One of the last surviving original Texas pitmen, Mares is proud that he is keeping current, developing not long ago a turkey sausage. "People like something a little lighter sometimes," he says. "Especially the ladies."
I try some. It is flavorful and moist, more so than I anticipated. I take a last look around at the anthropological set piece, then leave. I don't know by which door.
Randy Olfers and Douglas Roberson at the Taylor Cafe in Austin, Tex.
(Matt Archer - Getty Images for The Washington Post)
Hold the Sauce
The next day, the skies are still cloudy all day. Not as rainy, though, I'll allow. In a persistent mist, I drive south from Taylor on sloping, winding, two-lane Farm Road 963 through undulating black-soil fields veined by creeks and dotted by cows. Around Austin, I turn onto U.S. Highway 183. On the outskirts of town, continuing south, I pass a helter-skelter of machine shops, discount tire stores and XXX video places. After a while, the landscape yields to gently rolling farmland, till I get to Lockhart.
I pull into the parking lot of an enormous red-tin, wood and brick building that is part barnlike and part hangarlike: Kreuz Market. Established in 1900 as a meat market and grocery store, Kreuz (pronounced Krites) was sold in 1948 to Edgar "Smitty" Schmidt. A falling-out between Schmidt's daughter, Nina Sells, who owned the building, and his son, Rick Schmidt, who owned the business, resulted in Rick Schmidt leaving the original premises in 1999 and reopening Kreuz's in this new building down the street.
Since then, a lot of things have changed. Kreuz Market was famous for its almost obstinate refusal to bend to the culinary wind. It didn't sell side dishes, didn't offer forks (the meat was served with crackers, white sandwich bread and plastic knives) and didn't provide sauce, not even on the side.
Nowadays, Kreuz Market offers three sides -- pinto beans, sauerkraut and German potatoes. It also provides (plastic) forks. Scandalously, it even has a convection oven to cook the sausage.
The oven is a touchy subject in these parts, where wood smoking, it is understood, is the only way to make authentic barbecue. Owner Rick Schmidt defends the oven, saying its electricity turns off when the thermostat hits 200 degrees and that wood in a smoking chamber cooks the meat -- aided, he allows, by electric fans for the convection. The oven can cook 1,200 rings of sausage in the same amount of time it takes a pit to cook 225. The efficiency argument worries barbecue purists. With its long hours of careful firetending, barbecue is the antithesis of efficient. What's next? Liquid smoke?
I approach the counter. Behind it are brick pits where, except for the sausage, Kreuz indirectly smokes its meat using smoldering post-oak logs. A pitman slices my order on a big butcher block and places it on reddish butcher paper. I saunter into the dining room, which is spacious, sparkling clean and utterly without smoke aroma. It doesn't feel like a barbecue joint.
With some trepidation, I dig in. The first bite is, to put it indelicately, orgasmic. The thick hunk of tender brisket is almost sweet with salt, downright ominous with black pepper and shot through with smoke. The prime rib (yes, prime rib) is crusty on the outside and burly with flavor on the inside. The ribs have a nice tug and a good flavor of smoke and dry rib. And the beef sausage, deliciously piquant, cooked in that convection oven? Well, it exudes a pleasant smokiness. Truth is, if I didn't know, I wouldn't know. Don't know if I like that.
One thing hasn't changed. Kreuz Market still doesn't serve sauce.
Jim Shahin is a freelance writer in Silver Spring.
Austin Barbecue Trail
Call it barbecue, barbeque or BBQ, but whatever you do, call ahead for hours of operation. It's best to arrive around noon, when the meat is just coming off the pit. Plus, in Texas, barbecue joints sell what they have till they run out of it, so you might miss out on the brisket or the ribs if you arrive mid-afternoon or later.
Ordering by the pound, most meats cost around $10. A "mixed plate" of three meats and two sides runs between $7 and $12.