In his years as a culinary specialist in the Navy, John Gutierrez took some serious detours away from his home in the South Texas town of Beeville. He worked aboard the U.S.S. Stout, a ballistic missile defense destroyer, volunteering to cook meals on the ship’s Santa Maria–style direct heat grills. While aboard the Stout, he traveled as far as Batumi, Georgia, on the Black Sea, stopping in Israel, Crete, Italy, and Scotland. All that time, he was dreaming of his future barbecue joint. He distinctly remembers stepping off the ship onto the dock in Constanta, Romania, and thinking, “I wonder what my menu’s going to look like when I open my place.”
At sea, he stood on night watch for hours, looking out at a dark, empty ocean, often with a friend from Port Isabel. “He’d say, ‘Tell me about your spot, bro,’” Gutierrez recalls, and then listen as Gutierrez described the restaurant he imagined in detail. I joked with him that it sounded like a scene between Forrest Gump and Bubba Blue talking about shrimp, and he shot right back, “What else am I going to do? I’m staring at the sea … at night.” As of February, his dream of a barbecue restaurant has come true. Capital G BBQ—which stands for barbecue that’s “good with a capital G”—opened its doors in Beeville.
After Gutierrez’s time in the Navy he returned to Texas, but not right to Beeville. He had to build up some capital in the West Texas oil fields, and he also developed some welding skills. After the oil bust last year, he came back home and welded his own steel offset smoker. He met up with his childhood friend Juan Gutierrez (no relation), and they talked barbecue. “He has no idea about barbecue, but he knows business,” John said of Juan, so they partnered to open Capital G BBQ. “[Juan] was the missing link to get this thing off the ground,” John said.
On a recent Saturday, just after the place opened, a decent line had already formed. Folks in town are used to table service, John says, so the line itself has caused some confusion. Some customers bypass the line and walk directly to the register to place their order. The only meat market–style joint in town is an actual meat market, Elder’s, where barbecue is just a part of the overall business. At Capital G, Gutierrez has to train folks on a whole new way of barbecue service, and a new way of smoking and seasoning.
People don’t believe they use just salt and pepper on the smoked brisket, he says. Gutierrez recalls a formative conversation with Aaron Franklin in the Franklin Barbecue pit room. Franklin convinced John that despite the simplicity of salt and pepper, the combination of the two with meat and smoke can create complex flavors, and John is turning his customers into believers. I can’t say what I got from Capital G was Franklin-level brisket (the joint is just two months old, after all), but it was tender and juicy. A sharp knife in the cutter’s hand would have made for a better presentation, as well as even slices. I appreciated the clean flavors of beef and smoke, which came from mesquite wood rather than Franklin’s favored post oak. “If you burn your fire correctly, [mesquite] doesn’t impart the nasty bitterness that comes from a smoldering fire,” Gutierrez promised, and based on what I ate, he has his fire management figured out.
The pork ribs were spot-on in tenderness, with a kiss of smoke and good dose of black pepper. Before taking a bite of smoked chicken thigh, I commented to my dining partner that the meat looked dry. I was met with instant karmic retribution when my teeth crunched through the layer of crisp skin and chicken juice squirted on my shirt. It was anything but dry, and I wore that reminder for the rest of the day. The commercially made smoked sausage was fine, though Gutierrez would eventually like to make his own when he finds the time.
During restaurant hours, there’s plenty of staff on site to help slice, serve up sides, and ring up customers, but Gutierrez is alone in the kitchen and the pit room before and after hours. He makes everything he can from scratch, including the popular baked potato salad and a pasta salad with black olives, red onions, and a vinaigrette dressing. I also enjoyed the meaty pinto beans and the green beans stewed with bacon, but the most impressive dish besides the barbecue was the peach cobbler. It looks like it’s upside down, with loads of sweet peaches sitting atop the crust. I dug down for each buttery bite of browned crust, which had a pleasant chew like a lace cookie.
Gutierrez has been almost overwhelmed at the positive reception in town. The Beeville Bee-Picayune ran a front-page story about the restaurant two weeks after it opened. Andrew Soto of Butter’s BBQ in Mathis, who enjoys a location much closer to the interstate, has sent customers to Capital G BBQ in a show of small-town barbecue solidarity. Capital G started small, but it’s now up to eighteen briskets a day, and they are still selling out.
Gutierrez credits some of his early success to help from other pitmasters like Franklin, Leonard Botello IV of Truth BBQ in Houston and Brenham, and John Brotherton of Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue and Liberty BBQ, north of Austin. I pointed out that he was naming pitmasters from big cities, where new barbecue joints seem to be more successful than in small towns like Beeville. He cut me off. “Beeville needs something to be proud of,” he said, which is why he had always planned to return, even while visiting ports of call halfway around the world. Many of his high school friends couldn’t wait to get out of town, but he asked, “How is it ever going to be better here if we don’t make it better?”
1511 W. Corpus Christi, Beeville
Hours: Wednesday–Saturday, 11–5
Pitmaster: John Gutierrez
Method: Mesquite in an offset smoker
Year opened: 2021