Luling has two great claims to culinary fame: the annual watermelon thump, a festival presided over by that year’s Watermelon Queen, and the City Market, which is one of the defining BBQ parlors of the Southwest.
City Market’s dining area is cool and comfortable. To fetch the food, however, you must walk into hell. A swinging door leads into a back-room pit, a shadowy, cave-like chamber illuminated by the glow of burning logs in pits on the floor underneath the iron ovens. It is excruciatingly hot; but apparently at ease in their sweltering workplace, pit men assemble meats on pink butcher paper with gracious dispatch. They take your money, then gather the edges of the paper together so it becomes a boat-like container you easily can carry back into the cool, pine-paneled dining room.
The brisket is terrific, as are pork ribs, but City Market’s great dish is a sausage ring. Even when the long communal tables are crowded and a dozen conversations are in full sway all around, you cannot help but hear the crunch and snap as diners’ teeth bite into the unbelievably taut casings of a City Market sausage ring. These horseshoe-shaped, string-tied guts are a lean, rugged grind with only the echo of pepper laced through their mineral-rich muscularity.
Uncharacteristically (for Texas), the City Market also makes significant barbecue sauce – a spice-speckled, dark orange emulsion that is so coveted by customers that signs on the wall above every booth implore “Please Leave Sauce Bottles on Tables.”
Note: The City Market of Luling is not related to the Luling City Market of Houston.