Thursday, September 23, 2010

True BBQ Revisited – 2 Years Later: Kruez

The following is a blog I wrote some time ago...taken a little while to get it up to the public's eye, but still worthy of pubishing. Take a read...Joey Mac

Hard to believe that almost 2 years ago we had that voyage to Taylor…Wayne Mueller’s story, Vencil Mayer’s steely eyes, Brian Bracewell’s family pride…all leaving such an indelible image in my memory…True BBQ…True Texas BBQ…

Well it happened again. This time it was in Lockhart TX…home of three of the most venerable BBQ shacks in Texas, the whole country for that matter. Spent the week in San Antonio for work. Putting in long hours making an engine work began to worry me that I wasn’t going to make it to Lockhart. So on Wednesday I simple stated to my colleagues, we’re going for BBQ tonight and we’ll need to leave here early enough to make it.

My guests on this trek need a little introduction:
Martin – a gentleman from Austria who is in Texas for the first time. An adventurous person, he fit right in.
John – a Texas transplant who hails from Michigan. He’s been in Texas for nearly two years and he admits it was time for him to experience some True Texas BBQ.

San Antonio traffic was a little heavier getting out of town than I cared for but oh well. Ms. GPS said we’d get to Lockhart by 6:45…plenty of time. So this hour + drive is filled with tales of college football, places to see in Europe, a little work, but my mind was flipping pages of Peace Love and BBQ, recalling conversations with Kevin from Kruez, reading through emails from Chris and Dave to set the tone of what to expect.

I could not have scripted the next part any better. Getting off the expressway, you get onto a nice 4 lane highway…that highway merges down to a wide 2 lane…the next left turn finds you on a rural highway, still paved, winding through fields of hay, milo, a little corn, and pastures with the venerable longhorn. Their majestic horns looking ominous and yet so perfect for what we going to do. The look on Martin’s face at the site of those cattle was exactly what I wanted. Yes, we do have some interesting creatures here in the States, and in Texas especially.

On the outskirts of town I was smacked in the face of a reality of the 21st century, you cannot escape the track home subdivisions. Here in this town off the beaten track was a series of ugly two story track homes that could have been anywhere…Chicago, Cleveland, San Jose. This isn’t what I needed to see. But about the time that thought was starting to illicit disappointment in my psyche, we passed up some marvelously looking homes…large homes, wooden homes, huge front porches, rocking chairs on the front porch, folks out watering flowers and chatting in the warm east Texas evening. Approaching town, it got even better…wooden sidewalks, 19th century gables on store fronts, dates on the front of houses…1901 etc. This is more like it. Turning left on to Commerce street we passed storefronts and pick ups. Made it through town…we were seemingly heading right out of town when we were stopped at the tracks by what had to be the slowest train EVER!! Clock now said 7:10, and I’m panicing…we have two BBQ shrines to see in 50 minutes. My friends don’t really know that, they just think we’re heading to Kruez.

In between train cars, you can see peeks of the crimson building that I’d only seen pictures of but know it was right. Train passes and there it stands, the back end of the place so many of my friends say define the epitome of Texas BBQ. We pull up, park amongst all the pick up trucks and a corvette. John’s BMW is a little out of place. I have to pause a moment to look around. Just take in the front of the place…walking on the wooden porch…the banging of the screen door…Louis Mueller’s come racing back into my mind…like a drug induced flashback, my pace quickens a bit. I open the door and let my guests in. The sign directing vegetarians into grocery store makes them chuckle. I gait down the hall. I find myself wishing I was here at noon…being able experience a line all the way out the door, but instead we make our way unabated. Then we walked into the meat room. I know my mouth was agape for at least 2 minutes. The sight of so many pits, real pits, real Texas pits, just dumbfounded me. Only a couple were going at this hour. The smell of post oak filled the room, going right to my brain. Walked up to the counter…realizing that I really didn’t know what the proper etiquette was…I hadn’t even looked at a menu, I hadn’t even seen a menu and to be honest with you, I’m not sure I ever really saw one. I felt like I was coming home (damn…listening to Robert Earl Keen singing…I’m coming home as im writing this). The Hispanic gentleman behind the counter looked tired and acted even more tired. Yet he was polite and to the point. I ordered up a pound of brisket, some fatty side and some flat side…and two rings of sausage…yes bread and crackers.

I’d envisioned having my food wrapped up in butcher paper so many times, that it didn’t phase me at all. My dinner guests were amazed…where’s the tray, where’s the plate, where’s the fork…I was having a hard time taking the next steps into the place. Something about this room gave me pause. Oh I knew full well that it is of relatively new contruction, they were in the process of creating history rather than perpetuating it. Because of that, the place gave me a feeling of being half in a museum, half in a Cracker Barrel, but some of the items and pictures in there were perfect and as I was explaining to my guests why we order the food the way we did, it became more clear to me. Part of this place is blazing a new historic trail for Texas BBQ, but there is a part of it that is preserving that purest form of BBQ delight. I was also realizing, again for what must be a thousand time, that as hard as we try to make BBQ be about food, its not. BBQ is so clearly about sharing. Here the Kreuz family preserving a piece of history that just cannot be recreated. Society won’t allow it. The communal nature of everyone ordering from the a common chopping block…getting their extras in a store…its just not the way people dine anymore. The fact that Kreuz preserves this tradition is worth the trip to this shrine anytime for anybody.

I admit, initially I was disappointed. The folks there were ready to go home it was obvious. But somewhere in my recollecting this visit it became more clear. There is so much more about Kreuz than the food, although I have to tell everyone, in my opinion, they have THE BEST SAUSAGE ever!!! Hands down, no questions asked. Everything about it was perfect, flavor, texture, casing…so not only is their BBQ good, their food is too.

Before we walked out I had to stroll back through that hall of pits again. I chatted with the counter help a little, I wasn’t meeting any owners today, they’d all gone home. I took one big breath in, closed my eyes and listened to the crackling fires, the banging lids and the knife assaulting the block. And yes, this was True Texas BBQ. Thank you Kreuz!

BBQ, sliced beef and bread
Ribs and sausage and a cold Big Red
Bbq make the whole world see ya
Bbq makes everybody someone
If you’re feeling puny. Don’t know what to do
Get yourself some meat
Eat some BBQ…

Robert Earl Keen…BBQ

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