I'm saying the Bohemian Special at Mustang Creek B-B-Q on Highway 59 in Louise is the best barbecue sandwich in Texas. It excels by virtue of architecture alone--a mound of sliced brisket is topped with lengthwise slices of smoked Prasek's sausage and topped with thick raw onion slices and dill pickles and served on a hamburger roll to which a tiny smidgen of barbecue sauce has been applied. It is held together during the eating process with the aid of a sturdy white paper wrapper.
Mustang Creek is a gas station barbecue joint with excellent culinary credentials--they sell bottles of homemade Czech-style sauerkraut and whole pickles by the cash register. They are also neighbors of Prasek's Smokehouse which is located in the little Czech community of Hillje three miles north of Louise on 59.
I first learned about Mustang Creek several years ago when I got an e-mail from a reader and barbecue cook-off competitor named Steve Orsak, who wrote: "After 200+ (barbecue cook-off) trophies I still love to discover real old-style BBQ. Mustang Creek BBQ on Highway 59 between Louise and Ganado has the best brisket I've had in 10 years. The place has a dirt floor."
Every time I drove down Highway 59 since I got Orsak's e-mail, I studied the roadside buildings between Louise and Ganado intently. But the dirt-floored barbecue joint wasn't there. Then, last weekend, on my way down to the Valley, I happened to catch a glimpse of a small sign that said "Mustang Creek BBQ" hanging on the front of a red and yellow gas station between Hillje and Louise.
On my way back to Houston, I stopped in. The woman at the register said the barbecue joint used to be located in a tin-roofed shack a few miles down the road, but had moved to the gas station a couple of years ago. While we were talking, I noticed that the pit boss was slicing up the glistening deckle of an obscenely voluptuous blackened brisket.
I started to order a sliced brisket sandwich, but changed my mind and went with the unique-sounding Bohemian special. And I adamantly insisted that I get the fatty pieces that had just hit the cutting board and not something that had been sliced earlier. I ate the sandwich in the parking lot leaning over forward to keep the grease flow away from my shirt. The hot smoked meat tasted like it was suspended in melted butter--or hot salty tallow. The Prasek's peppery coarse-ground beef and pork sausage added a spicy note and a little snap when I bit through the casing.
So maybe it was only the best barbecue sandwich in Texas last Sunday at around eleven a.m. Maybe you wouldn't be nearly so impressed if you walked in at 2:30 in the afternoon and got a sandwich made out of steam table scraps. Does it still count as the best barbecue sandwich in Texas? I think so.
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Calvin Trillin recently wrote an article in the New Yorker about Texas Monthly's claim that a tiny place called Snow's Barbecue in Lexington serves the best barbecue in Texas. Snow's is only open for a couple of hours on Saturday morning and they reserve most of the meat for the locals, so the average barbecue fan has a snowcone's chance in hell of getting anything to eat there. The Texas Monthly editors had to personally drive Trillin out to Lexington in the early morning to get him something to eat.
When it came time to say something about the meat, Trillin waffled. Duh. Having a Kansas City barbecue fan judge Texas barbecue is like asking an OU fan to critique Colt McCoy's passing game. Just the sort of move you expect from Texas Monthly, a magazine run by a vegetarian from Queens.
Personally, I prefer barbecue joints that you can just drop by unannounced at lunchtime. Which isn't to say Texas Monthly got it wrong. I am sure the brisket at Snow's is great. If you want to try some yourself, just call 512-320-6900 and ask for Paul Burka or Evan Smith. I'm sure the senior editors of Texas Monthly will be delighted to drive you out to Lexington and introduce you to the owners.
-- Robb Walsh