Luling: City Market
You’ve come for wholeness, for satisfaction deep within your soul. Your searching has brought you here, to the company of fellow pilgrims in the snaking line. Slowly, you advance across the tile floor, past the knotty-pine walls, and up to the inner sanctum: a glass-enclosed chamber where a host of priests, in green apron vestments and orange hard hats, labor at a smoky altar. Aware of your unworthiness, you push open the swinging door.
This is barbecue’s holy of holies: City Market’s dark pit room, located in a back corner of the main dining hall. Clouds of post oak incense have been rising from its five pits for fifty years, and the smoke envelops manager Joe Capello Sr. and his crew as they slice your order—a choice of brisket, ribs, sausage, nothing else—onto butcher paper. You pay at the blackened cash register (bread comes free, onions, pickles, and peppers for pocket change), then reemerge into the dining area, where staff at a central counter sell sides and liquid offerings: vessels of potato salad and beans; hunks of yellow cheese; an array of beers, Big Red, IBC Root Beer. You take your place at one of the pine booths or tables among the multitude of other devotees, a startlingly ecumenical mix of faces white, black, and brown. A handwritten notice proclaims the righteous requirements of the meat before you: “No forks—use your hands.”
Your first bite of a generous rib is a revelation. It is tender, salty, fall-off-the- bone succulent. The brisket, perfectly crispy yet moist, emanates an addictive woodsmoke flavor. And, oh, the homemade beef sausage! Epic. Coarse and juicy, it alone is worth the journey. As for sauce? You forgot about the sauce, but it’s in a glass bottle right in front of you. And when you get around to tasting it—a thin, orange-ish, deliciously mustardy concoction—the signs imploring you to “Please leave sauce bottles on tables” suddenly make sense. In fact, your yearnings now met, your hopes fulfilled—suddenly everything makes sense. Katharyn Rodemann