Great lamb ribs are one of Gonzales Food Market’s eccentricities.
Founded in 1958 on the north side of Gonzales, Texas’ courthouse square, Gonzales Food Market is still youthful in Texas barbecue years. Yet, in its relative obscurity and unreconstructed nature (the place still functions fully as a grocery store, the front well-stocked with boxed cereals, snacks, food staples, and cleaning supplies), it most perfectly illustrates how the Lone Star State’s great barbecues evolved from food markets. Also, the barbecue is damn good, cheaper than usual, and you don’t have to contend with the tourist hordes that haunt places like Kreuz Market and Louie Mueller’s.
[This is the eighth installment of Great Barbecues of Texas.]
The exterior provides a rare wheelchair ramp.
The place has been run by three generations of the Lopez family (the grandfather came from Mexico), and the barbecue action is in the back, where a long warming counter is filled with ‘cue displayed in metal tubs. Reflecting the diverse tastes of the community, which includes gringos, chicanos, African-Americans, and a whole lot of folks who are in between, the list of meats is long, from the unusual lamb ribs to the plebeian chopped brisket – a presentation rarely found in this part of Texas, but much more common in North Texas. There it’s less expensive than sliced brisket, and often thought of as “poor man’s ‘cue.”
Beef sausages are made in the way-back, according to an old family recipe, and between ordering counter and hidden kitchen is a dining room brightly lit and decorated with plastic red-checked tablecloths, with a few cactus-bearing landscapes on the wall, even though prickly pear is about the only kind of cactus one finds in these parts. I ate at Gonzales Food Market most recently in 2012, when my crew and I were on an extended afternoon barbecue run, making a big eastward arc from Austin to San Antonio that also included a couple of places in Lockhart, and City Market in Luling.
Gonzales’ barbecue menu, with placards offering chopped brisket and hot lamb.
Next: the barbecue spread
Brisket, chicken, and lamb ribs–a typical barbecue feast at Gonzales
We feasted on lamb ribs, brisket, and a rubber-skinned quarter chicken – which nonetheless was good and way smoky once we’d peeled off the skin. The lamb ribs were exceedingly fatty and had a fibrous crust on top that might or might not have been skin. The brisket was the usual merit-worthy article, smoke-ringed and deeply flavorful, cut in big thick slices. Along with generous stacks of white bread, conventional accompaniment was provided by pickles, raw onions, and canned jalapenos.
Afterwards we took a turn around the sleepy square, which was dotted with cavernous antique shops and dollar stores – the plucky town, a historic center of Texas independence, has fallen on hard times. Luckily, Gonzales Food Market forges on.
The dining room is well-lit.
The ‘cue displayed in metal tubs
Gonzales’ historic courthouse
Typical antique shop on the town square
See all eight installments (so far) of Great Barbecues of Texas