In memoriam: The Central Texas barbecue family lost one of its most accomplished pit masters on Nov. 6. Laron Morgan, co-owner of Elgin's Cross Town Bar- B-Q, died of an apparent heart attack at the age of 51.
The Central Texas barbecue family lost one of its most accomplished pit masters on Nov. 6. Laron Morgan, co-owner of Elgin's Cross Town Bar-B-Q (202 S. Ave. C, 281-5594), died of an apparent heart attack at the age of 51. The Elgin native had worked in the barbecue business around the self-styled "Sausage Capital of Texas" since graduation from high school there in the early Seventies. Laron finally achieved his lifelong dream of owning his own restaurant in 1988, when he and partner Carrol Grady opened Cross Town Bar-B-Q in a small cinder-block building facing Elgin's railroad tracks. With most of Elgin's famous barbecue attractions located out on the highway, the original Cross Town spot was one of those places you might not have bothered to find if a fellow barbecue lover hadn't raved about it. (Chronicle controller and Elgin resident Michael Schwarz turned me on to it, and I can't thank him enough.) The original location wasn't particularly glamorous, but what it lacked in style and comfort was more than made up for in the great taste of the food and the hospitality of the owners. The decorations were simple nothing but a framed copy of a New York Times write-up attesting to the quality of the barbecue, an old TV set, and a big selection of high-school sports trophies. The popularity of their barbecue made it possible for the partners to move the business to a big new building on the edge of downtown Elgin in the late Nineties. Not long after the move, the new building caught fire and had to be replaced. Though the faded Times review and the trophies were lost, the Cross Town spirit survived, and the restaurant was open again in about three months. Business has been smokin' in the new building ever since, with the rotisserie pit turning out mouthwatering ribs rubbed with brown sugar and spices, tender chicken, juicy brisket, and Laron's distinctive homemade sausage. In a town where the sausage-making and meat-smoking tradition goes back more than a hundred years, Laron was one of Elgin's newer pit masters, but he certainly made his mark. "He really loved to feed people, and he always knew just how he wanted things to taste, so they'd be the best," his widow, Dorothy Morgan, told me last week. My favorite Cross Town memory is from the summer of 2002: a busload of jaded Southern food writers already over-stuffed after a day of eating on the Central Texas barbecue trail voraciously devouring Laron's excellent ribs and sausage, moaning and sighing in ecstasy. These were folks from the deep South who had started the day convinced Texas barbecue couldn't have much to offer them. Cross Town was the perfect place to end the bus tour the big, affable Morgan converted them all! Laron Morgan loved his family, feeding people barbecue, and spending time with his beloved hunting dogs, with whom he won several awards from the American and National Bird Hunters associations. There is some comfort in knowing he and one of his prized hunters were participating in a field trial the Saturday morning that he collapsed. Laron leaves behind a large family and a legion of friends and customers to mourn his untimely passing. Dorothy Morgan assures me that Cross Town Bar-B-Q will remain open, in the able hands of Carrol Grady and longtime employee Johnny Parks. Make a point of stopping in there as a tribute to Laron Morgan the next time you're in Elgin.
The Downtown Farmers' Market changes venues to make way for the Chuy's Children Giving to Children Parade. The market will set up at the northeast corner of West Fifth and Rio Grande this one weekend and then return to their regular home in Republic Park through Dec. 18. Saturday morning, Nov. 27, 9am-1pm.
Event Menu: Nov. 25-Dec. 2
Grape-Growing and Wine-Making in the Texas Hill Country: The Travis Co. Extension Office (854-9600) offers an evening seminar as an introduction to home wine-making and a starting point for those interested in commercial grape production with instructors Jim Kamas and Penny Adams at the Zilker Botanical Garden. Each participant receives a free grapevine. The cost is $25 per person and $40 per couple; seating is limited, and preregistration is necessary. Tuesday, Nov. 30, 6-9pm.
Just in time for your holiday celebrations, the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas (www.winefoodfoundation.org) offers their annual Big Reds & Bubbles tasting, a sampling of extraordinary big red wines, champagnes, and sparkling wines from around the world, aired with signature dishes from 10 of Austin's finest chefs in the Driskill Hotel ballroom. The event benefits the foundation's educational goals. Tickets are $50 for members and $60 for nonmembers; reservations are strongly suggested. Call 327-7555. 6:30-9pm, Wednesday, Dec. 1.