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Central Texas BBQ: Taylor Cafe

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Austin is the sun at the heart of a solar system of great barbeque. Orbiting around it are a number of towns known for their unique barbeque, most notably Lockhart to the southeast, Elgin to the east, Taylor to the northeast and Llano to the west. Each of these towns has their unique style of barbeque and several good restaurants, and I find myself driving every so often to one of these points to try out an old favorite or experiment with something new.

This week I went for lunch at a unique spot that’s new to me, but very old and familiar to the people of Taylor, Vencil Mares’ Taylor Cafe. The cafe is a well-kept secret which I wasn’t even aware of until I chanced to see a sign for it from an overpass by the railyard in downtown Taylor. I noted it and made plans to come back later and try it out. Other Taylor barbeque restaurants have gotten a lot of attention in the regional and national press and through it all the Taylor Cafe has remained the preference of the old-time barbeque afficionados of the local population.

Taylor is one of the few still functioning industrial towns in Texas, a unique throwback to an older age, with factories and active train traffic and a lot of character. Vencil Mares started the Taylor Cafe almost 60 years ago when he got back from World War II. It’s right by the railyard, so close that the walls shake and you can’t talk on the phone when the freight trains pass through. Inside it’s dark and welcoming. There are a few tables around the walls, but the proper place to eat is the u-shaped counter that fills most of the room, leaving room for a pool table and an old Galaga game in one corner.

Authentic atmosphere doesn’t always guarantee good barbeque, but in this case some pretty marvelous things come from the smokers behind the building. The menu is limited to standard offerings, with the usual beef brisket, sausage, pork ribs and chicken. An interesting addition is the turkey sausage, and the sides are pretty basic, including pickles, onions, bread and crackers. You can get your barbeque in plates, by the pound or in several types of sandwich. They’ve got the usual drinks, but they also have beer, which seems to be a major attraction for a lot of the locals who spend time at the Taylor Cafe which seems to have an almost resident clientele for whom it’s a social gathering spot.

As usual I spared no expense and tried to get a little bit of everything on a customized plate full of goodies. The standout items on the menu were the beef brisket and the sausage. The brisket is what Taylor Cafe is most known for and it lives up to its reputation. It’s extraordinarily tender and flavorful. Apparently it’s cooked for much longer than brisket usually is and I suspect it’s also marinated before cooking. The result is a lot like a good quality pot roast, but with wood smoke flavor added. It’s truly excellent, certainly one of the best briskets I’ve tasted. The sausage is also very good. It’s a rough-ground big-link sausage remiscent of Elgin sausage, but not too greasy and loaded with black pepper which really gives it a memorable flavor. The turkey sausage is also good, though it lacks the character of the regular sausage. The ribs are the lowpoint. They’re tough and somewhat vinegary. I literally couldn’t eat more than a couple of bites. I’d also avoid the barbeque sauce which is heavy on the molasses and way too sweet. A small dab might be okay on a sandwich, but that’s about it.

So the next time you’re driving down Texas Highway 79 – which I’m sure you do all the time – pass by Hutto and take a left at the bizarre exit that says Granger but actually goes to downtown Taylor. Keep an eyeout for the Taylor Cafe on the left as you take the bridge over the railyard and stop in for a brisket sandwich and a sausage wrap and maybe stick around for a beer. There are few finer ways to enjoy classic Texas barbeque in a friendly small town smokery.

Dave

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About Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle is Executive Director of the Texas Liberty Foundation, Chairman of the Center for Foreign and Defense Policy, South Central Regional Director for the Republican Liberty Caucus and an advisory board member at the Coalition to Reduce Spending. He was Texas State Director for the Gary Johnson Presidential campaign, an adviser to the Ted Cruz senatorial campaign, Communications Director for the Travis County Republican Party and National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. He has also consulted on many political campaigns, specializing in messaging. Before focusing on political activism, he owned or was a partner in several businesses in the publishing industry and taught college-level history for 20 years.
  • http://sussfr.blogspot.com Matthew T. Sussman

    Texas vs. Tennessee: Who’s got the better BBQ?

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Do I have to go to Tennessee to do a comparison. Ick. I hear Memphis has good BBQ, but it’s going to be destroyed by a tidal bore after the giant earthquake.

    Dave

  • http://sussfr.blogspot.com Matthew T. Sussman

    I hear fear of the apocalypse gives the meat an extra kick.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Are you in Tennessee? Any recommendatons?

    Dave

  • http://sussfr.blogspot.com Matthew T. Sussman

    Not really. I just had a taste at the Memphis Int’l Airport when I had a layover there. I just knew of its reputation, and my co-workers from San Antonio loves Memphis BBQ.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    If you’re in San Antonio you should head out west to Cooper’s in Llano sometime. Have their pork chops. Awesome stuff.

