On a cold day in February I found myself in Waco, Texas, for a meeting with a client to discuss an upcoming trial. Of the many great places in Waco (The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, Dr Pepper Museum, Baylor University, George’s Bar, etc.), its barbecue restaurants are not typically mentioned. The local players are Michna’s Bar-B-Que on Franklin Ave., and of course, Vitek’s BBQ. We arrived early for our appointment and headed over to Speight Avenue to taste what Waco has to offer.
Vitek’s BBQ was originally Vitek’s Grocery and Meat Market. It was founded in 1915 by the current owner’s great-grandfather, William Martin Vitek. William Martin’s son, William Frank, took over the business in the 50’s and began smoking meats and making his own sausage. William Frank handed the business down to his son, Bill, who changed the name to Vitek’s BBQ, and put the restaurant on the map for offering their famous Gut Pak. Bill retired in 2007, handing the restaurant down to his daughter, Julie, who has made the restaurant a destination for locals.
Vitek’s BBQ is located on Speight Ave., which is right off IH-35, the highway that runs through Waco. The establishment has ample parking in the back, and opens Mon-Sat at 10:30 a.m. They close Monday at 3 p.m., Tues-Wed at 6
p.m., and Thurs-Sat at 9 p.m.
It appears the original market was added onto over the years, leaving a somewhat disjointed flow while ordering. Two entrances take you to a counter where you place your order, but there is also a bar that appears to serve the same purpose. It’s a bit confusing, but if you follow the person at the back of the line, you’re sure to end up all right!
Following the reviewing methodology set out for The Best of Texas, I ordered the Holy Trinity of BBQ: brisket, original sausage and a pork rib. Vitek’s BBQ offers four choices for sausage: jalapeno sausage, hot link, mild sausage, and their homemade sausage. Again, following The Best of Texas’s internal guidelines for restaurant reviews,
I simply ordered sausage, and let them decide which is their “original” sausage. I believe it was their homemade sausage that finally made its way onto my plate, along with moist brisket (with some burnt ends!), and one pork rib.
My meal was served up in a styrofoam container and I set out into the dining room to find a table. Even in the lunch hour, it was not hard to find a good spot, as they have a very nice dining facility with long tables, high tops, and booths lining the walls. If it came to it, they even have a very nice biergarten (courtyard) just out the back doors of the dining room. This space is used mostly on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights for live music, and other events.
It should be noted that Vitek’s BBQ is best known for their Gut Pak, a concoction of hand-chopped brisket and sausage, mixed into a styrofoam container with pickles, beans, onions, jalapenos and finally Frito’s corn chips. It is a well-loved offering which was voted the Best College Eats in America. They do not take themselves too seriously at Vitek’s BBQ, and enjoy coming up with new ways to serve smoked meats. In addition to the Gut Pak, Vitek’s BBQ also offers sausage wraps and tacos, along with traditional BBQ plates, sandwiches, and by the pound.
The most difficult of the smoked meats is the brisket. Not for the faint of heart, brisket has to be slow cooked to properly render the fat, thereby adding needed moisture into the meat, and dissolving the otherwise inedible fat that encases a brisket. Vitek’s BBQ has shown that it knows the technical science behind smoking a brisket. The sliced brisket I was served had a nice smoke ring, showed a great bark, and the fat had rendered perfectly. Technically, this brisket was spot-on. The moisture and tenderness left something to be desired, but were within the range of acceptability. The falling off point with the brisket was the taste. The most fundamental aspect of good food is that it has to taste good. Regardless of how well the smoke ring appears, or the fat is rendered, if the meat isn’t delicious, the rest is all for naught. I’m not saying the brisket was BAD; I’m saying the brisket had little to no taste.
The real test came when I selected a nice, juicy burnt end with ample bark, and popped it into my mouth expecting a hallelujah chorus. Instead, I got chopsticks on my cousin’s keyboard. Needless to say, I was not impressed.
The pork rib I tasted was decent at best. It stayed on the bone and was decently tender, but was a bit dry and was also lacking in much flavor. Technically, the rib was cooked low and slow, as evidenced by the complete rendering of any fat. Possibly it could be said the rib was overcooked, but the truth is that it just didn’t have much going on. I finished it and moved on to the sausage, hoping for the best.
I am happy to report that what plagued the first two meats was not true about the last! The homemade sausage from Vitek’s BBQ is outstanding! It is hand-packed with deliciousness, and appropriately peppered to waken your senses. The wet/dry ratio was perfect, which is difficult to accomplish even for the Great Triumvirate of BBQ: Black’s, Smitty’s, and Kreuz Market in the New Jerusalem of Texas BBQ: Lockhart, Texas.
At times, I have literally squeezed the grease out of a link just to be able to eat it. Alternatively, I have choked down very dry, albeit delicious, sausage at these establishments. I may have just gotten incredibly lucky, but the sausage was perfectly cooked with little room for improvement…technically. The only points lost on the sausage were on taste. While the taste was truly outstanding, it was not Smitty’s great, nor Louie Mueller’s great. It stood out from the crowd of Bar-B-Que restaurants vying for business, and definitely stood out from the other smoked meats at Vitek’s BBQ, but it was not the best ever. All in all, it is a great accomplishment to have its sausage spoken of in the same breath as those named herein.
In addition to the Holy Trinity of BBQ, I sampled two sides: potato salad and beans. The potato salad was delicious, tasting exactly as you would expect. It could have come off any grocery store cooler shelf across the South, but there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. The beans were ranch style (which is not my preference), and were boring and mostly tasteless.
All in all I was disappointed. The brisket held so much promise. It just looked too good not to be delicious. I think next time I will try the Gut Pak…
OVERALL SCORE: REVIEWED
(Photos courtesy of Jerrell Wise)