Virginia B. Wood hits the barbecue backroads with the Travel Channel's Epicurious.

<i>Epicurious</i> at  Crosstown BBQ
Epicurious at Crosstown BBQ (Photo By John Anderson)

Notes From TV Land

Epicurious chef/host Michael Lomonaco and producers Neil Tagliamonte and Brandyn Bissinger got into town late last Friday night. They picked up a talented local production crew -- including cameraman Tom Taylor, sound engineer Mike Hill, and production assistant Amy Hughes -- and the seven of us hit the ground running at about 8am on Saturday morning. I'd promised them three distinctive styles of Central Texas barbecue, and we headed out on country roads in search of great barbecue stories. The producers had chosen a classic Cadillac convertible (with functioning air conditioning at my insistence) as a prop for Lomonaco's backroads culinary journey, so the finished segment will include roadside photos of the chef in the enormous red Caddy. (It reminded me of the days when there was that local limo service featuring a fleet of Cadillac convertibles with longhorns on the hoods; remember those?)

We arrived at Louie Mueller's Barbecue in Taylor long before the regular clientele lines up for slabs of peppery brisket on sheets of butcher paper. Within a few minutes of our arrival, I realized just what chef Lomonaco's particular genius is, and it's what makes him a good TV host and interviewer. The affable native New Yorker has never met a stranger, and he can engage anyone in conversation and get them talking about themselves in no time. Lomonaco kept the normally shy and reticent second-generation pit master Bobby Mueller talking and demonstrating his techniques for the better part of two hours, while the crew got plenty of footage of the venerable Taylor joint.

Elgin's Crosstown BBQ was the second official stop on our tour. Lomonaco had owner Larry Morgan chatting about hunting with his beloved bird dogs and giving up the secrets of the sweet-spicy rub that makes Crosstown's meats well worth the trip to Elgin any day of the week. The crew documented the difference in pit styles, as Morgan uses a rotisserie-style pit that allows meats to baste one another, delivering a juicy, flavorful product. Chronicle photographer John Anderson hooked up with us in Elgin and got some shots of the Epicurious crew working their TV magic.

From Elgin, we made the long trek up to Llano, because I'd promised the Epicurious folks some different geography along with their three definitive styles of barbecue. We left the lush blackland prairie farmlands around Elgin and Taylor and headed west to the hardscrabble area along Texas 29 where they'd see granite outcroppings, plenty of cacti decked out in bright purple tunas, and mesquite rather than oak as the plentiful wood for meat smoking. Longtime Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que owner Terry Wootan welcomed our tired crew to the famous Hill Country establishment, and, in nothing flat, he and Lomonaco had bonded over Yankees baseball and Texas barbecue history.

The weekend crowd at Cooper's tends to be more tourists than local Llanites, so our merry television band fit right in. After a couple of hours of interviews at the huge, smoking outdoor pits, Lomonaco chose some meats and went inside to enjoy his selections. Seating at Cooper's is family-style, first-come-first-served, so the chef found himself a spot with two elderly ladies (a mother and daughter in their 80s and 60s) and thoroughly charmed the gals. I can't wait to see those dolls in the finished tape. Once filming was over and the crew had eaten dinner, it was back on the road to Austin. Just a few more stops to shoot opening scenes with Lomonaco in a cowboy hat, sitting on the hood of the red Caddy parked in front of Texas road signs in the waning daylight. It took about 12 hours to shoot what will ultimately end up being 22 minutes of a half-hour television segment. These folks are serious pros, and they work hard. I can't wait to see the finished product. I'll keep you posted about the airdate.

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