Some mornings I just wake up thinking about Texas. Sometimes it’s a mix of warm weather in winter, hot coffee, and an empty Lone Star on the counter. Sometimes it’s just having a slow start and an open day. Other times all it takes is a pale blue sky and the sun shining at a certain angle.
Whatever the reason, once triggered, my mind goes right back to those December and January days with nothing to do but drive around central Texas looking for barbecue. Those days always seemed as open as the sky we drove under. Once outside of Austin, the Texas horizon would just expand outwards. Nothing but sky, a few hills, and a small town here and there.
Gonzales, Giddings, Taylor, and Burnet. Lexington, Llano, Lockhart, and yes, the La Grange. You get to these towns by driving long miles through sparse landscapes. You drive past ranches with cattle grazing by the side of the road. You drive past trees of oak, pecan, and mesquite. You drive past the ingredients, the makings of the barbecue you’re searching for.
These wide-open spaces are brought closer by people preparing food that takes hours to cook. And those hours are too numerous to cook for only a few. So more people are brought together, to share the food, the product of the hours and of the land.
And if the food is good enough, people tell others about it so that they too can partake.
When we asked for places to visit ahead of our fourth Texas Barbecue Tour, Dan Vaughn told us to go to Fargo’s Pit BBQ in Bryan. We knew Vaughn through his website Full Custom Gospel Barbecue (this was before he became Texas Monthly’s barbecue editor), and we came to trust him thanks to a series of helpful links, tweets, and comments. So on the morning of January 13, 2012 we set out on the road to Bryan.
Austin gave way to 290, and 290 gave way to 21, until we rolled up to Fargo’s small two-room building (at their old 1220 N Texas Ave location). Our eyes were immediately drawn to it, but not out of hunger. Both Fargo’s and its fence had been painted so blue that it was impossible to miss the place. Then we saw the smoke billowing out from the other side of the fence. We stood there just long enough to note how the smoke against the fence looked like a better smelling version of the clouds against the sky.
Inside, Fargo’s was like the surrounding landscape, sparsely populated and full of open space. We had come in during a lull, but the place was anything but lonesome. Belinda Wells, co-owner of Fargo’s, stood behind the counter and waited for the four of us to clamber all the way in before giving us a warm greeting. We asked her about the menu even though it was laid out in the display case next to the counter. Trays of ribs, chicken, and brisket. A full chicken propped upright next to links of sausage.
As Belinda gathered our sides (jalapeños, pickles, onions), her counterpart in the kitchen sliced our ribs, brisket, and sausage. We could see the marbling of the brisket glisten from the other side of the counter. It looked delicious. We asked about their smoking technique and were told that no girls were allowed in the pits, denying half our party both tour and information. We laughed off the denial and took our food outside for a curbside picnic.
The sausage? Sweet and fantastic, and paired well with the side of pickles.
The ribs? Also on the sweet-side of the spectrum, but with more of a bite than the sausage. It was easy to understand why Belinda said she ate one every day.
The brisket? One bite and we gave it five stars. The bark alone had enough flavor that all we could do was cuss excitedly and eat some more.
As we ate by the roadside trucks continually drove past, honking their approval at our meal and drowning out our cusses. And the truckers’ censoring was good, because soon it was time to get back in the car and drive down yet another Texas road. Our next stop was the New Zion Missionary Baptist Church Barbeque, and like all good guests in a house of God, we would have to leave our brisket-streaked language at the door.
— Dan Meade
Photos: Dan Meade & Rob Bellinger
Published: August 27, 2014
Date of Visit: January 13, 2012