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Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, Fri., July 4, 2003

Smitty's Market
Smitty's Market
Photo By Gerald E. McLeod

Smitty's Market in Lockhart is the newest barbecue stand in a town legendary for its fine smoked meats. You might think that being the fourth joint in the barbecue capital of Texas would be too much of an obstacle to overcome, but somehow the proprietors managed to perfect the seasoning and smoking that some places can't corral after decades.

For those of you new to the area or who spent the better part of 1998 and 1999 in Borneo, Smitty's Market occupies the building that Kreuz Market made famous. The red brick building was the mecca of Texas carnivores since 1900. If you ate no other barbecue in the world, you had to at least try Kreuz's sweet brisket or smoky pork chops. For many of us, it was heaven on butcher paper.

Then the unthinkable happened in 1998. The family began a feud that had barbecue connoisseurs around the state gasping for air and grabbing their cholesterol-clogged chests.

The saga that grabbed national media attention began when Edgar "Smitty" Schmidt bought the meat market in 1948 from Alvin Kreuz. By the time Smitty passed away in 1990, he had sold the barbecue business to his sons, Rick and Don, but bequeathed the building to his daughter, Nina Sells.

In the 50 years that the Schmidts had run the business, it had gained a reputation as the best barbecue in Texas, and thusly the universe. Even though the eatery offered no side dishes, no secret sauce, no utensils, and no plates, lines formed around the building with hungry customers waiting to have succulent slabs of meat slapped on red butcher paper.

Even with only a cold beer or red soda water and crackers or white bread to accompany the meat, the dining experience was memorable. The brisket was what you measured every other smoked meat against.

Then in 1997, Rick and Nina began negotiating a new lease. He wanted to buy the building, and she wanted to raise the rent. The brother and sister squabble became so contentious that lawyers were soon involved. CBS covered the family feud on their newsmagazine 48 Hours and U.S. News & World Report devoted a full page to the story in their business and technology section.

Finally, Rick Schmidt decided to just move the family business down the road to a new building dominated with red aluminum siding. When Kreuz's pit boss Roy Perez and Rick's son Leeman Schmidt dragged a tub of ceremonial embers from the old place to the new place on Sept. 1, 1999, few die-hard fans doubted that the Schmidts would continue the barbecue dynasty.

The new building is twice as big as the old, and what it lacks in smoky charm it more than makes up for with comfort. They still sell only meat and drinks, and it is as good as ever.

The real question was whether the joint opened in the old building by Nina Sells could live up to the legend that had made Lockhart and Texas barbecue world famous. On a recent Thursday afternoon, the pitmen Rocky and Pablo were tending the smoker. They sliced off chunks of juicy brisket and weighed out a hefty pound on the familiar butcher paper.

The dining room in Smitty's looks pretty much like it did when the Kreuz name beckoned travelers from U.S. 183. The friendly lady behind the bar opened a cold beer for me. This time she also offered beans, potato salad, and cole slaw; something that was sacrilegious in the old days. My first bite of the meat was full of fat and my heart sank. "Could quality be a thing of the past? Had I been suckered in by an old building that held so many memories?" I wondered. Then I tried a second bite and a third bite, and I swear that angels sang, for I had found the near-perfect smoked beef. I don't know how, whether it was the charm of the old building or an expertise passed down through the Schmidt genes, but Smitty's barbecue is great.

Is it as good as Kreuz's? Only you can tell.

Smitty's Market is at 208 S. Commerce St., a block off the southeast corner of the courthouse square in Lockhart. Most diners enter from the back parking lot. The smokehouse opens Monday-Friday, 7am-6pm; Saturday, 7am-6:30pm; and Sunday, 9am-3pm. For information, call 512/398-9344.

630th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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