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The Barbecue Station Thrives on Comfort


Brisket and pork loin at the Barbecue Station.

The Barbecue Station has long been the place in San Antonio to go for consistently dependable smoked meat, whether you’re looking for juicy brisket or sausage bursting with flavor. Two recent visits to the restaurant housed in a former Exxon station have largely borne this out, though a couple of questions about consistency did arise.

Food: 3.5
Value: 3.5

Rating scale:
5: Extraordinary
4: Excellent
3: Good
2: Fair
1: Poor

The first visit was all about that Texas staple: brisket. Slices of the toothsome beef with a slight touch of fat conveyed both smoke — from oak, if the cords of wood at the back are to be believed—and earthy beef flavor with a savory rub that ringed the meat beautifully. It was tender enough to cut with a fork, yet solid enough so that it wasn’t overcooked. A dab of the tangy barbecue sauce, thankfully a lot less sweet than most of its competitors’, just added to the pleasure that came with bite after bite. And there was no belch-inducing aftertaste that can result from oversmoked ‘cue.

That brisket, served on butcher paper, was what made me return to the Barbecue Station a few days’ later. But lightning did not strike twice. Blame the difference in time of day, the time the brisket had been in the warmer vs. the smoker, the different in the two cuts of meat. Whatever the reason, it just wasn’t the same. A friend with several generations of history in Texas barbecue aptly commented that the meat that day was too dry and lacked in flavor from both meat and rub.

The Barbecue Station is housed in a former Exxon station.

But he and I were both taken with the the chicken leg and thigh quarter, which was moist and delicious. The smoke, while prevalent, was not so overwhelming as to obliterate the natural flavor of the meat. Even better, at least in my book, the skin was crisp yet almost buttery and well-seasoned. I don’t often eat chicken at restaurants, but this is a version I’ll order again.

Pork ribs were succulent, sizzling to the touch and loaded with pork goodness, but the pork loin relied a little too much on the sauce to make it sing.

Among the side dishes, the green beans proved a good choice, while the coleslaw was too sweet on one occasion and just right on the other.

But the big question on both visits concerned the pintos. This is another dish that, like brisket, Texans treat with utmost seriousness. At the Barbecue Station, if you order the beans, you can have all you can eat from the pot that sits next to the containers of forks, knives, pickles and onions. But why would you eat any, when the beans’ texture is mealy and the broth is thin and vapid, as if not even the smallest amount of salt had been used to enliven the dish? Compare these dull, little nothings with the full-flavored, jalapeño-laced beans you get at Fatty’s Burgers, also freely given, and you’ll understand how disappointing the version at the Barbecue Station really is.

Pork ribs and chicken at the Barbecue Station.

I’d rather focus on that crackling chicken skin or those meaty pork ribs. Pure comfort food, Texas style.

The Barbecue Station has been around since 1992. Since its opening, the owners and staff have learned quite a few ways to keep customers coming back, whether it’s for the loaded baked potatoes or the chopped beef sandwiches. One is that, after an hour-long meal, I left the Barbecue Station without smelling like a smoke pit. Yet another reason to return for more.

Barbecue Station
1610 N.E. Loop 410
210-824-9191
Lunch and dinner daily.
www.barbecuestation.com

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WalkerSpeak: History Outshines Schnitzel in Old Vienna


wienerschnitzelIf I thought the flavor of Wiener Schnitzel in Vienna restaurants would be a revelation, I was wrong.  It was ambience in that historic Austrian city that gave us our money’s worth.

Wiener Schnitzel is a simple dish, made of thinly pounded veal scallops, breaded, fried and served with wedges of lemon. In Vienna, it was much like what I’ve had in the United States, and something like what I’ve made at home— only bigger,  much bigger.  It filled the plate and draped itself over the sides.  I’ve seen  chicken-fried steaks in Texas that would look puny in comparison.

But where the dish fell short of our expectations, the atmosphere took over.  On our first night in Old Vienna, my sister, Marcia, and I claimed a table outside on the sidewalk area at Café Leopuldo. Under a big, striped awning, we had glasses of cold Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s famous, crisp white wine and watched the stylish Viennese hurrying home from work, or out to play. Having both come from the drought-parched Western United States we lingered as long as was decent, soaking up the coolness of the evening and enjoying a light rain that came and went.

Cafe Leopuldo’s Wiener Schnitzel was dramatic in size but flat in taste. Lots of lemon juice and some salt made it more palatable.

The following evening, after a concert and a long walk through narrow streets, we came to  Zwölf Apostekeller, a restaurant in an old house at Number 3 Sonnenfelsgasse.  Once again the meal would consist of Wiener Schnitzel, this time accompanied by big plates of German potato salad. The folks who had planned our concert tour of several Central European cities had chosen this venue. Wiener Schnitzel was served to us all; once again, it was a plain, straightforward dish that I’d guess ranks among that country’s comfort foods rather than its haute cuisine.

