Brownsville’s 1848 BBQ is a delightful, delicious encounter with memories and flavors

South Texas Flavor

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BROWNSVILLE — The sun moves beyond the trees as a late afternoon breeze warm and wet blows swift and steady down the wide boulevard.

I’m taking a casual drive down Palm Boulevard and I’m doing some Ubering and some Lyfting. It is often on these ride-sharing excursions through the towns and the cities that I discover the most intriguing people and places and novel things in life.

On this particular drive on a Saturday afternoon down Palm Boulevard I glimpse the word “BBQ,” and I think it is not something I see quite often so the glimpse compels me to look again and more closely.

I pull into the parking lot of 1848 BBQ which is actually listed as being on 5 Avalon Dr. but is more aptly described as being at the intersection of Palm Boulevard and Avalon Drive.

It is a curious view I encounter, a classic wooden South Texas BBQ place but with an outdoor area of picnic tables and lawn chairs and potted plants and lights hanging overhead for the evening hours.

I also see a reference to a beer garden. That term has always somewhat distracted me; the first image it brings to mind is a garden set out in neat little rows of Budweiser and Lone Star and Miller and Pearl. I catch myself once again taking a quick look but can find no such garden, only a pleasant outdoor area with chairs and tables and folded tarps.

Inside 1848 BBQ, a young and pleasant woman immediately greets me and directs me to a stand up menu on the counter.

It is a fine menu. The brisket at the top of the list catches my eye as it always does. Brisket says BBQ and BBQ says Texas and better yet South Texas and it says flavor with onions and pickles and BBQ sauce. Brisket says my father’s BBQs on Saturdays in his homemade pits, it says BBQ at our hunting lease in Goliad in my youth, it says barbecued iquana in Panama. It says so many things from different times and different places in my life.

So … I know what I am going to get. But curiosity and a love for all things BBQ compel me to keep shopping so my eyes move down. The ribs and turkey are “sold out” —hmmmm, maybe I should come back another time and find out why. There’s chopped brisket, sausage and pulled pork.

I see plates of two meats, three meats, sliced meats, more turkey and pulled pork and sausage. But brisket has it.

The only dilemma now is whether I want sliced brisket or chopped brisket and I choose sliced, as it’s the easiest route to the taste and I don’t want to waste time arriving at my destination – taste. The waitress — owner? cashier? — directs me to the sides and I choose the beans and the buttered corn.

She gives me the buzzer to let me know it’s ready but the buzzer doesn’t have time to alert me because almost immediately the young lady sets the meal in front of me — a metal tray with my warm brisket and the paper cups of beans and corn and a baggie of two bread slices.

She points out an area near a window facing Palm Boulevard where I can get sliced onions and pickles and BBQ sauce. This is all a fine and almost nostalgic experience as I have not had BBQ in quite some time. I recall now that there are in fact an abundance of BBQ places in the Valley and I do not know why I have not had BBQ at any of these places.

Perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood for BBQ but I am certainly in the mood on this Saturday afternoon in Brownsville and I have picked the perfect place to satisfy that mood.

I take a seat at my square wooden table and make a brisket sandwich. Aall the brisket won’t fit between the bread slices but that’s OK. I load as much brisket and onions and pickles as I can and the flavor sends a thrill into my mouth and I chew slowly and taste slowly so I won’t miss even one tiny drop of that flavor.

A snapshot of the menu at 1848 BBQ includes brisket, turkey, ribs, sausage and pulled pork, as well as sides — potato salad, beans, cole slaw and buttered corn — and banana pudding. (Travis M. Whitehead | Valley Morning Star)

As I sit here enjoying my sandwich, an old man and his female companion move toward the door and the young lady says, “See you guys have a nice day,” and the man tosses his empty paper trays and napkins into the garbage and places his metal tray on top. His lady friend follows him into the afternoon sun.

Fans extending from the corrugated metal ceiling keep the air circulating, several patrons engage in lengthy conversation with the bartender, and the unmistakable Mick Jagger sings “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” which has long been my anthem for my frustrated youth.

I first made this connection when I was in the Army in Panama and my boss, an Air Force tech sergeant, said it was his anthem too from his teen years when he “had a car and nowhere to go.”

Confused. “You…had…a…car…and…nowhere to…go?”

“That’s a joke! God!”

I was a little slow to pick up on such humor back then, but once I figured it out I realized the song spoke to me as well.

However, it isn’t just Mick Jagger that conjures humorous albeit rather painful memories.

BBQ itself has layers of meaning. As mentioned, it’s a memory of my father’s cookouts in his homemade BBQ pits where he made brisket and sausage and chicken and hamburger patties. It’s my hunting lease where we barbecued brisket and sausage and venison and javelina and even the occasional racoon and armadillo.

There was also the barbecue I attended in Panama in the early ’80s where I had quickly associated myself with fellow South Texans. One of them, a man from Shroeder, had a barbecue at his place where he lived in a lovely area at a place called Ancon Hill surrounded by tropical trees. He had all the Texas fixings: brisket, chicken, sausage … and something that looked sort of like a lizard?

He’d accidently killed an iguana while mowing his lawn.

My visit this afternoon also invokes a memory of a place called “Texas BBQ” I visited in Amsterdam, Holland in October 1985. I don’t remember if I actually had BBQ that night, but I do remember it provided a much appreciated escape from a very large teenage mugger on a bicycle who asked me for money several times while fumbling through the inside of his denim jacket.

I had inadvertently wandered into Amsterdam’s red light district and found myself surrounded by people selling all manner of curious merchandise: “Coke? Coke? Hash? Dynamite man, check it out!” And then the prostitutes in the windows and then the teenage mugger on a bicycle asking me for money, and then me dashing into “Texas BBQ” where I spoke to the owner from Dallas who said, yes, that’s a common problem. I wasn’t the only one who had sought refuge in his restaurant.

Aaah, yes. BBQ. And there is no finer place to enjoy BBQ in Brownsville, Texas than 1848 BBQ at Palm Boulevard and Avalon Drive.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, 11 a.m. to midnight Wednesday through Saturday, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. It’s closed on Monday.