By Christina Garcia | Photos by Christina Garcia, Barbs B Q, and City of Lockhart
It’s not called the Barbecue Capital of Texas for nothing. As residents well know, barbecue is a time-honored tradition in Lockhart. And with some new ‘cue on the scene, there’s now another great excuse to chow down in this meat mecca. Female-owned Barbs B Q bucks the expected German approach with South Texas style and serves up smoke every Saturday on the main square. One day a week is enough to make the point that Barbs is worth the wait.
“We all live in Austin,” said Haley Conlin, one of the owners of Barbs B Q, from behind their counter one sunny Saturday in June. Presumably, the founding female trio just drives in. More on that later.
Other Austin-to-Lockhart businesses have set up shop in the small city years ago, and more keep coming.
Chefs Sarah Heard (Lockhart High graduate) and Nathan Lemley of Austin’s Foreign & Domestic opened Commerce Cafe, which offers Southern farm-to-table fare. With Old Pal Texas Tavern, the owners of Nickel City and Uncle Nicky’s — both found in Austin — set up a divey bar specializing in fried chicken with live music on weekends. Down the street, pizza lovers savor slices at patio tables near the neon sign of Loop and Lil’s Pizza, opened years back by three friends with Austin roots. Across the road, Little Trouble diners enjoy feasts from Casey Wilcox, the former chef from Austin’s Justine’s.
On a recent visit, I wandered near a small crowd outside El Dorado, a restaurant and event space whose head chef is Wilcox. I was handed a Topo Chico and told to enjoy the show, which was jazz-country songwriter and musician Melissa Carper, another Austin connection, playing the double bass with a four-piece band to a packed room of lively dancers lit by chandeliers.
The Chisholm Trail is celebrated yearly with parades, a rodeo, and cooking competitions, but heart-stoppingly good smoked meat claims fame for the city. Gunslingers and saloons color Lockhart’s history, but barbecue connects it to the present.
Historian Donaly Brice, former Caldwell County Historical Commission chairman, said he remembers tasty brisket as a big part of social life, even in childhood. Diners were unfussily and communally seated. And hands functioned as primary utensils at an old-school barbecue joint, but Kreuz Market made concessions for cutlery. “They had butcher knives chained to the table about every two to three feet, and you shared them with whoever sat next to you,” said Brice.
The all-woman team behind Barbs B Q opened their doors in May with Chuck Charnichart as pitmaster. The three-person team dishes carnivore cuisine a stone’s throw from established purveyors Smitty’s, Kreuz Market, and Black’s. These institutions hail from a time when meat markets needed creative ways to sell unwanted cuts, slowly developing what would become a coveted plate.
Barbs’ South Texas flavors stand out with charro beans topped in queso fresco, concha pudding, red and green salsa, and green spaghetti coated in creamy roasted poblano, jalapeno, cilantro, cream cheese, sour cream, and milk. Unlike the nearby barbecue masters casing German-inspired sausage, Barbs skips the links in favor of lamb.
When the Smoke Clears
International visitors crowd in too. Lockhart’s population stood at less than 15,000 during the last census, but over a million roam through yearly, according to Rollfast Ranchwear owner Ben Sparks, though we could not confirm the number. Aussie tourist accents chime in at the Museum of Clocks and Watches, where volunteer teen docents mentored by an elder horologist release the cuckoos on antique German timepieces.
You can also bring a chair to Courthouse Nights, a free monthly concert with a surprisingly diverse lineup just outside the Caldwell County Courthouse and wear your dancing shoes just in case you get the urge to move to the music. Lockhart Arts & Crafts, inspired by Austin’s Spiderhouse, hosts live music each weekend. Shop gorgeous vintage furnishings at Stampworthy Goods, and take in history at the Caldwell County Museum, an old castellated-style jail. Look up and look around. The old buildings might mesmerize you.
Lockhart offers a heaping helping of history, crafted culinary delights, and lovingly tended shops clustered beneath the central clock tower crowning the bold lime and sandstone courthouse on the main square. This relatively tiny town will continue to grow, so enjoy the unexpected surprises and charm while they last.