Travels with Frenchie is a special six-part series that seeks out unique dining experiences across San Antonio.
The team: Frenchie (sommelier at the nationally famous Le Rêve), Carlos (the city’s best bike mechanic, per the Current’s 2008 Best of SA readers’ poll, and informal taco scholar), and myself (an occasional taco-truck stalker and recovering vegan.)
Our first destinations: competing Eastside smokehouses on Commerce Street, both of which operate inside gas stations/convenience stores.
While Frenchie decided what wine he would choose from his personal collection to accompany our meals, I went to pick up the barbecue, sticking to the holy trinity of brisket, ribs, and sausage. In my mind chicken is best left roasted and a turkey leg is best left to county fairs as a gimmicky conversation starter, if not a defensive weapon.
I stopped first at Burton’s BBQ, which is located inside the Arena Food Mart at the corner of East Commerce and Walters. I took note of the meat being grilled outside in the parking lot and got in line inside. Right away I overheard an interesting conversation. A customer inquired about the differences between Burton’s Black Man’s Chicken Sandwich and a normal chicken sandwich. I strained my ears to hear the answer but there was some mumbling and my epiphany was lost.
On the way back to Frenchie’s I picked up the same assortment of brisket, ribs, and sausage at DC’s Smokehouse, which is located in the back corner of the gas station at Gevers and Commerce. DC’s just recently opened and was in desperate need of some help behind the counter. He gave me the best assortment he could for what money I had left.
When I got back to Frenchie’s house, Carlos had rolled up and Frenchie had selected the wine: a bottle of Chateau Musare 1979, a Lebanese wine that is difficult to find and known for its characteristic indescribable spice and leathery flavors. The discrepancy between the wine and barbecue was epic and made for a fabulous, surreal meal. The conversation shifted from the differences between French sausage and barbecue sausage to other cross-cultural culinary theories.
We tried each of the three items from each smokehouse side by side, one after another. A general consensus was quickly formed. Burton’s not only had the better price but better quality meats. But although DC’s meats were more expensive by about $2 per pound, and of lesser quality, they were somehow better. DC proved to be a better master of the smoke, producing brisket that was tender, rich, and fatty. Frenchie liked the light charring while Carlos commented on how the vinegary sauce complemented the meat. Burton’s brisket was tender as well but was missing any distinctive flavor. Unlike DC’s, the sauce was sweet with a subtle hint of brown sugar.
For ribs, the pattern repeated itself. Burton’s lacked a smoke or wood flavor, while DC’s ribs showed a great complexity of flavors, even if the meats were a bit fatty. Burton’s sausage was voted the best of his three meats, though ultimately the taste was more generally pork than specifically sausage. DC’s sausage was peppery and slightly dry, which Frenchie and Carlos liked the best out of everything we tried.
Both options are a solid improvement over chain barbecue, with or without the Lebanese wine. In the October installment of Travels with Frenchie we’ll investigate the dual personalities of a two-lane drive-through taco and doughnut shop on the near Northwest side. •