BBQ Capital of Texas ERGO THE WORLD

Yesterday, I finally made it down to Lockhart, Texas, historic Texas small town and the barbecue capital of Texas, “ergo the world,” as my buddy Josh Cross put it. Chef Josh is a Texan through and through but he’s also lived and worked in New York and traveled and eaten his way through Europe. I’d been angling for some time to do a ‘cue crawl with him.

Now, let me tell you, people, when the folks in Lockhart say they reside in the barbecue capital of Texas, they ain’t kidding…

First stop was the legendary Smitty’s Market, just one of the triad Black’s, Kreuz, and Smitty’s. It never ceases to amaze me how idiosyncratic Texas barbecue is: even though everyone is working with the same basic ingredients (brisket, beef rib, pork rib and loin, pork sausage) and cooking techniques (“low and slow” smoking), the expressions of the Texas bbq canon vary as widely as the people who do the cooking. In other words, everyone and every venue offers a distinctly personalized interpretation (the only thing consistent at each eatery is the swagger!).

Smitty’s is known for the juicy, untrimmed fat of its brisket. The smoked brisket and smoked prime rib were unbelievably good but the sausage… o the sausage… perfection…

Of all the bbq joints I’ve visited, Smitty’s is the most impressive for its atmosphere. On the weekend, folks wait hours on line in the smoking room itself, an “inferno,” where the raging fires are literally a span’s length from the chow line. We took our place in line at 11:30 and it took 45 minutes to reach the carving board.

The main dining room (above) is full of happy families and well-behaved children whose good manners are rewarded by the comfort food of all comfort foods (and Blue Bell ice cream for dessert).

There are plastic knives and spoons in the Smitty’s dining room but no forks: you eat the beans and other sides (potato salad, cole slaw, etc.) with the spoon but everything else is consumed religiously with one’s fingers.

I took this photo of chopped Live Oak in the Smitty’s wood pile. Josh explained how Live Oak is essential to central Texas bbq because it burns very hot but without releasing a lot of oil as Mesquite does. 90% Live Oak and 10% Mesquite, he said, is the ideal blend of wood types.

Over the weekend, Austin (about 45 minutes northwest from Lockhart) played host to the Republic of Texas Biker Rally 2010 and so there were bikers everywhere, from every walk of life, like this couple Marc and Kat, who sat next to us at Black’s. (For the record, whenever I photograph strangers for the blog, I always ask permission, just in case they’re wanted by the law.)

The beef rib at Black’s was simply amazing. The smokiness and dry rub had gently penetrated the meat, giving it a wonderful savoriness and spice, and it was so tender that you could cut it easily with a plastic nice (look how even the plastic sliced it!).

But the brisket at Black’s… o my goodness, the brisket… Here, the brisket has been smoked for so long that the smoke ring is entirely black and the meat is so tender that it literally melts in your mouth. Of all the truly delicious things I ate yesterday, the brisket at Black’s was the dish that really blew me away… amazing stuff…

We never did make it to Kreuz Market yesterday but I promise I will before summer’s end in a gesture of purely selfless altruism in order to satisfy your insatiable culinary curiosity.

I’m sure that BrooklynGuy would approve of my self-sacrifice for your gastronomic well-being!

Buona domenica, ya’ll! (That means, “enjoy your Sunday,” for those of you who don’t speak eyetalian.)

Leaving on a jet plane for Barbera (and recent good stuff in San Antonio)

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go…

Above: Whole fish at Andrew Weissman’s Sand Bar in San Antonio.

It’s hard to believe but it’s true: tomorrow I’ll be leaving again for Italy, just three weeks after our return from our honeymoon there and our move into our new home, a little rental on the northwest side of Austin.

Above: Josh Cross’s Duck burger topped with foie gras at Oloroso in San Antonio.

Life has been so rich and flavorful lately, as the wine world seems to regain its footing and I can only thank my lucky stars for all the interesting projects I’ve got lined up for 2010. It’s a wonderful time for me and Tracie P (née B) but I know that the glow I feel is for the joy that she has brought to my heart. When she smiles at me, it feels as if the whole world smiles at me as well.

