Alibi V.25 No.44 • Nov 3-9, 2016 

Restaurant Review

No, Seriously ... Mess with Texas!

Marley’s speaks barbeque

Talking barbeque is like talking politics, religion or sports. The time, heat and wood that make the specific composition of barbeque smoke are just the beginning, and the rabbit hole gets pretty deep. For instance: beyond what kind of wood is used is the soil where that wood was grown, how dry it is, or if it’s too sappy. How was the heat? Was the smoke blue? Black? White? There are a lot of moving pieces—and we haven’t even looked at the meat! The argument is … involved.

Half rack ribs
Half rack ribs
Hosho McCreesh

And at their new North Valley location, proudly staking their claim to a slice of said argument, is Marley’s Barbeque. Barbeque in the Central Texas tradition means small Texas towns like San Saba and Elgin, even specific oak from near Austin, play pivotal roles in their approach. Don’t call it “local sourcing” so much as “Texas sourcing”—a constellation of very specific flavors that form the backbone of their menu. I pushed through the front door to the clunk of a wind chime made of Lone Star empties, ready to see how just Marley’s stacks up.

The earth-toned walls of the wide open space, the requisite cow skull and Texas flag, rough wood and corrugated metal were as pleasant and surprising as the PBS news on the TV. It was a weekday dinner and the staff was busy without being overrun, sorry to disappoint the occasional diners with news of sold out items. They make what they make daily, and once they’re out, that’s it—so the best way to get what you want is to go early.

The menu offers one appetizer: BBQ nachos with chopped brisket ($8.95)—ah, Texas/New Mexico fusion! This dish features tortilla chips capped with moist, luscious brisket, the punch of jalapeños, and is drizzled with the house barbeque sauce in a generous portion that means business—plenty for two or three folks who plan on entrées.

Chopped brisket sandwich
Chopped brisket sandwich
Hosho McCreesh
Speaking of, you’ve got two choices: Pick a protein as either a sandwich or a plate. The pulled pork sandwich ($8.95) has jalapeños, onions and the bright, tangy house sauce on a terrific bun thick enough to soak up the juice without falling apart. The long, torn ribbons of pork were wonderfully moist, subtle with smoke, and the bacon potato salad—packed with hunks of hard-boiled egg, bacon and parsley—takes the picnic staple to the next level. If it’s beef you’re after, the chopped brisket sandwich ($8.95) is not only a great pick, it’s probably the best I’ve ever had. I finished mine only to immediately start looking forward to eating it again. I took it with fries—fresh cut with bits of skin still on, which were perfect in the house sauce and sandwich drippings. The Elgin sausage sandwich ($8.95) from the “sausage capital of Texas” was solid—two rich and peppery links, a hoagie with sauteed onions, bell pepper and a German-style grain mustard. The veggies (like you’d find in fajitas) were hardly necessary and I’d swap for diced onion instead.

The earth-toned walls of the wide open space, the requisite cow skull and Texas flag, rough wood and corrugated metal were as pleasant and surprising as the PBS news on the TV.

The two differences between sandwiches and plates are 1) a chicken option, and 2) an extra side. On the two-meat combo plate ($11.95), I took smoked chicken and sliced brisket. In the chopped brisket was enough buttery gristle to ramp up the juices, but if wet isn’t your thing, the sliced brisket is served dry—just the salt, pepper and smoke—a bit of a blank canvas for my taste. The chicken, too, was a simple, straight-forward dish—and I wanted something more in terms of the spice. But the coleslaw was light on the dairy, and the perfect change-up pairing to all the meat. The Texas pinto beans were also a delight. The secret was some pulled pork thrown in with stewed tomatoes, onions and bell pepper. If you haven’t eaten since last spring, order the rib plate ($16.95 half-rack, $27.95 full rack). The meaty slab was thick and moist—a Herculean amount of grub. The smoke and pepper is slow-smoked in, and I would’ve taken even more—maybe a quick char before serving.

I washed it all down with a lemonade ($1.95) because they won’t have beer until February. Don’t skip dessert, because the pecan pie ($4.95) shouldn’t be missed. Served warm, the pecans are rich and earthy, the molten sugar lava is luxurious, and the crust even had some wheat flour—so, practically health food.

Intensely regional, and intensely personal, barbeque covers vast swaths of technique, flavor, rubs (or not), sauces (or not) and ingredients that are religion to some are sacrilege to others. It surely can’t be settled here. But, if it’s barbeque you crave, lunch or dinner (except Sunday), then take a drive to the valley, and give Marley’s a try. For my money, they’re certainly part of the conversation … or should I say argument?

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Marley’s Barbeque

7520 Fourth Street NW
(505) 639-5962
http://marleysbbq.com/
Hours: Mon-Thu 11am-8pm, Fri-Sat 11am-9pm
Vibe: Old-time comfort
Alibi Recommends: Chopped brisket, Elgin sausage, pecan pie