The last time I went to Marfa looking for barbecue, all I found was a barbecue falafel. It was from Adam Bork’s Food Shark food truck in 2012 and technically contained smoked meat (bacon), but it didn’t seem like anyone in town at the time felt they had a right to proper Texas barbecue. Since then, a few barbecue pits have come and gone from Marfa, and now it seems they may finally have one that will stick around for a while in Convenience West.
“It was such a desolate landscape for barbecue growing up,” Mark Scott, the pitmaster at Convenience West, told me during a recent visit. Scott has lived in Marfa since 1995. He was head chef of the critically acclaimed Maiya’s Restaurant, which is now closed, for eight years. Then he ran the Fat Lyle’s food truck with his wife, Kaki. They dabbled in barbecue but nothing serious. Then, in September 2017, a friend offered them the use of an otherwise unused offset smoker—Mac White had built the pit that now needed a purpose. They opened Convenience West that December.
The building used to house the prep kitchen for Food Shark, but before that it was a convenience store, so the name for this place on the west side of a West Texas town is appropriate. Bork is a partner in Convenience West, as is local baker Katy Rose Elsasser. Along with the Scotts, they initially struggled to come up with the right name, until they found a scrap of wood beside the building. “There was a piece of wood that had been spray-painted ‘Convenience West’ from years beyond,” Scott said, and the name stuck.
I found Mark Scott pulling the last racks of ribs off the barbecue pit that sits prominently out front. It was just before their 5 p.m. opening time. Kaki worked the register, doing her best sales job on the lemon curd hand pies on display that she and Elsasser had collaborated on. I bought one for the road after devouring the first at a picnic table outside.
As you might expect from a former fine-dining chef in Marfa, there are some eclectic touches to the menu. The lightly dressed potato salad is made from sweet potatoes. The buttery cornbread, made in house, has a swirl of blue corn, a pillowy interior, and just the right amount of chew at the edge. The most unique side is the green chile mac, which trades out the traditional melted cheese for cream, cotija, and cilantro. It’s like esquites with pasta instead of corn, but I think I’d rather have had the corn. For the less adventurous, they also offer classic versions of pinto beans and greens.
Both corn and flour tortillas are available with every meal. The corn went particularly well with the sausage of the week. Scott whipped up a batch of pork al pastor sausage, pineapple and all. He tries out a new sausage recipe every week, like the one with fennel and pecan the week prior to my visit. This one needed some work on the casings, but the link made for a great taco filling along with pickled onions and cilantro. Those looking for a sure thing should stick with the nicely smoked and well-seasoned jalapeño cheddar sausage that’s always available.
Scott also gets inventive with the quick pickles, a selection of which comes with every plate. I loved the crunch of the green beans and the softness of the slightly charred pickled onions. They also char onions and garlic in the firebox for their popular appetizer, the fire-roasted “carrot dip dip.” The team roasts carrots in the oven until tender. They’re blended with olive oil, the garlic and onions from the firebox, and some roasted red peppers, then topped with pepitas. If you’ve eaten muhammara, this will be familiar. I couldn’t get enough, and nearly ruined my appetite with all the Fritos Scoops that were piled alongside.
The curious name of “dip dip” was inspired by their friend’s three-year-old child, who requires a dip with everything he eats. “He calls it a dip dip,” Scott said, so they altered the name of their dish slightly to make it more appealing to the discerning child. “We added the second dip to make it roasted carrot dip dip,” Scott said, “and sales are 400 percent more.” I’ve longed for it daily since my visit.
The rest of the barbecue was also pretty unforgettable. There was a good balance of sweet and savory on the tender spare ribs. Scott first slathers them with olive oil that’s been infused with garlic before a rub of salt, black pepper, a hint of red pepper, and what Scott describes as “a pretty generous application of brown sugar.” They’re still not overly sweet.
A favorite of the table was the half chicken. Its mahogany skin was liberally seasoned, but the pepper didn’t overpower. It had good smoke flavor, but it also exhibited the juicy meat and crisp skin of a roasted chicken. It sat next to slices of lean and fatty brisket that were exemplary. The simple seasoning let the oak smoke shine in each of the juicy slices. I commended Scott on the barbecue, but he refused to take all the credit, saying, “Everybody has a hand in it all.”
Convenience West has been in the barbecue game for just over a year, so it’s amazing how little they have to improve upon. With just three services a week, they don’t get as much practice as big-city joints that are open daily. “We work tremendously hard every day to get better and better at the barbecue,” Scott said with humility. The locals, and plenty of travelers from the license plates I saw outside, seem to have taken notice. Scott said he’s excited about the popularity and the potential for real growth, noting that they’re “already talking to Mac about building another pit.”