Sunday 27 July 2014

Beer and Barbecue in San Antonio

[San Antonio River Walk]
It's very hard to judge a city's restaurant scene - or anything else about it for that matter - by one night in its tourist district.

I wouldn't want you to judge London by Leicester Square, or damn Amsterdam based purely on the Leidseplein. So know I shouldn't have expect too much from the River Walk.

Things started very promisingly. My hotel was a little way from the centre, and the walk alongside the river was charming indeed. To my London readers, imagine the Regent's Canal, but with tropical planting and another ten degrees of heat!

But as I approached the central loop, things took a turn for the worse. The crowds got thicker and thicker. The restaurants, when they did appear, were of the branded, mass catering kind. Huge barns of places, run by managers, not chefs. I just knew they had laminated cards in the kitchen tell them what to defrost when.

All I wanted was a quiet drink and a simple dinner somewhere cosy. Whereas here, as a table of one, I would be lost among the families of seven, the hen do's and the work outings.

So I head back up the River Walk to a bar I'd spotted on the way down - it had had the right sort of vibe, claiming to be the oldest tavern on the walk. But at the time I didn't want to stop at the first half decent place I'd seen and decided to carry on. Of course, now, it looked like the best option.

Well, the place I ended up was called The Esquire Tavern, and it had actually been recommended in the comments on an earlier post. It apparently has the longest bar in Texas, and it served me a welcome cold beer and some delicious tacos. It was also, quite possibly, the darkest place I have ever eaten in, and none of my photos came out. I'm sorry! But trust me, it's cool, atmospheric and possibly the most charming place on this end of the River Walk.

[Granary Brew and Cue]
The next night I was going to break with tradition and eat barbecue for dinner. Normally, barbecue is a lunch speciality - in fact, it's often seen as a sign of quality how quickly a place can sell out. Franklin's, in Austin, is famous for selling out before lunch.

Things are different at Granary Cue and Brew however. They do lunch, but for dinner the food is modern American, with a barbecue influence. I had the most traditional option, the market plate, a selection of the day's barbecue. Today it was pulled pork and brisket, along with bowls of beans, potato salad and sauce for the pork. I also had a few glasses of quite delicious beer brewed on the premises.

This was probably most like the barbecue I'd had in England - served by and sold to hip young men with smart beards, on plates, with cutlery. There was none of that rough and readiness of the small town barbecue joint, this was a smart, up market restaurant. I wasn't surprised to hear they'll be coming to England for the Meatopia festival.

[Granary Cue and Brew]
If I were an old cynic, I'd say the modern twist involved serving me half the normal amount of barbecue for twice the price - but I'm not in a cynical mood. I'd enjoyed the balmy walk along the river to get here, I'd enjoyed my beers and a quick chat with the owner. The brisket was as good as anything I'd had this trip, and there's always room for upscale barbecue. Not everyone wants to eat with the good-ol-boys with kitchen roll and white-sliced bread on the table.

However, I do love the authentic places -  I can eat clean and shiny barbecue in London any time I want (and I must go back to see how they compare), but places like Mueller's, Blacks, Smitty's and Cooper's are quintessentially American, an experience I'll never get the likes of in London.

So, after a shaky start, I had two great meals in San Antonio, and I look forward to meeting Granary Cue and Brew on my home turf!

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