BBQ, Texas Wildflowers, and Friends: Snow’s, Louie Mueller, Taylor Cafe, and Freedmen’s Bar

Snow’s BBQ
516 Main Street
Lexington, TX

Louie Mueller Barbecue
206 W 2nd Street
Taylor, TX

Taylor Café
101 N Main St
Taylor, TX

Freedmen’s Bar
2402 San Gabriel Street
Austin, TX

BBQ, Wildflowers, and Friends

The sun began to rise in my rear view mirror and cast the first light of the day across fields of Texas wildflowers. Leslye and I had left the house at 6 am and were on our way to Snow’s BBQ in Lexington Texas. There we would meet John Brotherton and begin a day of feasting on some of the best BBQ in the state. Passing the hills blanketed with the blooming wildflowers I knew this was going to be a great day.

Snow’s BBQ

We arrived at Snow’s right as they opened at 8am. They are only open on Saturdays, and by opening this early it is easy to use them as a launching pad for a multi-stop BBQ trip. The barbecue served up here is outstanding, and the folks running the joint are some of the nicest I’ve ever met. Lexington is home to only around 1,200 people and sits far enough from major highways that I have never found reason to stop by the quaint town for reasons other than barbecue. A tourist draw, many people will bring their camera and ask for a picture with Kerry Bexley, Tootsie Tomanetz, and/or Herschel Tomanetz, all of who help run the pits. Every time I have witnessed it they stop and take the time to pose for the picture. Imagine people taking pictures of you all day at your job, and often asking you to stop what you are doing in order to be photographed? It would be easy for me to get cranky but that doesn’t happen here. The happiness and pride is contagious and I love starting my BBQ runs with Snow’s as my first stop.

Kerry, Tootsie, and Herschel (AKA Hershie)

Kerry, Tootsie, and Herschel (AKA Hershie)

There can be lines at Snow’s later in the morning, and especially between 11 and 12. Make the trip out to Lexington before 10 and you will be greeted with a very short wait. There was only one person in line by the time we were ready to order.

Leslye and I met up with John Brotherton for our first meal of the day. It was still a little chilly so I asked John if we could eat inside. I ordered fatty brisket, a single large pork rib, and a piece of jalapeno sausage. A small side of potato salad and a cup of the “always free” pinto beans rounded out a BBQ breakfast. With an iced Tea my total was just over $17, with the brisket here running only an amazing $11.95 a pound. John ordered an all pork selection, holding out on the beef until stops number two and three.

The brisket here has consistently been exceptional. Most of the big BBQ joints are running $14-$16 a pound currently, with some exceeding $17. With beef costs rising, I don’t know how long Snow’s can maintain that price, but they provide a great value.

Next up was one my new favorites here, the pork ribs. I’m not a fan of them normally, but they are so tender and smoky the sensation is sublime. The sausage is also very solid here and I ate as much as I could while trying hard to pace myself for a long day of feasting.

When our meal was done we wandered outside near the pits. They have a few large picnic tables set out by the pits and I normally hang out here while eating. The smoke from two large offset pits, a wood-to-coal burner, and the large square top pits billows into the seating area and it smells wonderful. I think this is what heaven must smell like. One can also witness Kerry, Tootsie, and Herschel working their magic on the pits. I gazed mesmerized as 78 year old Tootsie tossed wood logs on the fire. When she had a brief moment to rest we chatted about the brisket they produce. The bark here is moister than many and she said some people ask for a crunchy bark. Her response was that she likes to make a product that is tender all the way through, and if you want some crunch you can take a bite of a wood chip. We both laughed and I responded that I like the tender bark here, and I like crunchier bark elsewhere. I don’t think there is bark style necessarily better than the other, and I don’t want Snow’s to change a thing.

The newer pit is getting good use

The newer pit is getting good use

If you consider yourself a fan of Texas BBQ, you simply must experience Snow’s.

We rolled out of Lexington and began to make our way toward Taylor Texas via FM 112. There is a temporary detour that John had told us about and we followed him through gravel, dirt, and eventually to an oiled dirt road before reconnecting with good asphalt back on FM 112. It was just after 10am when we arrived at Louie Mueller Barbecue.

Louie Mueller Barbecue

Louie Mueller opens at 10am and that is the second big tip in this article; get here well before 11am and you can beat the lines, even on a Saturday. I’ve been there after 11 and the wait can hit 45 minutes to an hour. Sure it’s nothing like Franklin BBQ in Austin and their epic lines, but still long enough to affect planning of a multi stop BBQ run.

Meeting our crew for the rest of the trip was Robert Bassett, a friend for 32 years and Austinite. He didn’t grasp the concept of BBQ breakfast so he passed on Snow’s and met up with us here. Each of the stops would be Robert’s first time so he had a lot in store.

Swing open the screen door and you will be indulged in a feast of the senses. Light shines through in beams slicing through smoke as the smell fills your nostrils. Since 1959 this same building has been serving up BBQ fans for generations, and the walls are filled with mementos. Before long your eyes will strike the wall of business cards, brown with smoke. Bring one along and tape it up amongst the hundreds of others. The building, which formerly housed a gymnasium has tall ceilings and is unlike any other BBQ establishment I know of.

