Monday, February 14, 2011
Smitty's - A Hot Barbecue Time Machine
From the moment that you walk in the door of Smitty’s Market, 208 S. Commerce St. in Lockhart, Texas, it’s like stepping out of a time machine that propels you back to the 1930s. There is very little light in the entry way, except for the glow from the fiery coals and logs emanating from the barbecue pits located down at the other end of the long hallway.
As you make it halfway down the hall, to your right is a doorway into a simple, more brightly lit dining area, where you can pick up sides, drinks and even ice cream and then sit with your food at long, communal tables.
But you’ll first continue down the hallway towards the brick hearth. The temperature goes higher and your anticipation for the barbecued meats and smoked sausage also rises.
Here you make your selection much in the same way they did more than a hundred years ago. Smitty’s is located in the same building where Charles Kreuz opened a German grocery store for the cotton pickers and other field hands who weren’t allowed in local restaurants.
You still get your food served the same way, on brown paper without sauce. Utensils are optional. Inside the much cooler dining room, you’ll also find crackers, local cheese and RC colas.
"This building has always been barbecue, and it has a great ambience," says current owner Nina Schmidt Sells, in an article on the restaurant’s web site. "We always have repairs, upkeep and maintenance, but we do our best to preserve the building without replacing or detracting from anything."
Smitty’s is also a story of a family and a disagreement. In 1948, Charles Kreuz sold the business to Edgar Schmidt, who had worked there since 1936. In the 1960s, Edgar Schmidt closed the grocery but kept the restaurant going. About a quarter century later, he sold the business to his sons, Rick and Don, who ran it together until Don’s retirement in 1997.
The book, “Peace, Love and Barbecue,” by Mike Mills and Amy Mills Tunnicliffe (which I’ll write about later), tells the story (albeit one-sided way) of a “feud” Rick Schmidt had with his sister, Nina, which led to the opening of Kreuz Market (more to come later).
“It wasn’t a feud. It was just ‘get out’ and I got out!,” he said in the book. “After 99 years at the same location, I’m not proud of it, but family deals happen. When my dad died, he left the business to me and the building to my sister, so she wound up being my landlady.
“She decided she wanted to be in the barbecue business and I couldn’t get along with her and negotiate the lease. And I couldn’t buy the property,” he said.
Sells’ son, James Fullilove, became the pitmaster and the business was named for her father, “Smitty” Schmidt.
Texas Monthly has named Smitty’s one of the top five restaurants in Texas. It is one of the four great barbecue joints here that contribute to Lockhart’s reputation as the “Barbecue Capital of Texas.”
You’ll find more photographs of Smitty’s operation online at its web site at www.smittysmarket.com.
As we left, the logs continued to burn in the old pit, giving off a warm glow that seemed appropriate for a late December day and turning out big flavored meats for those who followed us.