Thursday, 25 May 2017

My Ultimate Texas BBQ Trip, February 2017 - Day 1, Stop 3, Stiles Switch

After breakfast at Snow's and lunch at Louis Mueller, I rolled into Austin and got myself checked into my hotel.  I crashed for a bit of an afternoon nap before heading out once again.

I had a couple of items on my agenda to take care of on my way to Stiles Switch.  One of the Austinites I follow on Twitter is Jess Pryles.  She is a barbecue aficionado and her website, has some cool swag, and I was hoping to pick up one of her Hardcore Carnivore t-shirts.  The website listed a local store as one of the places carrying her items so I stopped in there.  Unfortunately, all they carry are her rubs, so no luck there.

My next stop was to scout out the location for my next day's adventure, but more on that in the next blog post!  From there I headed for Stiles least that was the plan.  My phone GPS was giving me trouble and I ended up missing my exit...causing me a substantial detour and some frustration.

I finally found my way to the restaurant and headed into Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew.  The restaurant is relatively new, but it is located in one of the oldest shopping centres in Central Austin.  Their website says that the location was used for filming the movie Dazed & Confused back in the 90's.  The decor reminded me of an old roadhouse.  Lots of wood and neon, tv's on the walls.  Simple wooden tables and some larger communal bar height tables.  You enter at one end of the large room and an aisle takes you along the wall up to the counter at the opposite end.  Being my third stop of the day, I decided to go for a lighter option and went with the smoked turkey breast along with pork ribs, coleslaw and potato salad (not really a light option...just lighter!).  The usual white bread and pickles along with a side of sauce and I was good to go.

Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew - smoked turkey & ribs

The ribs were very good, although I did find the bark to be a bit on the peppery side.  The sides were great.  The turkey was good, but a little on the dry side.  Stiles Switch was just named one of the 50 bbq joints in Texas in the new Texas Monthly ranking, so I'm going to assume that either I caught them on an off day or it was the fact that it was my third bbq restaurant of the day, combined with being tired and frustrated at getting lost on the way.  Other than the dry turkey, I can't really point to anything wrong, but I was left wanting more.  Given the circumstances and all the good things I've read about them, I feel like I owe them a second visit.  I'm pretty certain it was just me, so don't hesitate to check them out if you have the opportunity.

I had planned to check out some of the Austin nightlife, but after eating I just made my way back to the hotel (with another brief faulty GPS related detour) and crashed for the night.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

My Ultimate Texas BBQ Trip, February 2017 - Day 1, Stop 2, Louie Mueller BBQ

After my almost surreal breakfast experience at Snow's (see my previous post, Day 1, Stop 1), I hit the road and made the drive to Taylor.  The drive took 30 or 40 minutes and was quite a nice drive through the countryside.  This is the Texas hill country, so lots of rolling hills and farms.  The area had been hit by some storms and tornadoes recently, and I saw some evidence of this with debris in the fields.  The region must also be susceptible to flash flooding, because the low spots on the road had signs or poles alongside to show the depth of the water.

When I rolled into Taylor, I wasn't quite ready for lunch, so I hit the local Walmart for a few things and mostly just to wander around and walk off breakfast!  After putting in as much time as I could at Walmart, I stopped to gas up my rental before making my way over to Louie Mueller.  There was a line up almost to the door when I walked in.  It felt good to be back there and I took the time in the line up to reacquaint myself with the interior decor and also chatted with the folks in front of me.  They were visiting from the Dallas area for a ball tournament.  They must have snuck away early from the tournament to get in line, because before long the place was packed!  Once again, my timing was near perfect.  While in line, pitmaster/owner Wayne Mueller passed by and stopped to say hello once again, remembering me from our meeting earlier that morning.  I was feeling like a bit of a celebrity!!

Saturday line-up at Louis Mueller

I kept it minimal at the counter, remembering the beef rib incident from last time!  Moist brisket, a jalapeño sausage, a side of beans and of course, banana pudding!  Some bread, pickles and sauce on the side and I was good to go.

Heaven on a tray!

The brisket was excellent as usual.  One of the main things that separates the great bbq spots from the rest is the ability to consistently produce excellent quality meats.  Louie Mueller is able to do this with their brisket, and it is a thing of true beauty!  I found the jalapeño sausage to be spicier than on my two earlier visits, but perhaps I was just a little heat sensitive that day, because I also found the beans quite spicy.  They were tasty, but I think I'll just stick with the potato salad next time around.  I took my time eating, enjoying the surroundings and the hustle and bustle of the place.  It was a busy day and the people just kept coming.  I finished off my meal with that delicious banana pudding, an awesome end to a great meal.

I hoped to get the chance to talk to Wayne Mueller again and ask about the possibility of going back to see the pits, but he was busy visiting with some other folks.  Next time maybe!

