“The farmers market would have been fun, but this is why we’re here.” So said my dad, who blocked my suggestion of returning to Austin after completing a single barbecue stop: Snow’s. My brother and I were already beyond sated, but my barbecue crazed father forged ahead, hungry for more smoked meat. We drove south to City Meat Market in Giddings and continued on to Taylor Café, an institution that dates to 1948 in a metropolis of 13,000 people. Well, not exactly a metropolis, but Taylor clearly does dwarf Giddings (5000) and Lexington (1000).
Our arrival coincided with the whistle of a passing train, specifically, the Wisconsin Central. Taylor Café resides under an overpass on a stretch of town that has clearly seen better times. The restaurant features plenty of well worn character, including a low ceiling and particle board walls lined with an array of deer heads and antlers from animals the approximately 90-year-old owner Vencil Mares was shooting and cooking up until two years ago.
When we sat down at the back counter, owner/pitmaster Vencil Mares was reclining underneath a Miller Lite sign. Mares is a WWII vet that was stationed in San Luis Obispo at one point, which led to a short discussion about my adopted state of California. A framed black-and-white photo of Mares, in uniform, rests over the handwritten menu, commemorating his time in the Armed Forces.
Mares prefers to smoke meat with post oak for even heat, saying, “Mesquite’s too hot, it flares up.” He cooks brisket for 8.5 hours, ribs and chicken for three. The smoker is fronted with white tiles and backed by a fan that allows natural light to stream into the otherwise dusky back room.
We ordered a half-pound each of sliced brisket ($9.95/lb), pork ribs ($9/lb) and beef sausage ($8.75/lb). They also sell chicken, turkey sausage, and if you’re willing to settle for a sandwich, chopped beef. Coarse, thin-skinned sausage is made in house. Brisket had an alluring smoke ring and was plenty juicy. The rib was pepper rubbed, with lacquered exterior and rosy meat.
With our barbecue, we received ridged pickle slices, white onions and a Styrofoam container filled with a tomato-based barbecue sauce, which also included lemon, onion, celery, sugar, Louisiana hot sauce and butter, as specified in an interview with Mares on The Southern BBQ Trail.
In the end, my father ended up being right. It was worth pushing the limits of our stomachs, and of logic, to experience more barbecue and to meet more of the magical people who make it.