Paul Cruz had worked at restaurants his entire adult life until he made himself unemployable. Severe drug and alcohol abuse left him lurching from one job to the next until he had run out of chances. “I was knocking on the door of death if I kept going the way I was going,” Cruz said from his restaurant, Cruz BBQ Company, in Maypearl. He decided to get sober on February 10, 2016. “God saved me,” he explains. Cruz found a job a month later at Big D BBQ in Mansfield, where owner Jordy Jordan said he felt giving Cruz a chance was the least he could do.
Cruz had never worked in a barbecue joint before. “I started just kinda helping around the kitchen, and slowly they started showing me how to do the barbecue,” he said. Four years later, he decided to go out on his own. The plan was to open a place in Midlothian, where he lives with his wife, Barbara, and their family, but an investor backed out, and he had to switch gears. He sold insurance during the week, and he and Barbara operated Cruz BBQ Company as a catering operation on weekends. They leased a food truck while searching around for the right space for a restaurant. That idea lasted a total of two months during a Texas summer. “It got so hot in that truck I felt like I was going to pass out,” Cruz said. Soon they found an empty restaurant space in nearby Maypearl.
Maypearl is a tiny town of just under one thousand residents in between Waxahachie and Alvarado, but not really on the way to either. Cruz knew it was a risk to open a restaurant in such a small community. We wrote a few years back about the promising but short-lived Short Line BBQ in the same town. But Cruz said the locals have been supportive since his first weekend in business last October. Since then, he’s seen the customer base grow to include people traveling an hour or so to try his barbecue.
Cruz learned the craft at Big D, but he didn’t want to offer copycat versions of its recipes. He looked for inspiration from Hurtado Barbecue and 225 BBQ in Arlington, and from Dayne’s Craft Barbecue and Heim Barbecue in Fort Worth. But none of them are using a smoker like his. Cruz found a used Deep South smoker online. It’s a gravity-fed smoker that runs on charcoal. Cruz loads a hopper with Kingsford briquettes, and they gradually feed down into the already-lit fire. Other than a similar style at Baker Boys BBQ in Gonzales, I don’t know of another Texas barbecue joint using an all-charcoal smoker.
The fuel, the seasoning, and the low temperature inside the smoker (Cruz holds it between 225 and 250 degrees) makes for a brisket bark with crunch. The smoke flavor from the charcoal is distinct, and on the strong side. A thick coating of rub heavy on black pepper gives it some bite, and slices from the lean side are juicy. The spareribs are perfectly tender, with a sweet glaze of honey, vinegar, and barbecue sauce, and they have that same bold smokiness.
There are a few taco options on the menu, but I wanted to try the pulled-pork grilled cheese (also available with chopped brisket). Shreds of juicy, well-seasoned pork were sandwiched between generous layers of melted, shredded cheese. It was enough meat that I didn’t feel cheated, but not so much that the cheese couldn’t bind it. The golden-brown, buttery grilled bread brought it all together.
Sausagemaking is a task Cruz is passionate about, but he hasn’t perfected the process yet. For now, he’s getting his sausages, which he smokes every day, from Mija Barbecue in Cedar Hill. I enjoyed the coarse texture and the snappy casing. When we spoke, Cruz said he was making yet another batch of his own sausages after consulting with Bill Dumas of Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue in Pflugerville, and if all goes well, he’ll debut them at the restaurant soon.
Cruz’s mac and cheese needs no more work. It eats more like a main dish, with a creamy sauce, herbaceous seasoning, bits of bacon, and a sprinkling of parmesan. I loved every bite. The crunchy slaw is sweet and doesn’t rely on mayo. “Slathered with cheese, mayo, chile, garlic,” is how the menu describes the street corn, but it could use quite a bit more of each of those ingredients. The cheesecake mousse for dessert was light and just the sweet touch needed to top off a satisfying meal.
Paul Cruz is less than a year into the journey of running his own barbecue brick-and-mortar, and he’s already making Maypearl a worthy stop. He and Barbara hope to expand, but their motivation isn’t profits or praise. “The ultimate goal for my family and I is to glorify God with this business,” Cruz said. The business allows them to donate to their church and its missions. And at forty years old, Cruz is hoping that his eighteenth restaurant job since he turned sixteen will be his last.