Just past the wooden tables with the knives chained to the wall, it hits you square in the senses. The aroma of wood smoke and grilled beef. The blazing heat from two indoor barbecue pits. The sudden aching desire for an ice-cold bottle of Big Red soda.
This is Kreuz Market, a veritable shrine for Texas carnivores.
This summer, Kreuz (pronounced "krites") was rated one of the top three barbecue joints in the state by Texas Monthly magazine. And it wasn't talking ambience.
At Kreuz, you won't find chilled salad bars, blaring honky-tonk music, or cutesy signs that read "Our cows were out standing in their field." You won't even find silverware. Visitors use plastic knives. Regulars bring their own pocketknives.
Such simplicity has kept Texans loyal since 1900, when the one time butcher's shop started smoking leftover meat at the end of the day and selling it out the back door. And for almost a century, the menu has remained basically the same: beef brisket, prime rib, pork loin, hand-tied smoked sausages, and precious little else.
"You're not going to have any two-alarm stuff smeared all over it, it's just meat" says Bob Elder, a lifetime Austin resident who drives 40 minutes to get to Kreuz. "I'm talking real barbecue. If you wanted to run a Gray Line tour full of tourists, you'd go to the Salt Lick [a popular Austin restaurant with its own catalog], but if you want to feed your roofer, you go to Kreuz."
In this state, where barbecue secrets are handed down from father to son, that's high praise indeed. But for the owners of Kreuz, success has a simple, if secret, recipe.
"We don't use barbecue sauce, we don't have knives and forks, and we don't give out recipes," says Leeman Schmidt, the friendly, carrot-topped general manager of Kreuz. But when pressed, he reveals some of the ingredients. "We just use a dry rub of salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper, cook it fast over high heat, and let the smoke flavor the meat."