Robert and Leslye eat at my favorite table

Robert and Leslye eat at my favorite table

When it comes time to place your order you will be treated to a standing tradition here, a sample bite of the brisket. Beef ribs are also very popular and delicious here and I’ve had them before but I was reserving that option for the final joint of the day. I ordered up some brisket and a chipotle sausage, one of my favorites. The beef based sausage here is juicy and the casing has a nice snap. The Chipotle sausage is spicy and I dripped some of the juice onto my brisket to spice it up as well, just for grins.

I always like dessert here, and The Q Card provide a free Peach Cobbler with Blue Bell ice cream, a great deal.

 

Brisket, Chipotle Sausage, and the voucher for peach cobbler

Brisket, Chipotle Sausage, and the voucher for peach cobbler

 

Taylor Cafe

We finished up and headed over to Taylor Café, a spot I have wanted to hit for a while. The story behind the restaurant and proprietor Vencil Mares is amazing. He joined the army at 16, fought in WWII, and opened up Taylor Café in 1948. Things haven’t changed much since then and at 90 years old he still comes into the restaurant to work. Daniel Vaughn has a great interview with Mares you can read by clicking here. The building sits just below the bridge on Main Street and it’s easy to miss. The famous façade that was featured in a super bowl ad faces the railroad tracks so keep an eye out when looking for it.

Taylor Cafe

Taylor Cafe

Taylor Cafe entrance

Taylor Cafe entrance

One thing about Taylor Café, it isn’t a faux dive. It is an honest one. Don’t expect fancy or new here, but I think it’s perfect like it is. Step in the door and the counter is just a few feet away. Stools line up along the counter, and an old juke box and pool table look like they have had a lot of use over the years. An old cash register is behind the counter and I spotted a “no beer tabs” sign. We were handed an autographed newspaper article about Vencil as we sat down but didn’t spot him. We ordered up some brisket and checked out all the memorabilia as we ate.

Cash Register at Taylor Cafe

Cash Register at Taylor Cafe

When done, I asked the waitress if Vencil was around as I’d like to have something autographed. After checking in the back she ushered us back to his office. I was virtually shaking as we stepped inside, anxious to meet a living legend. In the office I noticed the cigar boxes holding financial records that Vaughn mentioned in his article, some animal heads mounted on the wall, and personal memorabilia. Vencil took the time to talk to us, sign my plaque, and allow a picture with him. From serving our country to serving us BBQ, Vencil is a special man and Taylor Café is a special place. Make it a point to stop there the next opportunity you can.

Vencil Mares, an amazing man

Vencil Mares, an amazing man – Photo by Robert Basset

With three stops down John Brotherton had to leave the rolling party so we bid him farewell. We needed a bit of a break before eating again so we headed to Robert’s house to kill an hour or so. I was born and grew up in Austin and I always complain about the traffic; this time was no different. I’ll spare you the details but eventually we made it to Freedmen’s Bar on San Gabriel Street to check out Evan LeRoy’s BBQ and have a cold beer or two. Ernest Ojeda was to join us for our final BBQ meal of the day.

Freedmen’s Bar

Freedmen’s is a bit different than most BBQ joints. The building itself was built in 1869 by a former slave and details can be found by clicking here. It is renovated into a classy upscale bar with a BBQ pit out back firing the meat for patrons. The BBQ is not a separate endeavor; it is all mixed into a singular experience inside the fully stocked bar or on the open patio just outside. A pitcher of Lone Star beer satisfied our thirst while we waited for a few plates of BBQ. Ernest ordered lean brisket, and Leslye and I shared fatty brisket and a beef rib with Robert.

Fatty on left, lean on right, all good at Freedmen's Bar

Fatty on left, lean on right, all good at Freedmen’s Bar

The food was phenomenal. The brisket was smoky with a delicious bark and the beef rib was wickedly good.  Evan had given us a nice piece of burnt end and it was tingle-worthy. The Magic Tingle is when the mixture of salt, pepper, perfectly rendered fat, and beef hits your pallet with a sensation that literally travels through your body.

Ernest showing off the Beef Rib with Leslye ready to eat

Ernest showing off the Beef Rib with Leslye ready to eat

The beef rib was succulent and crusted just right while still being tender and moist beneath the peppery bark. It was also as big as Leslye’s foot. The BBQ here was so good I had to close my eyes when taking a bite.

Delicious beef rib at Freedmen's - Photo by Robert Bassett

Delicious beef rib at Freedmen’s – Photo by Robert Bassett

We need to have a second and possibly third trip, but based on the single visit Freedmen’s could easily notch into our top 10, and even potentially our top 5. Yes, it was that good.

Four meals had been downed but a three hour drive was still to lay ahead for Leslye and myself, so we bid adieu to Ernest and Robert and headed back to Houston with memories of the day running through our minds. The gang at Snow’s, Louie Mueller BBQ, the amazing Vencil Mares and his crew, and Evan LeRoy and the staff at Freedmen’s bar made for an unforgettable day of BBQ touring with friends old and new.

-BBQ Bryan