their staff, is deep-rooted passion; a passion for sharing a cuisine that is capable of conjuring such strong emotions of pride, Texas pride or American pride. Thanks again to all of you!


  1. Joey,
    My sincere Thanks to you for taking the time to write about our trip. I do not know if anyone could have summed it up better. I will forever remember this as one of my most treasured experiences and although our journey was only for a few hours I hope that the relationships that it has created will last much much longer. I spoke with Danielle on the phone today. Congrats on the column.

  2. Joey:
    I was talking to Danielle today as well, and she mentioned that you had summed up her 'Texas Experience' in words much better than she ever could, so she passed along the link to your blog. It was indeed a great read. Great job and thanks for putting your experience into words.
    take care,
    London, Ontario, CANADA

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