Welcome to the third installment of Travels With Frenchie, a monthly food series in which a trio of culturally mismatched San Antonians explore our city’s culinary nooks and crannies. As with last month’s investigation of tacos and donuts on the Northwest side, our team consisted of Frenchie (aka Fabien Jacob, sommelier at Le Rêve), Carlos the Mechanic (aka Carlos Montoya, informal taco scholar), and me (recovering vegan and known taco-truck stalker.)
A bastion of Southside tradition? Or a new horizon for quality meats? That was but one discussion we had after visiting Bolner’s Meat Market (2900 S. Flores, (210) 533-5112) for lunch. We came in to try the barbecue at their deli counter and left in admiration, not just for the Q, but for the overall experience.
The Bolner family business has operated in the same brick building since 1914. The world has changed since then (when Babe Ruth was a rookie, Pancho Villa was governor of Chihuahua, Detroit made electric cars … ), but walking into Bolner’s I got the sense they’ve maintained their tradition through the years.
We each tried a slightly different version of the barbecue plate lunch from the cafeteria-style deli line, with the smoked brisket, hot and mild sausage, and country-style pork ribs being the most popular choices. Carlos felt inspired and ordered the deluxe beef ribs a la carte. Our reaction to everything was almost universally positive. Fabien told a story of once driving two hours out into the Texas hinterland to find quality barbecue. I think he’ll be saving money on gas from now on.
It may seem redundant to discuss barbecue sauce again `see “Travels With Frenchie, Destination: dueling Eastside barbecue joints,” September 24, 2008`, but Fabien liked how the sauce perfectly balanced the vinegar with the sweet. Though the sauce stood out, the flavor of the meats was never lost. I thought the smoked brisket tasted full and subtly woody. Carlos found the sausage a little dry for his tastes, but the wet/dry sausage debate, like the Ford/Chevy debate, might be larger than any of us, and is not something that can be definitively answered over a mid-week lunch. Bolner’s sausage has little of the excessive fat that is often found in moister varieties, so for me it was a happy
Though we dined in, the meat market is really the foundation of Bolner’s. Fabien returned later to buy a steak and was impressed with the butcher’s knowledge. He praised the cut they prepared for him and likened their expertise to butchers he knew back home.
Bolner’s sells Heartbrand Akaushi beef, which comes from a very rare and expensive breed of Japanese cattle raised in Yoakum, Texas. `See “Here’s the beef,” April 4, 2007.` Supposedly, the small, original group of cattle, purchased for millions from Japan, is guarded (or chaperoned?) by off-duty Texas Rangers to ensure they don’t interbreed with the regular cattle. The Heartbrand Ranch is the largest supplier of this beef outside of Japan and Bolner’s told me they are the only place in San Antonio that retails it. Cuts of Akaushi can range from $160 to around $5 per pound.
Many of Bolner’s customers live outside of San Antonio, coming from Bulverde to the north or ranches as far south as Alice. Perhaps it’s time more of us in San Antonio discovered what everyone else already knows. •