Though the argument over best style is never over, it's clear that Texas barbecue is ascendant.
Check out Bon Appétit's 2011 declaration that Austin's Franklin BBQ is "the best BBQ restaurant in the country." Or look at some of this area's chain restaurants, like Rudy's Country Store and Bar-BQ, or Dickey's Barbecue Pit, which are headquartered in Leon Springs and Dallas, respectively.
Even the New York Times noted March 23 how "restaurants in New York City and Washington have imported the Texas style to the East Coast, and national accolades are pouring in." The story's topic? How Texas Monthly just named its first barbecue editor, "a position that exists at no other magazine in America."
It was with all that in mind — as well as visions of "the smoky punch of brisket cooked over smoldering post oak ... the piquant burst of flavor that gushes from hot-gut sausage ... [and] the sweet soulfulness of buried-for-a-day barbacoa," as put by Republic of Barbecue, a 2009 ode to central Texas cuisine — that I visited Mexi-Blues BBQ. In his friendly, five-month-old Rockrimmon restaurant, Alex Moreno smokes brisket over mesquite "for no less than" 12 hours — six hours for shredded pork — and makes liberal use of a secret-recipe rub created five generations ago by his south-Texas family.
"On my eighth birthday, my dad lit the barbecue pit and said, 'There you go, son,'" remembers Moreno. "So, he kind of just threw me into the fire, and that's the way we did it."
The way Moreno does it now is to offer a menu that combines that history with Mexican and Southern staples. Results are mixed, however.
First, despite beautiful online pictures of pink-edged meat slices glistening with fatty juices, our brisket platter ($9.50) came out graying in places and, worst of all, fairly dry. The lineup of homemade sauces helped — and I'd put Moreno's thick baked beans against anybody's — but it was still a tough sell. Similar story with the pulled-pork sandwich ($6.75), where our shreds seemed to have been left out in the open air, or cooked too long ago, but came together OK with pickles, red onions and more sauce. Even a platter of the pepper-flecked sausage ($8.50), pre-smoked in the Lone Star State, needed the sauce it came with.
On the other hand, a batch of fried pickles ($4.50), crisp in a cornmeal batter, were on the right side of dry; while the crisp, house-fried shells in the carnitas tacos ($5.50) were as delicious as the light, tangy red sauce on the juicy chicken enchiladas ($7.50). Even the fresh refried beans were delicious. In fact, sides were always done right, from a sweet and creamy coleslaw to snappy potato salad to plump corn-on-the-cob.
And though the small restaurant generally needs better service, with drinks forgotten and entrées delivered minutes apart, employees exuded warmth, with one going out of her way to welcome us back on our second visit. Still, that couldn't completely make up for arid beef fajitas ($8.99), or some fairly bland and mushy fried catfish ($8.50).
Notwithstanding some breakfast items we didn't try, it seems the south-of-the-border food fared the best. However, if the restaurant were to pick one style and really focus on it, barbecue might be best, especially since locals enjoy Mexican options aplenty. Plus, there may not be a better time.