The final stop of day one of our Central Texas 5-Star Anniversary BBQ Tour was the Taylor Cafe, a rare Texas BBQ joint open until 10pm, perfect for our overnight stop in Taylor between days one and two of the tour.
I have written several times on the posse blog about Vencil Mares, owner of the legendary BBQ joint that he has operated since 1949. My respect for Vencil and what he means to the legacy of Texas BBQ is deep. You run a BBQ joint 7 days a week, from 6am to 10pm, for 61 years and then we'll talk. Every minute you can talk the barbecue business with him is valuable to your BBQ IQ.
I had a similar relationship in college while studying photojournalism at the University of Missouri. I was able to spend time with retired professor Cliff Edom, aka the "Father of Photojournalism," who had started the photo program at Missouri in the 1930s. I would spend the holidays at Cliff's, printing the Missouri Photo Workshop photo exhibit for him during the day, then spend the evening talking pictures and photoj history with Cliff, all the while valuing every minute I spent there. After all, Cliff had actually invented the word "photojournalism" in the early 30s. The education and influence he gave to many generations of the photojournalists is profound.
The same applies in Taylor with Vencil Mares. I had been to Taylor Cafe with my wife Michele a few months earlier and wanted the rest of posse to meet him and talk shop. When we walked in around 8pm, Vencil was sitting on his customary stool at the end of the bar, holding court with some locals. We briefly introduced ourselves, shook hands and headed to the other side of the bar to order dinner and some well deserved cold beverages.
After dinner, Vencil walked over to our side of the bar, leaned against the counter and we began to talk barbecue. I was amazed as he stood and chatted us for 20 minutes or so, standing is very difficult for him due to serious back problems. Texas BBQ Posse pitmaster Marshall Cooper and I peppered him with cooking technique questions.
Butcher paper wrapping vs. foil? Vencil says he would never use foil, makes the meat soggy. How do you know when the brisket is ready? Vencil uses a fork, but adds "you gotta know your fork." Priceless.....
Here's what a couple of posse members had to say after our visit to the Taylor Cafe.
Marshall Cooper: "Legendary place, location and owner. Definite step back in time to see. The owner & pit-master were extremely hospitable and personable. A great place to hang your hat and relax at, especially at night."
Zach Woo: "This place seemed much more authentic than the previous stops. This place probably hasn't been significantly remodeled since they added electricity. I ordered a brisket sandwich and it was good. The real entertainment came from listening to the other members of the posse grill Mr. Mares about his life and his technique. One of the perks of the location not noted in any review I've read was the proximity to the Taylor train station. The youngest member of the posse asked to go out and look at the trains after we finished here and I'd have to agree that they are very cool."
Please understand, you won't get the best BBQ of your tour when you visit the Taylor Cafe, though it's very good. Around the corner on 2nd Street is Louie Mueller Barbecue, one of the best places in the world. Drive 26 miles to the southeast and you'll be at Snow's BBQ, another of the great joints of Texas. And 49 miles to the south is Lockhart, the epicenter of Texas barbecue greatness with three, some say four, world-class BBQ joints in a town of 11,000.
But when you visit Vencil and the Taylor Cafe, the traditions of Texas BBQ history with come alive for you. Pull up a stool at the bar, order some brisket and sausage, then get your notepad out. It's time for BBQ 101 with Professor Mares.
Taylor Cafe, 101 N Main St., Taylor, TX, 76574, (512) 352-847. Open Mon-Fri 10am-10pm, Sat-Sun 10am-11pm.
Photos ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse