Thursday, July 19, 2012

Deanville Sons of Hermann Hall No. 301

DEANVILLE: Sons of Hermann Hall No. 301
6785 FM 111 (just SW of Deanville)
Deanville, TX
Open Sat 10am - sold out

You may have heard of Snow's in Lexington, Texas, which shot to statewide fame in 2008 after being named the Best Barbecue in Texas by Texas Monthly magazine. Twenty minutes away, in tiny Deanville, there's another spot that flies under the radar but deserves a visit. On Saturday mornings, you can find Milton Charanza tending the pits at the local Sons of Hermann Hall. Though Mr. Charanza is of Czech heritage and the Sons of Hermann is a German organization, there's no hint of irony at this melding of cultures. Both German and Czech traditions remain prominent in this part of the state. Fraternal organizations like the Sons of Hermann were founded by immigrants seeking a sense of community in their new home. They offered a place for fellowship, pooled their funds into life insurance policies for members, and became home to some of Texas' historic dancehalls. Outside many of these buildings you can find a barbecue pit of considerable heft and wear, but few contain the remote firebox required for smoking meat. Most of these pits, including the ones at the Sons of Hermann Hall No. 301 in Deanville, were designed with direct-heat cooking in mind.

Mr. Charanza burns oak wood down to coals on a concrete slab, transferring the coals to the pit when they are white-hot. He cooks pork spare ribs, half-chickens, thick-cut pork steaks, and Czech sausage (all from a local meat market) at high heat directly above the coals. You won't find beef on this pit, and there isn't much smoke, but you'll hear plenty of sizzle. Most folks take their foil-wrapped barbecue to go, but you can also eat in the side room of the functioning dancehall, where old men spend the afternoon playing dominoes.

The sausage had a mild flavor like the Alsatian sausage I had a couple months earlier in Castroville. The casing was tender but without much of a snap or deep color. The filling was cohesive and had bits of black pepper. I liked it quite well, it just was a subtle sausage. Pork ribs tasted like they'd had a vinegary mop. A nice crust had formed on the meat which was very tender. These were very good spare ribs. The skin of the chicken was moderately crisp, but the meat within was perfectly moist, even the white meat. The seasoning was heavy in a good way making it a popular item at the table. But, the best thing on the table was the massive pork steak. This was a sliced shoulder similar to the one found at Snow's, and it too was covered liberally in salt and black pepper. Although it looks a bit dry in the picture, it was good moist meat that I hacked a bit with one of the plastic knives provided. That generous intramuscular fat was rendered nicely adding even more succulence to the meat. I'm as tried and true a brisket fan as you'll find, but even so, I barely noticed it was missing from this excellent sampling of meat.

Rating ****

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Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.