Although it’s only been around for ten years, if walking into Smitty’s Market gives you the sense that it’s been there for a long, long time that’s because, technically, it has. Started in 1924 (or so legend has it) by a man named Kreuz as a butcher shop and general store with a couple of brick barbecue pits in the back, it was taken over by Edgar “Smitty” Schmidt back in 1948.
Schmidt retained the Kreuz name–as did his progeny who took over the business and, in the mid-1990s, moved the by-then famous barbecue enterprise about a mile up the road to a cavernous, gleaming paean to commercial restaurant modernity. Enter Smitty’s daughter Nina, her husband Jim, and her son, John, who in 1999 decided to take over the original shop and make sure it kept doing what it had always done. It’s those pits in the back, still in existence and operating on a daily basis, that have provided nearly a century’s worth of the smoke which fills the rooms and cakes the walls of the restaurant with a rich, silvery brown hue which today’s most technologically advanced color sampling programs could never duplicate.
But that’s what a place like Smitty’s is all about–the realization that there are some things that a machine could never do. The ingrained belief that it’s not a matter of being old-fashioned (although the customer experience it creates is a good by-product), but that authenticity means being genuine to the core and not taking even the slightest technological shortcut. There’s something to be said for not giving in to the lure of automation, and standing by the credo that good barbecue depends simply on fire, a well-built smoker, good cuts of meat, and someone who knows how to put all three together without a timer, a thermometer, a computer program, or a propane tank.
Of course it’s simple to break it down that way, and to an outsider it appears an easy thing to do. But spend enough time watching the pit masters and the sausage-makers and the butchers relying on nothing but their senses and intuition to consistently deliver the quality and the sensory experience that makes a visit to the place memorable, and you realize that it’s not so simple to put it all together.
But don’t take it from me. Next time you’re in Austin, take a drive about 30 miles south to the little town of Lockhart. Drive past the giant tourist trap of Kreuz Market and pull off U.S. highway 183 into the dirt and gravel parking lot. Walk through the back door and let the smoke hit you as you stroll past the open flame of the pit, and order your meat. It’ll be served up on a pieice of butcher paper with nothing but some white bread and a knife–there are no forks here. Plunk down your cash (no credit cards, please), take your package, and have a seat at one of the community tables in the dining room. Dig in.
It’s just that simple.