by Ron Bechtol
Q Heads are a curious lot — cultish in their devotion to certain high priests of the pit; willing to wait in a five-hour line to score the perfect, barky brisket; downright dogged in defense of one sauce over another — or disdainful of sauce altogether; devoted to mesquite or hooked on hickory and/or oak … A lot of injudicious drinking of Kool-Aid has gone on, if you ask me. It’s just smoked meat.
Or is it? San Antonio, never a barbecue beachhead, may finally have acquired a place worthy of queuing for ‘Q. On my first attempt to score some classic brisket at 2M, we arrived around 12:15 and had been in line for 10 minutes when the announcement came that it couldn’t be guaranteed there would be much of anything left by the time we breached the door. We took the hint and split. The second time, in 30-degree weather, I arrived at the opening hour of 11 to find the line mostly inside; by the time I left, it was several deep outside the door. Time No. 3, around 11:15, the line was even longer; it took me an hour from start to exit with my bag of paper-wrapped bounty. Time No. 4 (47 degrees and misty), I arrived at 20 minutes to opening on a Saturday to find about 20 people, some with folding stools, outside the closed door.
Most of the acolytes-in-waiting appeared to be ordinary folks, not wild-eyed zealots. Their budding devotion had apparently been inspired by a local boy, Esaul Ramos, who has returned to San Antonio, still wreathed in sacred smoke, after an apprenticeship at an iconic Austin temple of clods and ribs. His mission, and that of his business partner, Joe Melig: to set us on the true path to BBQ enlightenment. Do they succeed? Yes. And no. Here’s the tally:
Brisket: In a word, transformational. The bark, that essential, rugged crust, is rough and peppery; the essential layer of fat beneath bathes the tender meat in melting, mouth-coating goodness; there’s just enough smoke flavor.
Pork Ribs: No goopy glaze here — it’s mostly simple, peppery coating and beautiful, slow-cooking. The fall-from-the-bone meat is disarmingly sweet as a result. No need for sauce.
Pulled pork: I usually find this disappointing — too soupy and often almost tasteless. But at 2M, they have figured it all out, and mixing in a bit of the crusty exterior adds flavor and texture to the whole.
Turkey breast: This is not true ‘Q if you ask me, but once you’ve spent an hour in line, might as well try everything, right? I wouldn’t go there for this alone, but it bests most other renditions hereabouts. Beautifully moist, due in part to a dunking in melted butter, it’s lightly smoky and discreetly peppery. Try the sauce with it.
Sausages: The pork sausage with jalapeño and Oaxaca cheese is another revelation — the cheese mitigates the chile heat, and both play well with padre pork. The beef sausage, on the other hand, provides decent snap and reasonably robust flavor but otherwise offers nothing new. Another good excuse to use the sauce, so …
Sauce: This is apparently controversial, in part because of its molasses-like sweetness and flavors such as celery seed. I like it, but just don’t find it necessary on most meats. Another version, presumably more conventional, is apparently in the works.
Sides: 2M has developed a mac and cheese with crumbled chicharron that’s a spiky sensation in taste terms and a sticky mess texturally — though it was less gluey on time two. The slaw is simple and fine; ditto the elemental red potato salad. The house-pickled cucumber slices with chili flakes that come with each order are worth the wait alone.
And now back to time four — the beef ribs: Available only on Saturdays, they are huge, dauntingly dark … and a disappointment during our visit due to a toughness of the inner lining, fat that’s less convincing than the brisket’s, and an excess of hubris in the pricing: $22 per half pound —about one rib worth, half of which is bone.
2M seems to have bumped San Antonio into the will-wait-for-food world for better or for worse — guess we’ll bring our folding chairs next time.
2M Smokehouse 2731 S. WW White Road (210) 885-9352 // Best bets: Brisket, pork sausage, pork ribs, mac and cheese // The Skinny: 2M brings “BBQ con ganas” to SA flaunting a San Antonio take on Austin roots // Cost: $18-$22 per pound Hours: 11am-4pm (or depletion) Thu-Sun