Texas Forever: A Dinner Club Wedding Story (Part 1)
Remember Dinner Club? I barely do. My on-again-off-again monthly dinner series with a group of gourmand friends has been quiet of late, but that does not mean we haven’t been busy. One of us even got engaged! (Hint: It’s not me) This led the entirety of the club to descend on the small city of Shiner, Texas this past weekend to celebrate the union of one our souls to…well, a different, not-one-of-us soul. Dinner Club is growing to include a new member! Sorry, other prospective members, there’s no more room…for now.
My weekend wedding adventure began a day early, on Thursday. I awoke at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m. to make my 8 a.m. flight from Los Angeles to Austin. After a brief delay the flight was smooth as could be. I think we actually landed a few minutes early. I was off the plane and picking up my rental car before 2 p.m. local time. The drive from the airport to my hotel took all of fifteen minutes, and after check-in, I decided to go find something to eat.
This being a trip that revolved around the wedding of a foodie friend, I thought the best use of my free time would be to explore some of the best eats in the area. My boss has been singing the praises of Kreuz Market in Lockhart for as long as I can remember. As a MEAT obsessive and lover of decadent (and unhealthy!) foods, he’s never afraid to put his reputation on the line when it comes to the best _______ ever. Whether it’s bacon, steaks, BBQ, foie gras-topped so-and-so, wagyu something-or-other, he’s got countless recommendations for you. Kreuz Market, in his opinion, serves the best BBQ in the country. So I went there for lunch Thursday afternoon.
As much as I would love to throw shade at him — as much as I would love to shoot him down and lay waste to his claim — he’s right about Kreuz’s. Their brisket is, without a doubt, the best I have ever had. They eschew seasonings beyond salt and pepper. They use a “neutral” wood (oak) instead of something like cherry or hickory or maple, which lets the true essence of the meat shine through. It might be on the salty side for some palates, but I absolutely loved it. The house-made sausage (original, not the jalapeno one) is equally outstanding. I’m less into sausage than I am brisket so a more-focused eater might be more apt to dispute its greatness. The beef shoulder was the worst part of the meal and it was still above-average. The sides were extremely good without detracting from the stars of the show (the meat). Without pontificating too much, I think places like Kreuz Market get short shrift because they’re not “hip.” The place has been around since 1900 and it’s not exactly swarming with fawning hipsters, cell phones at the ready to capture that perfect Instagram shot. It’s not served out of an Airstream trailer by a guy with a handlebar mustache. You might not see it on millennial food blogger guides to Austin. It’s just BBQ, prepped and served the way it should be, and I was absolutely floored by how good it was.
After my very large lunch, I decided to swing by Smitty’s in Lockhart just to try the brisket to compare it to Kreuz’s. It was good, but a little drier and just felt a little less than. I made a plan to try the third of the Lockhart trifecta, Black’s, before the end of my trip. I returned to Austin feeling like a blueberry.
My afternoon included a stop at Live Oak Brewing Company. Live Oak is on the outskirts of Austin, right near the airport, in a town that I guess is called Del Valle (according to their website). I’m familiar with their HefeWeizen, which pops up in cans sometimes around town. In my beer nerd research prior to this trip, I looked up where to drink other than Jester King, and Live Oak seemed to be very highly respected. I could not have been more impressed with the beers I consumed there. The thing about Live Oak is, there isn’t anything flashy on their menu. No pastry stouts, none of those genre-defying nuisances like milkshake IPAs or brut IPAs or glitter beers or whatever the fuck today’s style du juor is. If I had to describe Live Oak, I’d say “Light beers, lightly treated, all expertly crafted. Complex, but easy drinking.” Grodziskie is described as smoked Polish “champagne,” but I got something similar to a lightly-smoked lager, maybe like the helles Threes makes that I loved so much earlier this year when I came across it. Lichtenhainer is a smoked sour weissbier that again was super refreshing and delicious. The worst beer of the five I tried was their attempt at a fruity, hazy IPA…which was fine. For the rest of the weekend when I was at a bar or restaurant with tap lists that didn’t really grab my attention I was more than happy to order the Live Oak Pilz, or Big Bark Amber, or the Hefe. Writing this now, I really want to track down some cans of that Grodziskie.
My Thursday night ended with grub and grog at Austin Beer Garden Brewery. Were it not for the weather (dreary, a little rainy) I would say this is one of the best places in Austin to imbibe. I wound up at the corner of the bar, quietly catching up on the news stories of the day on my phone will methodically working my way through the ABGB’s menu. I started with the Hell Yes helles lager, which won the gold medal at this year’s GABF in the Munich-style helles category (if you can’t already tell, I think 2018 is the year of the helles lager for me). Then I navigated to the Rocket 100 American-Style Pilsner, Goochie Meow Meow Session IPA, and finally the YSB #15 Melonie, a sour made with six melons, cucumber, mint and basil. While doing so, I munched on some bacon-wrapped quail thighs with apple and gorgonzola. My night ended hailing a cab home in the rain.
My overall impressions of Austin on Thursday were that the BBQ in nearby Lockhart is the country’s best, and at least two of Austin’s breweries are doing fantastic things with session-able light beers. On Friday, the rest of my friends would arrive in Austin and the proper wedding weekend festivities would commence.
W.G. Snuffy Walden – Friday Night Lights Theme [mp3]
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