Above: A marinara with marinated, fresh anchovies at Doug Horn’s Dough Pizzeria Napoletana in San Antonio.

I feel so fortunate that I’m getting to travel to Italy for the second time this year — and with a group of really cool bloggers. We’ll be posting about our tastings and adventures in the land of Barbera over at the Barbera2010 blog. (Today, we posted an awesome guest spot from McDuff, one of my favorite wine bloggers, who wasn’t able to join us in realtime.)

Above: Alfonso and I enjoyed a bottle of Barbera last night in San Antonio at Il Sogno.

Once upon a time and a very good time it was. I can’t help but thank my lucky stars for this special time in our lives. I’m so happy to be surrounded by loving folks these days and all the good things that are happening work-wise right now. As my friend Slava back in New York used to say, I should “suck a lime.”

But it’s going to be awfully hard to board that plane tomorrow. I know I’ll be back soon but it only gets harder and harder to tell that lovely lady of mine good-bye. I’ll miss her terribly…

All my bags are packed I’m ready to go
I’m standin’ here outside your door
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye
But the dawn is breakin’ it’s early morn
The taxi’s waitin’ he’s blowin’ his horn
Already I’m so lonesome I could die

Oh babe, I hate to go…

Giacosa and Mauro Mascarello spar over 2006

Above: A recent photo of iconic Langa producer Bruno Giacosa.

Over at VinoWire, Franco and I have posted a preview of Franco’s article on Bruno Giacosa’s controversial decision not to bottle his 2006 Barbaresco and Barolo (to appear in the February issue of Decanter Magazine). But you’ll have to click over to VinoWire to get it. It marks the first time that Giacosa has spoken directly to the English-speaking world on the polemic move. You might be surprised by what some of his peers and interlocutors have to say about the vintage.

In other news… from the “just for gastronomic fun” department…

It’s that time of year again when we spacciatori di vino (wine pushers) hit the streets and start showing our wares again. It’s been good to reconnect with a lot of folks I only see when I’m on the road, like my good friend Josh Cross, who always has something fun on the menu at his awesome restaurant Oloroso in San Antonio. Josh and I both worked in the New York restaurant scene during the better part of the last decade and so we have a lot of friends in common.

He’s open for lunch now and so he treated me to one of his lunch specials, a take on “pigs in a blanket” (above): housemade venison sausage, cased in a runza dough kolache bun, served with a fig mustard and piquillo pepper relish.

I really like his sous chef Ernesto Martinez’s take on the German and Czech historical presence in Central Texas. How’s that for fusion?

Today, I’m on my way from Dallas to Houston, where I’ll be speaking at a wine tasting tonight. In less than a week, my beautiful Tracie B and I will be leaving for San Diego and the final preparations for our wedding. I wish ya’ll could see the grin on my face as I write this from a Starbucks in Ennis, Texas! :-)

Food porn: cod cheeks, rabbit loin, and tannic Gamay in San Antonio

Above: “If a French cook and an Italian cook met at the border on the coast what would they cook? Cod cheeks with arugula, fingerlings, house-cured pancetta, and saffron aioli.” That’s how Josh Cross describes one of his favorite dishes at Oloroso in San Antonio.

If you read Do Bianchi, then you’ve heard me say it before: of all the cities I’ve visited in Texas, San Antonio is by far the most gastronomically exciting, as in the case of Oloroso, where I hung out the other day and paired some cru Beaujolais — Côte de Brouilly by Château Thivin — with my friend, chef, and owner Josh Cross.

Above: Josh’s signature rabbit includes all the innards, the rabbit “fajitas” (in the foreground), and the loin, extra rare.

Although I’ve always been a lover of French wine and I’ve sold a lot of French wine on the floor of Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego, I’ve never had the opportunity to spend so much time professionally with French wine and I’m loving it (the company I work for represents the Kermit Lynch portfolio in Texas). I snagged a bottle of the Thivin (which I sell) the other day and popped it with Josh at the end of a work day. It’s amazing how tannic Gamay can be in its single-vineyard expressions and the wine had just the right lightness to go with Josh’s cod and enough structure to pair perfectly with his rabbit. (Eric did a series of posts and a column on cru Beaujolais last year, definitely worth checking out.)

Life could be worse…