Memories of Smitty's
We spent time snapping photos of the lovely courthouse. (Seen often in the movie) Then we noticed Smitty's across the street, with its tempting sign in the window.
Mom was in heaven that day as we headed over from the square, to check out the old building and doors. At 80, she was still spunky and curious, but she was also struggling with Alzeimer's. Jennifer and I were so grateful we could give her the Texas road trip, that she craved.
Mom had always loved road adventures, with all their surprises. She loved wandering, exploring and observing. As a kid I was often impatient when Mom got off on a questioning tangent with a guidebook or a chatty local. As an adult, I grew to love it!
We knew nothing about Smitty's, when we approached it that November day, in 2008. We did end up learning a little about the 2 buildings, once we stepped inside. The shorter building had been Kreuz Market, since 1924. Edgar "Smitty" Schmidt bought the market in '48. Later he expanded, when he bought the 1906 dry goods store next door.
Dark & Smoky
I still remember the thrill of opening those doors and seeing this mysterious hall, with its soot covered walls. (It was much darker, without my camera flash) Big fans hung from the ceiling, moving the warm, smokey air. We inhaled the wonderful flavors... and coughed... and laughed.
We peeked left, through the doorway to the old market. It wasn't open, but someone welcomed us in. I honestly don't remember who it was, but they probably couldn't say no to Mom, who was eagerly pointing out all that she saw.
We grinned at the old scales and coolers... the saws and stools.
Jennifer snapped lots of photos, while Mom marveled at the wavy surface of the butcher block table.
Down the Hall
After roaming around the market, we traveled down the dark hall. On a busier day, there might have been people sitting on the benches, eating barbecue on the skinny tables, attached to the wall.
From the Stairs
I couldn't resist climbing a few steps. From halfway up, I could see a number of pit areas in the back section of the old market. The arrow pointed us to the area where BBQ is now sold.
The Old Pits
As we moved towards a small line of customers, the smells grew more delicious, but my eyes began to sting. I looked back once more at the original room, where customers once ate their BBQ, right beside the fire pits.
Today, customers order their meat in the next room. I was glad Mom was steady on her feet... not walking with a wooden cane, when we passed the open fire, to get to the counter. I would love to know how many visitors have had little mishaps with the open flames.
Over the Years
On that day with Mom, we ordered a sampler of meats and took it with us for an evening feast.
In the years following, Don and I have traveled 2.5 hours from Houston, with family and friends to share the fun of a Smitty's Experience. Each time, I am in awe of the skilled people, on the other side of the counter. Many like Pablo, we've seen year after year.
Fire Box... Cooking Chamber...?
Since there are usually lines at Smitty's, there is no time for questions. I think I finally have it figured out that the fire box thing on the ground, provides (through some kind of flue) the smoke and heat for the brick cooking chamber. It's amazing to watch the guys in their aprons, lifting the lid and messing with the meats. The slicing and chopping is clearly an art!
It's a Wrap
After getting the meat, it's on to the dining room. There has always been an interesting crowd at the community tables.
Drinks and Extras
Soda, tea and beer is available at a nearby counter. There are a few options for sides, but that's not what Smitty's is known for.
Finding a Seat
You never know who you'll sit by. I always hope for a cowboy hat or two. Or at least a handsome young man who eats all but the bone! Scott loves BBQ!
Once seated, the butcher paper becomes a plate. There are plastic spoons for the sides, but I swear I remember seeing knives chained to the table in the past. Maybe I just dreamed that.
On our most recent visit, I chatted with Jim. He is married to Nina Schmidt Sells, who took over the business from her father in 1999. Nina grew in the biz. Before her dad, Smitty bought Kruez Market, he worked there as a teen. In 1999, Nina's brother moved the used the Kruez name and opened in a new location. Nina kept the business and gave it her father's name.
With Pat and Susan
Don and I had the fun, of introducing our friends Pat and Susan to Smitty's recently. Don brought his own knife this time. He learned by watching locals on past trips... not that one was really needed! We had some Lockhart Beer and chowed down on ribs and brisket and sausage.
While we ate, I spotted Jim taking a break. It was late enough that Nina was relaxing a bit herself. I introduced myself and raved about our meal. I felt like a BBQ Groupie, meeting Smitty's actual daughter!
Off We Go
We finished and walked off a couple bites of brisket, with a stroll around the square. Then on the way to the parking lot, I got one last glimpse of the intriguing world of Smitty's BBQ. I heard buzzing first, then notice a man, standing in a sea of oak logs. He was working away, splitting the wood that fuels the pits. I felt like I was getting a little peek, backstage.
Mom would have loved that final treat!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.