I got back in the car and pointed it towards Austin for the next stop in my little adventure.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

My Ultimate Texas BBQ Trip, February 2017 - Day 1, Stop 1, Snow's BBQ

This past February (2017) I once again found myself in Houston for work on a 9 day trip...this is starting to sound familiar.  The company I work for has an office in Houston and our guy there takes his vacation at this time every year, so someone from Calgary goes down to man the shop while he's away.  This was the third time in four years that I was that guy, but I'm not complaining.  These trips have given me the opportunity to eat some of the best barbecue anywhere and the experiences on my weekend trip this past February are what inspired me to start writing this blog.

This blog is as much a way for me to preserve the memories for myself as it is a way to share with others.  I've said it previously, but the culture of barbecue isn't just about the food.  The history and the stories of the people and places are a big part of what intrigues and interests me.  Once again, I must throw out a thank you to Daniel Vaughn and for bringing many of the stories of Texas barbecue to my attention.

One of those stories is that of Tootsie Tomanetz and Snow's BBQ.  At the age of 81, Tootsie is the pitmaster at Snow's, in the small town of Lexington, TX, in the heartland of Texas barbecue called the Hill Country.  They are only open one day a week, on Saturdays, and they open up bright and early at 8 am.  And so it was, that on this Saturday morning in February I was in my rental car and headed out once again from Houston on Hwy 290 , but this time with a different first stop on my journey than on my two previous trips up this highway.  I arrived in Lexington a little after 8:30 and followed the signs to the small, red, cabin looking building that houses the joint that in 2008 was named the Best BBQ in Texas.

I was about to learn that barbecue for breakfast at Snow's on Saturday mornings is a bit of thing.  Walking from my car to get in line, a gentlemen walked by me going the other way that looked familiar to me.  I got in line and a few minutes later he returned and joined the group in front of me.  At this time I will admit to eavesdropping a little on their conversation!  After a couple of minutes I realized that I did recognize him and it was indeed Daniel Vaughn, with whom I had been tweeting with just the day before to find out what time I should be there to make sure I didn't miss out.

He and his group were busy talking so I didn't want to interrupt, so I waited for the right moment (very Canadian of me, I know!).  As I waited in line I took in the surroundings.  The pits are located outside under a tin roof that also provides cover to a large seating area.  Two or three large wood fired offset smokers and a number of direct heat metal pits were being manned by the one and only Tootsie.  As I looked over at the pits, I saw another familiar face.  Tootsie was visiting with none other than Wayne Mueller from Louie Mueller in nearby Taylor.

Outside seating area at Snow's

Before long, he came over and chatted with Daniel for a few minutes.  After they were done talking I introduced myself to Wayne and was thrilled and surprised when he said that he'd been reading my tweets!  I hadn't expected that it was him that managed the restaurant's Twitter account...pretty cool.  We chatted for a minute and I told him that I was heading to his place after this.  By this time I had just about reached the door to enter inside and I had the opportunity to say hello to Daniel.  He also recognized me from our Twitter conversations and we had a brief conversation and I asked him what he recommended off the menu here.  He suggested the pork steak, one of their specialties.

I got inside the swinging door.  On my right was a display of t-shirts and souvenirs for sale and on the left was the serving counter.  I placed my order of some brisket, a rib and the recommended pork steak and paid for my tray along with a banana pudding, a t-shirt and a souvenir cup.  It isn't a large space.  Beside the t-shirt display is the counter where get your white bread, pickles, etc.  There is a drink machine along with tea and sweet tea dispensers and a cooler full of ice.  Six or eight large wooden tables with benches fill up the rest of the indoor dining area.  I found a spot at a table with a family already eating and sat down to bbq for breakfast!

Snow's brisket, pork steak and a rib with white bread and pickles on the side, with banana pudding for dessert!

I can't really say that any one of the meats I ordered was better than the was all outstanding.  The brisket was as good as any I had eaten to that point, the rib was perfect and the pork steak was an incredibly pleasant surprise (thanks again Daniel).  I finished off my meal with a delectable banana pudding.  After eating and refilling my cup with sweet tea on ice, I chatted briefly again with Mr. Vaughn.  He mentioned that there was a group of BBQ people doing a tour of some of the area's many great spots and he provided some recommendations of other spots to visit.  It was a true pleasure to meet Daniel and I appreciate the chance to thank him for all the great reads.

I then headed outside to have a look around the outside seating an pit area.  The owner of Snow's is Kerry Bexley.  He was out by the pits visiting with customers.  I said hello to him and asked if it was ok to come back and meet Tootsie.  He said it was and I wandered into the pit area to wait my turn while she was talking to someone else.  She kept working while visiting, opening the large steel pit doors, shifting links of sausage around.  When she was done I went over to introduce myself.  She was incredibly friendly and seemed to genuinely enjoy the steady stream of visitors.  We snapped a selfie and I thanked her for her time and for the incredible food.

Me and the legend, Tootsie Tomanetz

On my way out, I noticed that there were even more people from area bbq restaurants there, enjoying this Saturday morning tradition in Central Texas.  If you want to read more about Tootsie and this great place, go to  It is a beautifully written essay about the life of a remarkable women.