Frank Patillo IV was tending the brick lined pit back in the kitchen when I arrived with a few friends to Patillo's on the south side of Beaumont. The pit was installed when this version of the restaurant was opened in the fifties marking just one of the iterations that this business has endured in its one hundred year history. As a first time visitor who had quite honestly just happened to drive by this historic joint that hadn't even created a blip on my radar before, I was oblivious to the history. Not knowing what to expect, we confirmed that the sausage was homemade and ordered a little of everything.
The first thing to hit the table was the sausage link. As I struggled to cut into it with a butter knife, the fat ran freely from the casing into a deep red pool onto the plate. This was by no means an attempt at lean sausage, and wasn't familiar at all. Beaumont native Chris Reid explained that this was the old way to do links in southeast Texas (he just wrote another great article on the soul of barbecue with a highlight on Patillo's here). Called 'juicy links', these all beef sausages in a beef casing had all but been phased out of modern barbecue menus. Even when they remained, as they had at Broussard's down the street, they had been transformed into a leaner version of the original. At Patillo's they had stuck with tradition. Fat wasn't to be feared but savored as a second course using slices of white bread as a sponge to clean the plates of the flavorful drippings. Even after a good smoke, those beef casings were too chewy to eat, so the filling laced with paprika and garlic spilled onto the plate. After just a bite, the members of this round table eyed each other to determine the best way to secure another bite or two.
The links here are still hand made. Back through an open door into a side kitchen, Frank's brother Robert took us back to see how the sausage was made. The mix is proprietary, but the procedure was open for viewing. A medieval looking collection of rods and gears looked to outdate the building, but this was the old sausage stuffer still cranking away.
Back at the table, there was still plenty of other meats to sample. Brisket was sliced thin and curled together on a plate before being topped with a 'barbecue sauce' that is more like a thin gravy. The plate actually looked closer to Chinese food than barbecue, but this was the embodiment of an older tradition before the ubiquity of tomatoes and sugar in barbecue sauce. Silky tenderness was not a goal for this brisket hence the thin slicing. A good crust and thin pink ring surrounded the slices, but barely a hint of smoke could be detected. Even now I'm not really sure if I liked it. Something this true to history may be an acquired taste.
Meaty ribs with a black crust held more of the smoky essence of the pits. Again, the meat was tough and took some effort to get off the bone. The gravy sauce seemed to compliment the pork better than the beef.
Ribs weren't the only pork available. A plate of sliced pork topped with the same sauce was the smokiest of the lot and the most tender. The earthiness of the dried chiles in the oily gravy were most evident on this plate, and would easily be my order for the next visit, along with some of the juicy links.
We were getting stuffed, but the tray of personal sized homemade pies was too tempting to resist. Lemon pie with toasted coconut was hard to pass around the table. I made sure its round ended with my fork. Sweet potato pie had a subtle sweetness that allowed the naturally sweet tuber to shine through. The crust on both was buttery and impeccably crisp.
While the brisket and ribs aren't done in a method I prefer, it's obvious they weren't hurried and sloppy. Given the fact that East Texas is so desolate when it comes to finding good barbecue, and knowing how unique and memorable the juicy links (and most everything else about this place) were, there's no doubt that this joint is worth traveling to.