From the outset, let me be clear: City Market in Luling, Texas and Luling City Market in Houston, Texas are NOT the same thing. In 1981, a clever businessman opened up a BBQ restaurant in Houston, Texas and named it “Luling City Market”, hoping to cash in on the legendary reputation and proud history of City Market (sometimes called “Luling City Market” by the casual restaurant-goer). As City Market did not officially use the name “Luling City Market” and did not own the trademark name, not much could be done about it. Among barbecue aficionados, no comparisons can be made, and therefore there is no need to distinguish one from the other. If I ever reverently speak about Luling City Market, it can be implied that I am referring to City Market in Luling, Texas, not the usurper in Houston.
It was a very good day in the Spring of 2015 when I learned I would be making a trip to Luling, Texas for a vehicle inspection. It seems an oil truck was involved in a crash down that way, and it fell upon me to lead an investigation of the vehicle. Instead of lamenting a long trip for a relatively boring assignment, I relished the thought that I would FINALLY be able to try the legendary barbecue being smoked and served at City Market!
City Market is located on Davis St. in historic downtown Luling, where it has been smoking meats for over fifty years. As you enter the restaurant, you step into the main dining room. With a tiled floor and wood paneling on the walls, the experience is a blast from the past. Large tables with folding chairs are spaced out across the floor, and booths line the walls.
If the line of people leading to the back doesn’t give it away, you’ll need to make your way to the inner sanctum to order your food. A large sign reads “ORDER HERE”, and is accompanied by a large arrow to point you to the doorway to the meat room. Don’t waste time, plenty of people are probably waiting in line behind you, so tell the nice man what you want and plop your money down. The staff slices up your order and serves it up on butcher paper for you to take back out to the dining room where you can purchase drinks and side dishes.
The piece of brisket I received was in fact one large burnt end from the point of the brisket. It appeared dry, but was in fact very tender and moist. The smoke ring was thick around the edges, and the bark – oh the bark! It was delicious! The piece I enjoyed did have excess fatty pieces, but that is part of the burnt end of a brisket. However, even though it was the burnt end, it still pulled apart easily, which is a real feat to accomplish!
When ordering my ribs, I felt emboldened and asked for the two BEST ribs he had to offer. The meat slicer took two ribs out from the center of a new rib rack and placed them in my hands. I was very excited to try these ribs, as a colleague of mine says very positive things about them, and this comes from a man who has eaten the best of the very best that can be had. I enjoyed the ribs, but found them to have a bit leathery bark. However, they were appropriately moist and very tender. The flavor was somewhat sweet, like a baby-back rib. I found this odd. The ribs were overall very good, only missing one point for flavor.
City Market makes a beautiful link of sausage. Hand-packed ringlets tied up with a string is a signature of the quality that City Market puts into each link. The meat is coarse, with a great texture. The flavor, however, left a lot to be desired. Out of a possible four points, I only awarded one. I was very sad to leave these points off the scorecard, as I was hoping for a lot more (and expected more from the appearance and technical quality of the link).
Perhaps I wanted to like City Market too much, as it is an institution in Texas BBQ lore. It still delivered a GREAT brisket, and technically superb ribs and sausage. The only points it missed for me were on flavor (the most important, but also the most subjective category). But for you the flavor might be perfect, and this is the reason we here at The Best of Texas Barbecue use an objective Scorecard rating system that gives credit where credit is due – and a lot of credit is due to City Market for serving up some great BBQ!
OVERALL RATING: TRULY EXCELLENT