In the immortal words of Willie Nelson, let’s get “on the road again…I just can’t wait to get on the road again.”
Our second stop had been wonderful, and filling, but we have paced ourselves knowing that there are more delicious barbeque to go before we hit the main event in Houston. Safely ensconced in the convertible we head back out on the road. This time we hop on the “46” South through to the Interstate 10, then East on our way to Houston.
After about 30 minutes, we turn North off the I10, towards the town of Lubling and our next barbeque stop, City Market.
Upon stepping through the front door of City Market, what struck me was the decidedly muted smell of smoke. While it was still present, it was much reduced. I would later discover that this is due to the fact that the smokers are housed in a sub-chamber within the restaurant. Highly ventilated and somewhat closed off from the eating areas. While I am sure that a smoke free environment is much healthier for the employees, there is just a little something missing when a barbeque joint doesn’t leave a smoke ring on your lungs.
Wood covered walls and faux wood laminate tables dot the main room at City Market. Easy to clean and low maintenance seems to be the key in most barbeque places. High volume and messy eating are part of the experience so there is no point in wasting time and money on plates, cutlery, fancy artwork and tablecloths. City Market fits the Texas Barbeque mold perfectly. Right down to the neon on the walls (though they have a lower number of neon tubes than the first two stops on our gastronomical adventure).
Through the dining area, at the back of the building, you are confronted with two doors…in an very Alice in Wonderland experience only one will give admittance to the barbeque smoker lair where you can order your protein of choice. Walking through the entry door, one is assailed with the wonderful smell of the pits. Here is where the mouthwatering smoky smell is hiding.
We place our order, adding a link of smoked sausage to our half pound of ribs. While deviating from our plan to eat just ribs, the sausages just looks too good to pass up.
The people working the “smoking room” are friendly and obviously enjoy their work. There seem to be a good number of locals eating here, some making conversation with the staff manning the smokers others chatting between tables like neighbours over a back fence.
My accomplice and I find our spot and sit down to enjoy our third round. The ribs are of the shorter variety and have a fair bit of fat. The smokers have done their job and the ribs fall from the bones, though they were lacking in either a determinable smoke or salt and pepper flavour. Once the ribs are done, it is time to cut into the sausage.
Wow! This is certainly a case of saving the best for last. I would make a visit to City Market just for the sausage. The skin audibly snapped when cut, a beautiful pink smoke ring surrounded the outer meat that had been cooked through. The smoke flavour permeated the meat, which had a wonderfully chunky texture.
If we had been heading home shortly after our meal, I would have purchased extra sausages for eating later. Alas, our journey was to continue with only the memories.
We were three joints down and one more to go. Luckily it was over an hour drive, according to the GPS. Enough time to digest and make room for our final selection…but first we would have to brave what we affectionately named the “third ring of highway hell” around Houston.
If you’ve never been to Texas, a driving trip of any significant distance will land you on a toll road at some point. Being from Canada, toll roads are a bit of a novelty. In the US they are a fact of life. Most everyone has a membership to a toll company that provides you with a decal or a transponder or some other device that registers your vehicle as you careen along the highways. In Texas there are two companies that deal with tolls, Texas Tag and EzTag. The vast majority of toll roads in the state allow you to utilize either company to pay your tolls. Not in Houston. Just to be difficult, they have highways that take both and highways that only take EzTag (though these only seem to be around Houston). If you get on a highway that doesn’t take your chosen toll company’s decal, you get a nice big fine. The problem is that a GPS doesn’t show which road takes which toll. Needless to say, getting around the ring roads that circumscribe Houston can be somewhat hair-raising if you get on the wrong toll road. There also seems to be an inordinate amount of traffic in around the outskirts of Houston, all of which we would have to navigate to get to our last port of call.
After about an hour on the I10, we head north on the “99” to the bedroom community of Tomball and the Tejas Chocolate Craftory. Wait a minute, you might say…I thought this was a barbeque road trip, why the stop at a chocolate shop? Well my friends, this is not your ordinary chocolate shop. This is a chocolate shop with one big ass smoker outside and a very talented pit master, Greg Moore. It ranks number six on The List, so I can hardly wait to try what they had to offer. The only possible hiccup in my plan is the fact that it is now mid-afternoon, so there is a real possibility that the meat might be sold out. Fortunately, being a Tuesday, this is not the case (though they are getting pretty low on ribs and had sold out of brisket).
Tejas Chocolate Craftory is located in an old house on a quiet street in the stereotypical bedroom community of Tomball. There is ample parking in a lot across the tree-lined street and picnic tables dot the front lawn and the enclosed deck space to the side. The grounds are well kept and clean and the only sign that meat is on the menu here is the big “Barbeque” sign on the lawn.
One enters through the chocolate shop, where there are glass cabinets holding huge hand rolled truffles, through a doorway in the back to the ordering window. Here we order our half pound of ribs and peruse the sides menu. A quick read makes it abundantly clear that this isn’t your usual barbeque joint. We order a side of carrot souffle and cornbread pudding. The pecan cobbler at Hays had given me a taste for desserts, and this is a chocolate factory after all. I cave in and add a chocolate panna cotta to my order. Truthfully, it was impossible to resist dessert made from my two favourite things.
The weather is perfect, so we secure our cutlery (plastic, of course) and head out to grab a table on the lawn.
This is certainly one of the most colourful meals that we have encountered today. Many barbeque places forget that a big part of the eating experience is visual, Tejas Chocolate Craftory is not one of those. The ribs are nice and juicy, with the fall-off-the-bone tenderness that we have come to expect from a top notch barbeque joint. There is not a lot of fat remaining and minimal connective tissue. They are a good size, getting 4 ribs in our order, but easy to handle and missing the little bone bits that can sometimes be a pain when trying to remove every morsel of meat from the bone.
Unfortunately, I had not noticed the special mole sauce on the menu. This sauce must be purchased as the ingredients are far to expensive to give people free reign. Fortunately, the sauce that was available for free was slightly sweet and smoky, the perfect complement for the pepperiness of the ribs.
After we each demolish a rib, we grab our forks and try the carrot souffle. I think that the world stopped turning for just a moment. What is this devilish concoction? How did it get into a styrofoam cup on my paper covered tray of smoked meat? While I am not sure that “souffle” is the correct nomenclature, who cares. This bright orange square of light pudding-like heaven nearly made me fall of my bench. This was a place that certainly defied the Law of Barbeque Sides. A taste of the cornbread pudding, while only slightly less out of this world spectacular as the souffle, provided confirmation that these people really know what they are doing both in the pits and in the kitchen. I almost regret getting the panna cotta instead of another carrot delicious bomb, but I took a bite and quickly discovered that I have not made the wrong choice. The custard is perfectly smooth and the chocolate flavour is impeccable. Big chocolate flavour without a “cocoa powder” taste. My day just got better.
After tasting a fair amount of ribs this day, I would rank the ones we had a Tejas as fourth in an all-star line up (though there was nothing wrong with them by any means). That said, as a whole, this was by far the best overall meal of the day, the perfect way to end the barbeque part of our gourmet trip. I couldn’t leave a chocolate craftory without buying a few truffles before we headed back to our car and into the traffic hell of Houston, heading to our next stop: the Menu of Menus event.
Next time is visit my sister, I think I’ll explore tacos.