But the place where we dined was remarkable.  After dozens of us crowded into the structure, we were led down several flights of stairs. We came to the cellar, then kept going. Finally, in a sub cellar, we found our seats for the late meal. Tables lined narrow aisles that ran the length of the space. Strings of twinkly lights cast a glow in the subterranean gloom.  Above us was the awe-inspiring sight of a brick vaulted ceiling, said to be part of a rebuild of this cellar in 1561. The house itself dated back to 1100.  Wrapped up in that kind of history we really weren’t overly concerned with food.

Later, describing Austria’s famous dish to friends, I mentioned that the breading was bland. I’d have added some salt.  Of course, Americans are famous for their salty food, which Europeans visiting here sometimes have trouble with.  So, it probably was just a matter of taste.

And let’s face it, where in the U.S. can we sit down to dinner in a house built more than 900 years ago?

Wiener Schnitzel

1 1/2 pounds sliced veal scallops, pounded thin (see note)
1 1/2 cups flour
1-2 teaspoons salt
Pinch of white pepper
4 eggs
1 1/2  sleeves Saltine crackers, crushed, or 3 cups cracker meal
1 teaspoon salt, if desired
Canola oil, for frying
2 lemons, cut in wedges, for garnish

Note:  I like to order a piece of veal and slice it at home, then pound it thin. I think this makes a more tender cut than the ultra-thin slices of veal scallopine you find already cut at the store. If you don’t want to slice your own, just ask the person at the meat market for slices between 1/4-and-1/2-inch thick.  Flatten with a mallet and put slices on a plate.  Veal is expensive. If you want to spend less, you can substitute pork for veal.

Put the flour in a large, flat bowl or plate; add salt and pepper and blend in well.  Scramble eggs in a large, flat bowl.  Put crushed Saltines or cracker meal on a large plate and blend salt, if using, in well.

Pour oil to the depth of about an inch-and-a-half in a good-sized skillet. (Preheat oven, too, to 150 degrees. This is so that if you are doing the schnitzel in batches, you can put the fried pieces on a large plate or baking sheet in the oven to keep warm. Don’t stack pieces on top of each other and don’t cover them; they’ll get soggy.)

To bread the veal pieces, press each piece in the flour, turning to flour both sides. Shake off excess. Dip each piece in the beaten egg, to thoroughly coat.  Then, press each slice into the cracker meal, turning to coat all sides.

When the oil is hot, but not smoking, gently slide the bread pieces into the oil. It should sizzle energetically, but not foam up or threaten to fry over the side of the skillet.  Fry one side of each piece to a deep golden color, but not to dark brown.  Turn, and fry the other side until it is gold. Each side will take a minute or more.  Take out of the oil and blot lightly on paper towel.  Sometimes, if the oil gets too thick with crumbs that have fallen off, I pour the oil off, clean out the crumbs with a wadded up paper towel, and then reheat the oil. If you leave crumbs in the pan they will get brown and bitter, and stick to your veal cutlets.

When all the pieces are fried, put on plates, garnish with lemon wedges and serve.

Serves 4.

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Wondering About Wine? GoTexan WineCasts Can Help


winecast-screenshot-2009-06-09The Texas Department of Agriculture wants you to know more about wine.

To that end, it has produced a six-video series featuring some of the state’s winemakers and vineyard owners discussing grape varieties and wine styles. The series can be found at  gotexanwine.org or at the GO TEXAN YouTube channel (click here).

In the introduction, Susan Auler of Fall Creek Vineyards in Tow discusses the growth and history of the Texas wine industry with Tanji Patton.

In the second clip, Pat Brennan of Brennan Vineyards in Comanche details the rise of viognier (vee-ohn-yay) as one of the white grapes proving especially suited to Texas soils. Viognier displays peach, apricot, honey and citrus characteristics, and it can be paired with a variety of foods.

Kim McPherson of McPherson Vineyards in Lubbock talks about the success Texas winemakers have had with sangiovese in the third installment. This light-bodied Italian varietal goes well with pork, spicy fish dishes and cheeses.

Jim Johnson of Alamosa Wine Cellars in Bend discusses the Spanish varietal tempranillo, which loves hot climates like those found across Texas. In the fourth video, he talks about pairing the hearty red wine with leg of lamb.

Franklin Houser of Dry Comal Creek in New Braunfels showcases Black Spanish in the fifth piece. This varietal is proving to be resistant to disease, heat and humidity, making it an appealing option for grape growers and winemakers alike.

In the final video, Merrill Bonarrigo of Messina Hof in Bryan discusses port-style wines and other dessert wines that Texas is producing.

These videos are great introductions. Now, take that information and apply it to your tastings.

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