Day Trips

Eat barbecue for breakfast at Zimmerhanzel's BBQ in Smithville.

At the gateway to Smithville
At the gateway to Smithville (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

Zimmerhanzel's BBQ occupies a small, red tin building between the Colorado River and the historic business district of Smithville. Out of this unobtrusive little shop comes the great big flavor of smoked meats fixed with family pride and respect for time-honored Texas traditions.

Smithville's premier barbecue establishment opened on February 13, 1990. "When we first opened we really didn't know what we were doing," says Dana Bunte. She and her husband Bert opened the restaurant with the help of her parents, who own the Smithville Food Locker next door. Grandpa Zimmerhanzel opened the meat processing business in southwestern Bastrop County nearly a century ago, when the town was a regular stop on the railroad.

Like all good Texas barbecue purveyors, the Buntes have experimented along the way to find the perfect combination of flavor, texture, and aroma for their foods. In the beginning they enlisted the assistance of W.B. Brazil. A legendary smoked meat maestro who once owned a famous eatery on Smithville's Main Street, Brazil was persuaded to come out of retirement to help the Buntes get established. The result was the continuation of some of the most time-honored barbecuing traditions.

Repeat customers are the backbone of any business, and that is especially true of country barbecue establishments. Once a Texan, native or transplant, finds a barbecue that they really enjoy, they will make any excuse to travel the roads in the general direction of their favorite smokehouse. "On Saturdays, 75% of our business is off of the highway (TX 71)," Dana says. Saturdays are also the day they are most liable to sell out of some items before the 5pm closing time.

Folks from Houston, Austin, and San Antonio will call in orders to pick up on their way to somewhere else. Of course, Zimmerhanzel's is also popular with Smithville residents. "Our customers tell us that we have better prices and quality than some of the more famous places," Dana says.

But it is the consistency of the product that keeps folks coming back. Once the Buntes found a perfect way to make their meats and side dishes, they stuck with it. "Bert is a real perfectionist when it comes to consistency," Dana says. In order to maintain the quality of their food, they have kept the recipes simple. She points to the sausage as a prime example. It doesn't have much filler or spices to alter the flavor.

Side dishes are meant to complement the meal, not wrestle your taste buds for dominance. The beans are another item that has a simple but honest flavor. Almost like ranch-style beans, Dana says they have a minimum of spiciness, just enough to give them a good country flavor.

Zimmerhanzel's serves the usual assortment of sandwiches and meat by the pound. They have brisket, sausage, pork ribs, and chicken, and on Saturdays they add a tender pork roast to the menu. The full meal deals are the plate lunches served with choices of meat and a choice of beans, three different salads, pickles, and onions.

Because the cafe opens early, 8am on six days of the week, the coffee is always fresh, and a section of tables is often taken up by local farmers and ranchers with a few minutes to kill in town. "You'd be surprised how many people like barbecue for breakfast," Dana says. Usually it's the sausage, she adds.

The food is served cafeteria-style with a menu on the board behind the serving line. To give the place a true Texas ambiance, one wall is filled with mounted deer heads collected from the processing plant next door. They even have a buffalo head from a herd that was raised on a local ranch. Before the owner died, the ranch once supplied the entire University of Texas football team with a buffalo barbecue. Another wall is lined with photos of the little league teams that the Buntes have sponsored almost since they opened.

Homey and friendly, Zimmerhanzel's BBQ makes no pretentious brags. The Buntes let their flavorful and tender meats, backed up by traditional side dishes, do the talking for them. At the south side of the bridge over the Colorado River, the unassuming little tin building is at the gateway to a scenic region of Central Texas. Stop in for a fill-up of good grub, then explore the shops on Main Street before heading back home by way of the back roads through the fertile ranch lands.

Zimmerhanzel's BBQ opens Monday-Friday 8am-5pm and Saturday 8am-4pm. The Buntes can be persuaded to do an occasional catering job, but consistency of quality is important, so they use the same crew that operates the restaurant. For more information or to place a phone order (chicken and ribs can sell out on any afternoon), call 512/321-7719.

Coming up this weekend ...

Fiesta de las Luminarias lines the San Antonio River Walk with thousands of candles symbolizing the lighting of the way for the Holy Family's journey to Bethlehem, Dec. 3-5, 10-12, 17-19. 210/227-4262.

Main Street Bethlehem presented by the First Baptist Church of Burnet re-creates the biblical village with live animals and costumed actors a block off the Burnet historic town square, Dec. 3-5, 10-12. 512/756-4481.

Christmas Stroll around the courthouse in Georgetown combines carols, arts and crafts, and children's activities, Dec. 4. 512/868-8675.

Holiday Studio Sale at the Wimberley Glass Works on RR 12 south of town includes bargains and free glass blowing demonstrations on Dec.4 & 5, 10am-6pm. 512/847-9348.

Early German Christmas at the Monument Hill/Kreische Brewery State Historical Park outside of La Grange has the Kreische house decked out for a traditional German Christmas plus the park trails outlined in lights, Dec. 4, 11, 17, 18. 409/968-5658.

Coming up ...

Kwanzaa Fest celebrates an African-American holiday season at the Automobile Building at Fair Park in Dallas, Dec. 11-12. 214/653-6671.

Market Trail Days centered in Castroville and extending into the small surrounding towns like Big Foot and Riomedina with arts & crafts, yard sales, and food booths, Dec. 11. 830/741-3841.

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