The original Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q in Leon Springs is about a 15-mile drive from my childhood home in San Antonio. But growing up, if I rolled down the window around mile 14.5, I could smell the oak wood burning, smoking up the meat just right. It evoked a savory campfire, a scent that I’d take home with me, in my jeans and hair, long after driving away. (There would never be any other leftovers.)

Waiting in line is a crucial part of the Rudy’s experience. Butchers cut meat within view, the thud of their knives always outpacing the strum of country music playing overhead. The meat moves from the chopping block to the scale to your family’s red milk crate, for easy transport. As you wait in line to choose your meats and sides, you pass by several ice chests full of glass-bottle beverages. I remember how my right hand would go numb fishing in the tanks for an IBC cream soda, a cold dull pain to offset the heat of South Central Texas. My family always ordered the same thing: four links of jalapeño sausage, a pound of brisket, a half pound of smoked turkey, one pint of creamed corn, and one pint of spicy pinto beans. (As for me and my house, beans will not be sweet.) Finally, depending on the size of your family, the cashier will throw in a half or full loaf of Hill Country Fare white bread—the Rudy’s version of a mint or a fortune cookie. Think of the bread as a sponge. Don’t leave any drops behind.

I suppose, in theory, an individual could go to Rudy’s and just order a sandwich or something else small, but that’s doing it wrong. Rudy’s is meant to be a group activity, served family-style. Maybe that’s why the dining areas have such a church-potluck aesthetic. Outside seating offers wooden picnic tables; inside, surrounded by metal folding chairs, you’ll find long tables covered in red-checkered vinyl table “cloth.”

Every table has the most beautiful centerpiece: the signature “Rudy’s Sause,” so good—and distinct—from other barbecue sauces that it gets its own spelling. The sauce is THICK and loaded with cracked black pepper (there is also a mild “Sissy Sause” available, but I’ve always thought of that as more of a prop than a condiment). There are no plates at Rudy’s, just thin cardboard boats for beans and corn, and then butcher paper that serves as both placemat, plate, and canvas. It’s best to start out your meal by glugging out a generous pool of sause onto your supper palette; paint the meal maroon.

I don’t live fifteen miles from the original Rudy’s anymore. At the age of eighteen, I became a Texpat, and since then, I’ve lived abroad in South Carolina; then Georgia; Washington, D.C.; New York City; and San Diego. Rudy’s has breached the borders of surrounding states (Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona) but it hasn’t extended its franchise to any of the cities I’ve lived in since moving away from San Antonio. But here’s the rub (assume all puns in this piece are intended): As much as I miss the (self-designated) “Worst Bar-B-Q in Texas,” I don’t want Rudy’s to lay roots in California or New York. Because would it still be Texas brisket if it were smoked in northern air? Would it still be a Rudy’s sponge if the white bread was sourced by Sprouts instead of H-E-B? I’m inclined to think not.

Once, my mom, a Texas lifer, asked me if I wanted her and my dad to move from home to live in the same city as me. The question was rhetorical—she’d never do it—but thought-provoking. My answer surprised me: I’d never want her to move. Some people—some restaurants—don’t seem fully themselves detached from their home state. Something about the surroundings makes them come alive, and besides, it’s comforting to know that when you go home, they’ll be there (for Rudy’s, from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; for Mom, 24 hours a day).

Now, that doesn’t mean I won’t eat Rudy’s outside of Texas.

During the height of the pandemic, my husband and I lived in New York City. Fortunately, so did my sister, Erin, and her husband. We were lucky enough to not get COVID-sick, but we did get homesick. That’s when Erin, savvy gal that she is, discovered that Rudy’s does overnight delivery nationwide. With the help of FedEx and a lot of dry ice, a box full of brisket, creamed corn, jalapeño sausage, and spicy pinto beans arrived at the doorstep of my sister’s Brooklyn brownstone. So, naturally, we had a feast, and then we played some Texas Hold’em.

The steaks were high. Winner got to take home the burnt end of the brisket. Reader, I cleaned up that poker table better than a floppy piece of white bread.

I won, but I ended up sharing. Ultimately, I served the burnt end family-style, the way God Rudy’s intended. A few days after the feast, I cooked my sister and myself some brisket-and-egg breakfast tacos, alongside some homemade salsa roja. The flour tortillas weren’t pillowy and pliable, but you can’t have it all—outside of Texas.

I guess I should tell you that Rudy’s also sells a brisket-scented candle. So you don’t technically have to be half a mile from a Rudy’s to absorb that savory, oaky aroma. But to me, this candle just seems rude. The scent without the bite? Don’t tantalize me, Texas. Mom, if you’re reading this, I don’t want that candle for Christmas.