Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Snow's Barbecue (9/10) - 516 Main St. Lexington, TX 78947

Texas Monthly's most recent annual Top 50 BBQ Joints in Texas legitimately elevated a once lesser known barbecue establishment to the top of the Texas scene.  Snow's, located in Lexington, Texas, a remote town northeast of Austin, only operates one day a week -- Saturday.  It opens bright and early in the morning and keeps its doors open until all its barbecue has run out.   Since the article's release in June of '08, people have been flocking in droves to wait for the highly acclaimed barbecue -- at least what Texas Monthly crowned the champion of Texas barbecue.  The restaurant's mantra is to smoke meat until it runs out.  Prior to the article's distribution, Snow's typically prepared approximately 300 pounds of meat for its typical Saturday crowd -- enough food to last until 2pm.  Greater demand for their product has driven their production to greater than 1,200 pounds and that supply might only last till 10am.  If you want to sample Snow's, you definitely have to make a commitment to this trip to Lexington, which I might add is about an hours drive from Austin, and ensure you leave early enough to beat the crowd.  I was in Austin for ACL, and I definitely didn't want to miss out.    

The team at Snow's all came together to run a part-time restaurant.  Tootsie Tomanetz brought her barbecue experience to take responsibility as the main pitmaster, and it definitely helped that she had over 40 years of relative experience.  The rest of the crew, leveraging their previous expertise in construction, built all the pits (there were plenty surrounding the outside dining area) from scratch.  

The upcoming weeks before ACL, I started an onslaught of propoganda to convince my friends who were in town for the festivities to make this trip with me.  Considering that we had rented an RV and kept it fairly stocked with booze, it didn't really need to push too hard on everyone.  Our idea was to meet at my buddy Carlos' house in Austin (who didn't make the journey but I stay at his house regardless since his mom loves to share her hospitality by providing a bed and homeade tamales) before departing for Snow's at 8:30am.  Earlier that week, one of my sidekicks had written an email to Kerry Bexley, the owner/manager of Snow's to let him know that we were coming to town and to express our excitement to eat his barbecue.  I believe the main objective of the letter was to get an estimate for when we needed to arrive by since we anticipated a larger than typical crowd due to the weekend musical festivities.  He responded that if we arrived by 9:30am, we would definitely get all the food we wanted.  All we had to do was come around back, ask for him, and he'd serve us our barbecue in addition to giving us a personal tour of the restaurant's barbecue pits. I couldn't have been more excited and I would have perceived that the group shared my sentiments.  Well so I thought.

The previous night's adventures had taken its toll on the group, and the masses didn't start arriving at Carlos' until 9:30am.  Panic started to settle in.  The drive takes an hour, Snow's typically sells out of barbecue by 10am on a normal weekend, and our group had not fully congregated.  Nikki, Delsa, Jeff, and Amy (whom I knew from the get-go would be the least punctual of our team but also made up about 50% of our group) finally arrived and our touring team was ready to embark on the journey.  Nikki was sporting the 3rd Degree Berns tanktop as a dress and morale was picking up.  

Approximately half way to Lexington, Amy noticed I was growing a little concerned so she decided to call Kerry at Snow's to let him know that we were running late.  He told us that he would store away 2 pounds of brisket, two full slabs of ribs, and 4 links of sausage for us in case their barbecue ran out prior to our arrival.    I was definitely impressed by this generosity.  His barbecue was definitely going to sell despite whether we arrived, and he still willingly offered to hold some food aside for us.  Full marks.  We finally arrived to a solid crowd, and after surveying the visible assortment of meats, we decided to add two halves of chicken to our order.  

When we first got back to our table, I appreciated that the barbecue sauce was served in Ozarka water bottles as I like the customs that are unique to each joint I visit.  We unwrapped our barbecue and while everyone started diving in, I made the ill advised decision in my partial stupor to tour the place and small talk the workers who were aimlessly wandering around the pits.  By the time I came back to the table, I realized that the group ate most of the ribs and better slices of brisket.  I took a sheet a foil and built myself a mound of meat before I lost anymore goods to the team.  The brisket had a great smoke ring and a nice bark on the outside near the cap.  The texture looked funny, but this was one of my first experiences eating barbecue that was sliced with an electronic carving knife (probably against the traditional barbecue code) -- I was personally slightly disappointed to see this blasphemy.  The meat was buttery soft but was also a little dry --  perhaps my friends took the more moist slices or the meat dried a little after Kerry set it aside before our arrival.  The barbecue sauce complemented the meat very well and also alleviated my disappointment regarding that the meat tasted dry.

The ribs had a great flavor as well, but the meat near the tips tasted dry as well to the point where it splintered and had jerky consistency.  I asked everyone down the line if anyone had similar sentiments: an unanimous "no" came back to me.  Bastards!  The chicken was surprisingly incredible.  It had everything anyone could want from a smoked bird:  great flavor, soft skin, moist meat, easily able to be pulled from the bones.  I would have made 4 chicken sandwiches if I could have sustained my appetite.  Of everything we tried, we collectively agreed that the sausage was the biggest disappointment.  It lacked a solid beef/pork flavor, the consistency was also dry and mealy, and so our group of 8 only made it through one of our four links.  That was a great indication for how we felt about the sausage relative to our other options.

All in all, it was a great memorable experience but not great enough to warrant the #1 rating in my opinion.  To put into perspective, I'd return to Snow's per 9 trips I'd journey south to Luling to eat at City Market.    Thanks to Daniel for taking good pictures and introducing "Academy", his newfound Asian friend, to us, and I was glad Cristina joined the group.  All wouldn't have been possible without Matt renting the RV and Kerry saving us a good stash of barbecue.

It rained the rest of the afternoon but we still made it back for Mute Math, Grizzly Bear, Citizen Cope, Bon Iver, The Decemberists, and one incredible Ghostland show.  After a day like that, I had enjoyed enough of this trip as humanly possible and impulsively decided that it was time for me to head back to Atlanta.

Snow's Barbeque on Urbanspoon

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Ratings and Reviews

In order to provide a consistent grading standard across each restaurant/region, I order a barbecue pork sandwich (and other meats/sides if a restaurant/region specializes in another specialty). In addition to comparing the quality of food, I will also take into consideration other intangibles (ambiance, atmosphere, service, authenticity, etc.) in my ratings as I deem appropriate.

Basically, a 10/10 represents an incredible meal, while a 6/10 score indicates a decent dining experience but a substantial number of dishes fell short of great. Lower scores indicate unpleasant experiences which I would most likely not even recommend to my worst enemy (Jonas Singer).

I reserve the right to continuously edit/update previous posts and to change rating scores as I see fit.