It's Sunday around noon and I'm 15 minutes into the line that uncoils from the order window of the truck temporarily housing Reese Bros Barbecue, when an aproned guy emerges, striding toward the menu board with a marker in hand.
Suddenly, zap! There goes the queso fundido sausage. My heart sinks.
A few minutes later, he appears again, and this time the house-made tortillas get the axe. Cue more sinking feelings. Making a final appearance, the malevolent marker crosses out the pork ribs. By this time, my heart is in my shoes.
Fortunately, the brisket, hot and fatty samples of which had been passed out to patient line-holders, remained. Achiote-rubbed half chicken had made an understudy appearance on the board, and all the sides were still available by the time I made it to the window after a total of 45 minutes. There's plenty of shady seating at Reese Bros, but bring sunscreen for the line.
After successfully ordering the brisket, the chicken and a trio of sides, my heart could rearrange itself in its customary position. More or less.
Perhaps those sellouts were to be expected. Nick and Elliott Reese honed their barbecue chops in Austin and far-flung Marathon before flaunting them at their first self-owned operation in San Antonio. For now, they're serving out of a truck parked alongside their forthcoming permanent location. And the word is apparently out.
So, back to the brisket. That fatty sample was so oozing with flavor that it almost trumped the thickly sliced half pound I took home with me. Reese Bros uses oak in the pits visible while waiting in line, and the wood imparts a flavor that's just smoky enough, along with a "bark" that doesn't bite excessively.
Tastes vary in the fat-versus-lean debate. I could have used just a hint more lubrication, but I'd still rate this as one of the city's best traditional briskets. The vinegary sauce makes a good playmate, but it's not essential.
The achiote-rubbed chicken was a little less conventional. Achiote is a spice, for me at least, that imparts great rusty color but whose flavor skews earthy and metallic without being especially assertive. Think of it as a good ensemble player. Salt, pepper and a sharper smoke component than the brisket were more dominant flavors. The cautionary-color orange sauce that accompanied the meat announced some heat through its chile de arbol cast. You may want to apply it sparingly.
It's not just the maverick okra component that made the beans seem gumbo-like. Ample onion and tomato helped bolster the notion. And the result, though deeply flavorful, was more of a sauce in texture than most of us are used to. Not bad, just different. Different also best describes the macaroni and cheese, blended with poblanos and other chilies, spinach and cream. No, it's not too spicy.
In my wildest imagination I would likely never have thought of adding fresh pea tendrils to a Texas slaw, but owners Nick and Elliott Reese and their CIA-trained staff did. The result was simply sensational. The slaw itself wasn't the customary concoction wallowing in watery cream but rather a light and crunchy paean to cabbage accented by lime, cilantro and maybe the barest hint of mayo.
The obligatory potato salad was also light on the mayo and mustard. Accordingly, it was drier than some but richer with the addition of roasted poblano and onion.
Remember that brisket a few paragraphs back? I couldn't help but have it again on my second visit. Determined not to be the victim of the mad marker wielder, I was third in line as Reese opened on a Saturday.
That time, it was the brisket of my deepest, darkest dreams: just fatty and moist enough to convey the maximum smoky flavor, just barky enough to keep it all together. It also occurred to me that instead of sauce, it might be better to pile on some of the quick-pickled red onions and other vegetable sidekicks that come along for the ride. They're deftly but simply seasoned with lime, salt and coriander seed and deserve a callout of their own.
The early bird also got the queso-embellished sausage, and this snappy addition turned out to be the spiciest item I sampled on the menu. So far. I say from experience that kids won't like it, but grownups should have at it with gusto.
Adults who have grown weary of poorly done pulled pork — this adult, for example — would do well to order it here. It has a kind of bark of its own — both sweet and a little tart — and it's beautifully moist and, well, porky.
Hats off to the Reese family for reinvigorating this and other old standards, and for creating a welcome environment in which to celebrate the results, ice-cold $2 Lone Star in hand.
Reese Bros Barbecue
906 Hoefgen Ave. | (512) 925-9205 | reesebrosbbq.com | Noon-5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday
Price range: Meats run $11-$14 per half pound
Best bets: Brisket, house-made sausages, pulled pork, slaw, macaroni and cheese, pickled vegetables
The skinny: Reese Bros serves superlative barbecue out of a truck parked in front of the venture's forthcoming permanent location. You can enjoy it in the adjacent, shaded pavilion. Brisket and sausage are exceptional, and sides are more than a cut above the norm. Get there early, however, to avoid sellouts.
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