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Last month, Grecia Ramos loaded a pan of strawberry-pistachio bread pudding into the smoker and hoped for the best. She was about to enter her first-ever barbecue competition during the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo Bar-B-Que Cook-Off. The pastry chef at San Antonio’s 2M Smokehouse was a bit nervous since she hadn’t been able to practice the dish beforehand. As a native of Mexico, Ramos had been asked to join the Mexico/Rivas international barbecue team less than two days prior. Hours after she turned in her creation, she learned the results: Ramos’s bread pudding had made the finals, and she took thirteenth place out of 298 entries. Not bad for someone who only finished culinary school less than two years ago.
She was inspired to take up the trade thanks to her pitmaster husband, Esaul Ramos. The couple, along with business partner Joe Melig, opened 2M Smokehouse in 2016. (Grecia and Esaul were just dating then, and got married in 2017.) Grecia prepared desserts for the restaurant, and her go-to recipe was for a tres leches cake “from a boxed mix,” she admitted sheepishly. “I decided to get a little bit more technical in the dessert area, so I went to school,” Grecia said. She enrolled in the pastry program at the San Antonio campus of the Culinary Institute of America. She went to school during the week and baked desserts for the restaurant on the weekends until she graduated in August 2020.
When I visited recently, there were three options for cheesecakes, four different fruit tarts, and a few cookie varieties. Her goal is to offer “desserts that are a little different from banana pudding.” The most visually striking dessert was the deep purple ube cheesecake. She uses the extract and powder of the purple Filipino root vegetable, and the result is reminiscent of roasted sweet potatoes. A crust made from toasted coconut—and more shaved coconut on top—provided a flavor combination I hadn’t yet experienced in a cheesecake.
The bread pudding she entered in the competition was inspired by her strawberry-pistachio cheesecake, which I tried alongside the ube version. It was rich, so bites from the lemon tart and the blueberry tart were a welcome light and acidic counterpoint. 2M didn’t have the homemade versions of strawberry Pop-Tarts I’d seen on Instagram, so Grecia shipped a few to my home. They’re a far better breakfast to wake up to than a bowl of cereal. She also included some incredible chocolate chunk cookies. They’re wide and thin, but still gooey, with plenty of salt to highlight the generous amount of dark chocolate. But it was the apple galette that stole my heart. A buttery crust enveloped diced apples, chopped pecans, and dulce de leche. That’s not something you’d expect to find at a barbecue joint.
Pastry and barbecue certainly have plenty of differences, but Grecia’s work has more in common with Esaul’s than one might think. What Grecia learned in school was how to successfully make a large batch of the same dessert with consistent results. It’s a lot like what Esaul had to learn when he went from smoking one brisket in his backyard to smoking a few dozen for the restaurant. As Grecia also noticed, “everybody has brought in their own flair” when it comes to the meats and sides offered at Texas barbecue joints, so she’s simply doing the same with her desserts. Thankfully for both her and Esaul, a pastry chef’s early hours also align with a pitmaster’s hours. Grecia’s workday begins at 4 a.m.
Next time you visit 2M Smokehouse, in addition to the desserts, make sure to try the sandwiches. Grecia makes all the brioche buns in-house. She’s still working on a white bread recipe, and once it’s perfected, all the loaves served at 2M will be homemade.
Grecia said the ube cheesecake is a seasonal special for winter, so get there soon if you want a slice. It will be retired next month to make way for the flavors of passion fruit, guava, mango, kiwi, and tamarind. And you’ll have to wait until fall for her to bring back the eggnog, mint chocolate, and pumpkin cheesecakes. All the cheesecakes are available whole if you place an order a day or two in advance. And Grecia promises to bring back the tres leches cake that started her journey—but this time it will be made from scratch.