Saturday, July 26, 2008

What I Miss Most About Texas

I am the proud owner of a subscription to Texas Monthly magazine, a quirk of considerable amusement for many of my damn Yankee New Hampshire friends. There are few issues I have enjoyed more than the “quinquennial” “Top 50 BBQ Joints in Texas.” Every five years, Texas Monthly reporters and editors fan out across the state, driving and eating all day long for many days straight in search of the state’s best barbeque. I may not live down that way anymore, but just reading the issue is enough to fill me up for a week. This year’s champ was a scrappier underdog and a bigger surprise than Rocky Balboa:

The best barbecue in Texas is currently being served at Snow’s BBQ, in Lexington [pop. 1200], a small restaurant open only on Saturdays and only from eight in the morning until whenever the meat runs out, usually around noon. Snow’s is remarkable not only for the quality of its meat but for the unlikeliness of its story. No one on staff had heard of it until we received a reader tip following our 2003 barbecue issue. To stumble upon a place this good and this unknown is every pit hound’s dream, and so we feel compelled to offer, as evidence in favor of our judgment, our story of discovery.

The story of Snow’s really is a fun read. Staffer after staffer had to check it out, they were so unable to believe the first reporter’s claims. My favorite TM writer, senior executive editor Paul Burka, rounded out the article:

I timed my arrival for one p.m. to see if Snow’s could pass the late-crowd test, but when I got there, the restaurant was closed. Sold out! Empty! Locked! I turned around and headed for Taylor to double-check Louie Mueller’s. The next week I made it to Snow’s before noon, but even as I was contemplating my choices, I heard Bexley telling a customer that the brisket was already gone—too late again. “Texas Monthly has been here the last two weekends,” he added.

“I’m the third,” I said. I ordered pork ribs, chicken, and pork butt. The pork ribs were fantastic. The chicken was perfectly done. The pork butt was tender and yielding. By the time I had finished, Bexley and I were alone. He called me to the counter. “I didn’t want to say anything while other people were here,” he said, “but my daughter is coming in today and I’ve put up some brisket for her. Would you like some?”

Never have I felt such an outpouring of gratitude for my fellow man. He reached into his private stash and put a single slice upon my plate. I took a bite . . . our quest for the best barbecue in Texas was over.

So why am I writing about this article now, two months after it first ran? Well, I remember thinkin’ when I first read it, “Man, I would love to try some of that Snow’s brisket! That might be worth a special trip back to Texas next summer… but man, those poor folks are going to be so overrun!” And sure enough, two months later, enter NPR’s John Burnett, who I also wrote about back in 2006 after meeting him at a book signing in New Orleans. Last Saturday, Burnett had a story about how, sure enough, the TM article has completely inundated the tiny staff at Snow’s. I recommend a listen… but not a special vacation.

Within Texas, the discovery of Snow's has been met with the excitement that elsewhere might herald the unearthing of an unknown Mayan city or the finding of an unfinished Hemingway manuscript…

On this morning, Snow's BBQ will sell out in about an hour. Some frustrated out-of-towners will climb back in their cars and vow to return next week even earlier. Miss Tootsie will worry that there's no barbecue left for her local customers, whom she's been serving for decades.

(Photo credit.)

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