Thursday, May 13, 2010

Friday, April 30, 2010: Cele Store (Manor, Texas)

Our party dwindled in numbers in the 11th hour, but the 4 of us who made the beautiful drive to Cele Store, outside of Manor, had a great time nonetheless. Cele Store is in the middle of some beautiful country, just Northeast of Austin, steeped in German-farming tradition. The old general-store type building is where you can find the local farmers ending their weekday workdays with cold drinks, but on Fridays, the place turns into a 1-night-a-week BBQ joint (reservations recommended, particularly if you wanna go on one of the two Fridays per month with live music).

Marilyn Weiss has owned Cele Store since 1951. (Seeing her sit at the bar, with a Man Up Texas BBQ koozie around her beer was quite a treat.) Her daughter Janice runs the place, and her grandson Brandon mans the oak-fired pit.

As luck would have it, as I pulled up to the restaurant, one of my students was arriving with her family, all longtime regulars of Cele Store. So, they shared some old stories and first-hand knowledge of the place. Always nice to get more history out of a visit.

Once you find your way to your reserved table, the lone waitress eventually comes around to take your drink orders and then later asks how many servings of everything to bring out family style. There’s no rush, and that’s a plus here. It only adds to the experience and atmosphere. Come on in, and stay a while. Enjoy yourself. It’s Friday, for crying out loud!

We asked for enough for 4, and we got plenty to go around. Piles of chopped brisket, sausage, baby-back pork ribs, pickles, onions, bread, jalapenos, cheese, and sauce. I didn’t eat the sausage (Well, I had 1 small bite, but that was enough to stop that train.), but I really enjoyed the ribs and thought the brisket went well on the bread, with pickles, cheese, and sauce.

After the meal, Janice and Brandon were kind enough to let us in the back, to see the pit, and they chatted with us for about 30 minutes. I could’ve hung out in the back room, next to the pit and the old-as-dirt stove (where they prepare the sauce) for hours. It felt like a place all too familiar, like somewhere I go every Friday night, to end the week with friends after a meal. Our night was low key, but I’m looking forward to going back on a live-music night, because it’s apparently a big ol’ time.

Anyway, some thoughts from Jacob (who joined us for the first time) and Mark, an old pro.

Jacob: “I was a little concerned about the brisket at first, as they had cut it up into small chucks instead of your typical long cuts of brisket. Each piece still had some great rendered fat and flavor on it. It also showed off how well the smoke and salt and pepper managed to soak into each bite. Ribs (which were baby back, which I found interesting) had an amazing salty crust on them and it locked in the flavor and moister perfectly. Not the best rib I have ever had, but most likely the best baby back . Sausage was ok. It was clearly Elgin Southside Market sausage. Typically I'm not a fan of Elgin sausage anymore, but I found out why. Elgin doesn't cook their sausage correctly, they keep it way to watery and undercooked. Cele Store cooked it perfectly, and made a decent sausage taste great. Finally, I have to mention the sauce, which was surprisingly good. We learned that the grandmother makes it each Friday and it is her recipe from way back. It had the perfect amount of flavor and spice to it, with great consistency and good freshness.”

Mark: “Brisket: moist and tender texture, but a surprising lack of flavor. Baby-back ribs: sticky and succulent. I'm not a big ribs fan, but these were very tasty, with decent portions of meat per rib. Sausage: Southside sausage cooked right. Very nice. Service/Atmosphere: a mixture of history, nostalgia, local and rural culture, and just good people. Very kind, friendly, inviting, and helpful. A stage and lighting setup sit just to the side of the cluster of tables, ready for the twice-monthly Friday night music shows featuring a consistent blend of mostly local musicians. The main room is a fly-by-night bar and Friday BBQ joint, but during the day it seems to serve as a local generic goods and small grocery shop. The add-on rooms behind the counter provide just the kind of dimly-lit, low-ceilinged hole-in-the-wall feel with soot-stained walls and cracked-brick firepits that I love in a rural eatery. It makes for an authentic family-style barbecue experience. This is what makes the 40 minute drive to the middle of neverending cornfields worthwhile.”

Jacob’s scores – Brisket: 7.5; Ribs: 8.5; Sausage: 5.5; Sauce: 8.5; Atmosphere: 9.5; Overall experience: 8

Mark’s scores – Brisket: 8.5; Ribs: 9.6; Sausage: 9.4; Service/Atmosphere: 10; Overall experience: 9.5

Drew’s scores – Brisket: 8; Pork ribs: 8.9; Service: 10; Atmosphere: 9.9; Overall experience: 9.6

Overall Man-Up Score: 9.03

Cele Store on Urbanspoon

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