    Dave

  • http://whitesnow99@msn.com Patricia , New Mexico

    Who on earth eats crackers with barbecue? Only a Texan!! They also eat crackers with enchiladas. Apparently they don’t know about sopapillas. Best barbecue…Tennessee or Texas? Tennessee hands down!

  • Dave Nalle

    Only a very limited number of oldtimers still eat crackers with mexican food. And sopapillas are a desert food not something you eat with enchiladas.

    Dave

  • http://whitesnow99@msn.com Patricia , New Mexico

    In New Mexico, sopapillas are served to be eaten with enchiladas or saved to be eaten drizzled with honey later. If you want some real mexican food, forget Texas and Arizona and come to New Mexico.

  • http://whitesnow99@msn.com Patricia , New Mexico

    If you want some real barbecue, go to Tennessee!

  • http://www.thewriterspath.com vikk

    I’m not big on BBQ but your article is certainly tempting.

  • matt

    I live in Central Texas, and I am spoiled with great BBQ all the time.

    I’ve NEVER had bad BBQ since I’ve lived here.

    In fact I don’t think I have ever had “bad” BBQ.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Matt, there’s bad BBQ everywhere if you don’t order the local specialty. Just go into any BBQ joint and order Pork Loin if you want something flavorless and tough.

    Dave

  • J.GARZA

    THERE IS NO WRONG WAY TO EAT YOUR BBQ OR MEXICAN FOOD.DEPENDING ON WHAT PART OF THE COUNTRY YOUR FROM,THAT`S WHAT YOU`RE USED TO.I`M FROM SOUTH TEXAS.WAY SOUTH,RIGHT NEXT TO THE BORDER.ENCHILADAS ARE WRAPED IN TORTILLAS WHICH MAKES NO SENSE USING A SOPAPILLA TO EAT IT SINCE IT`S VERRY SIMILAR TO A TORTILLA.YET,IVE SEEN SOME USE IT ANYHOW,IVE ALSO SEEN CRACKERS USED,OR TORTILLAS.IT JUST DEPENDS ON YOUR OWN TASTE.NOW BBQ,THERES LOTS OF GOOD PLACES IN TEXAS LIKE VECIL MARES BBQ IN TAYLOR TX ORLOUIS C. HENLEY`S IN EAST TEXAS OR RICK ScHMIDT`S IN LOCKHART OR STUBB`S IN AUSTIN,TX. AND THE LIST JUST KEEPS ON GOING

  • Bob

    You are right about Vencil’s (Taylor Cafe) in Taylor, Texas. I work only a block from Vencil’s, and it definitly is the favorite of the locals in a town that boasts some of the best, and best-known pits in the country. The better-known Louis Mueller’s and Mikeska’s cant touch Vencil’s quality and taste. But, contrary to your comments, the ribs are the best I’ve ever eaten – when they are good. The briskit, which recently won a “best in Texas” against all comers, can sometimes be tough. You are right-on about the sauce, but just add some of the “hot sauce” on the table to it and it is transformed. A couple of years ago USA Today named Vencil’s Briskit plate one of the “top 20 meals in the world.” I think the ambiance – and the beer – got to them.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Bob, Mikeska’s is indescribably awful. I’m not sure if I posted my review on BC. Just rereading the review is traumatic. Louis Mueller’s is not bad. Their sausage is quite good and their brisket is passable.

    I may have caught Vencil’s ribs on a bad day. I’ll have to go back and give them another try. But I’m glad we agree on the brisket. It’s truly awesome.

    Dave

  • Clavos

    Dave, Don’t know if they’re still there, or if they’re still good, but when I lived in San Antonio, Tom’s Ribs was pretty good, as was the Countyline, out on the Loop.

  • John in Las Vegas

    The Taylor Cafe has some of the best barbecue I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve been all over the country looking for the best. The brisket is beyond compare. The ribs were great and the sausage was outstanding.

    These Texas vs. Tennessee vs. Carolina arguments are all ridiculous. If it’s good, it’s good. For Texas style barbecue, the Taylor Cafe is as good as it gets.

    The place is rather hard to find, but well worth the effort.

    Smitty’s in Lockhart is pretty darn good, too, if you’re ever down in Hill Country

  • dkrw

    lies. texxas has the best bbq.

  • Suzanne G

    This is the best place in the world for barbeque. I haven’t had anything better and I have tried them all. The Taylor Cafe is very rich in history as well. Texas’s barbeque hands down over Tennessee. Yuck!!