“If your croissant is not messy and crunchy and all over the place, it is not a croissant,” said Grecia Ramos, owner of the new Baked bakery in Castroville. She contends that we’ve become too accustomed to the pale, soft, doughy versions from drive-thru windows and big box stores that are engineered for tidy, crumb-free consumption during the morning commute. “You should be finding pieces of croissant in your car three days later,” she added.
Baked opened at the end of October on the same day as its sister restaurant, Blu Lacy Smokehouse, owned by the team behind the famed 2M Smokehouse in San Antonio: Joe Melig and Esaul Ramos, Grecia’s husband. The bakery and barbecue joint pairing only sounds peculiar until you dig in.
“It’s pretty wild how lamination and cooking briskets are so alike,” Esaul said. Lamination, as it relates to French pastry, is the process of layering and folding butter and dough. It requires expensive, specialized equipment to properly stretch and layer the dough. Any missteps over the three-day process from mixer to oven can doom the batch. You need a dough that’s moist enough to be flexible, but not too wet. The temperature of the dough can’t be too warm or the butter too cold. (Laminated dough is such a valuable raw product, the trimmings are saved to make items such as the monkey bread at Baked.) Just like brisket, patience is key in making croissants, until it comes to the baking part.
Grecia cranks the oven to 375 degrees, and despite the dry heat, she compares it to deep-frying. “All those thin layers activate and basically fry the dough from the inside out,” she explained. To learn the full process, she staged at Wayfarer Bread & Pastry, in San Diego, last summer. After three months in her own shop, she finally made a batch of croissants she was happy with, and she excitedly shared a photo with a lamination group she joined on Facebook. It’s just another step in her maturation from the boxed-mix cakes she made for 2M Smokehouse in 2017 to her stunning cheesecakes we covered a couple years back.
Bakers share cross sections of their croissants like pitmasters do of their briskets, but instead of rendered fat and a smoke ring, Grecia is showing off the honeycomb structure, evidence of proper air bubble distribution. But there’s plenty of room for improvement, in her opinion. “How many more layers can I bring in? How thin can I get them? How many ridges can I get on my croissant?” she wondered. Perfection in French pastry can be measured by the ridges on top of the croissant, created by each revolution of the dough as it wraps around its center. Grecia started with five, and now has nine. “My goal is to get to eleven,” she said.
Although we dwelled on French pastry for most of our conversation (and I will too, just a bit longer, to tell you how satisfying the crunch of each layer of the decadent chocolate praline croissant was), Grecia offers plenty more at Baked. A massive, doughy cinnamon roll—generously iced and studded with pecans—was pure comfort. A buttery loaf cake with a crumb topping was tinted purple from ube, a purple yam often used in Filipino baking. The sausage kolache, shaped like a pig in a blanket, has become so popular that Blu Lacy couldn’t produce enough smoked sausage for them. Grecia and her team of three other bakers now use Kiolbassa links, made in nearby San Antonio.
With plenty of local coffee shops pulling espresso shots, Grecia chose to offer café de olla, a lightly sweetened Mexican coffee spiced with cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. It goes well with a croissant, straight from the oven, as my good timing allowed. I just had to apologize to Grecia for all the crumbs I’d left on the floor.
After sampling five pastries from Baked, I headed next door to Blu Lacy Smokehouse. The serving line and dining area are housed in a former meat market, slaughterhouse, and bar. The “Dan’s Bar” logo is still painted on the glass doors. Unlike at 2M Smokehouse, where the barbecue is only sold by the pound, you can order combo plates here, like the three-meat plate with two sides I got for $23. Esaul said they’ve tried to hew to a more country style of barbecue than the Tex-Mex barbecue menu of 2M. Castroville is its own community, but it’s not that far from the city. From the airport, you can drive 22 minutes to 2M or 33 minutes to Blu Lacy.
Converting the historic building into a barbecue joint required adding a second building, separated by an outdoor walkway, which houses the bar, restrooms, and a street-facing pit room. The ends of two Cen-Tex offset smokers poke through the screened enclosure to show their names: Altagracia, after Esaul’s grandmother, and JJMII, for Joe’s father Joe Jesse Melig III. A custom-painted M&M rotisserie is bright blue with the Blu Lacy logo. Esaul, an offset disciple, was nervous at first about trying to smoke briskets in a rotisserie, but said he and pitmaster Marcus Cruz have made the required adjustments. They start the briskets off slowly to form the bark, but, Esaul warns, “it can get too smoky in there” if you let it run unattended for many hours.
The inside of the rotisserie smoker stays more moist than an offset smoker, so they don’t wrap the briskets until they’re done cooking at Blu Lacy. That makes for a deep black bark with plenty of black pepper bite. The fatty end had great smokiness with well-rendered fat. I wish the pork ribs had been more tender, but I loved the sauce they were finished with. The sauce is a knock-off of the one at City Market in Luling, which Esaul said served some of his favorite ribs. The sweet sauce, flecked with black pepper, is about as spicy as it gets here, aside from the obligatory jalapeño cheese sausage. “Castroville doesn’t do spice,” Esaul said, so he saves the true hot guts for the weekend menu to feed the tourists.
Parents who lament the spicy mac and cheese trend at many Texas barbecue joints need not fear this version. It’s classic and creamy, with a baked topping of golden shredded cheese. The slaw is also a simple mix of crisp cabbage that’s not overdressed with semi-sweet dressing. Esaul grew up with potato salad at all his family’s barbecues, but he doesn’t serve it at 2M. “I didn’t want to cut up all those potatoes,” he said. Now they have the staff and the equipment to pump out this eggy version that’s rich and more mashed than chopped. Every barbecue plate has a choice of store-bought white bread or a buttered brioche roll from next door at Baked. Choose wisely.
I waited for three long months to get to Castroville to try this duo, but I maybe should have been more patient. Castroville was founded by Alsatians, and you can try their traditional sausage every March during the St. Louis Day festivities. Esaul said he’s working on his own version for a local touch on the menu. The restaurant is also in the heart of Medina county, which is known for a dish called parisa, made with raw ground beef, jalapeño, and shredded cheese. With all the extra trim from the Creekstone briskets, Blu Lacy will introduce its own version of parisa next week. Dinner-only items like meat loaf and chicken-fried steaks will also be released soon. There are no plans for adding dessert at Blu Lacy, though. Esaul said it’s easier just to go next door to Baked, which is about to add Valentine’s Day specials like guava and strawberry croissants. The two spots are just better together.
Blu Lacy Smokehouse
1303 Lorenzo, Castroville
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 11–8, Sunday 10–7
Pitmasters: Esaul Ramos, Joe Melig, and Marcus Cruz
Method: Oak in an offset smoker and a wood-fired rotisserie
Year opened: 2023
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