Austin new-school barbecue trailer LeRoy and Lewis and San Antonio barbecue joint 2M Smokehouse may be new to the Texas smoked meats landscape, but their respective pitmasters, Evan LeRoy and Esaul Ramos, are decidedly known and respected.
Similarities exist between the two ventures, which are representative of larger trends emerging around Texas. There’s the desire to put a personal or local spin on classic styles. Then there’s the excitement at taking the Central Texas style of barbecue to underserved areas — in this case, Dripping Springs (where LeRoy & Lewis will eventually open a brick and mortar) and San Antonio.
Both pitmasters exhibit some bias toward Texas barbecue puritanism: slow and low with post oak are still the cooking norm, but both proteins and sides are getting more esoteric. Not everything is a reinvention, though: These businesses are bootstrapping and starting small, and are forged in personal friendships and a desire to do something new. Each respects the craft of barbecue and the high quality level of the competition statewide.
Before opening 2M, Esaul Ramos worked alongside La Barbecue’s founding pitmaster John Lewis in Austin. He took over the trailer, delivering stellar results within La’s tried-and-true system. A few miles away, near University of Texas Austin, Evan LeRoy was making a splash with his work at Freedmen’s, turning a nondescript block of West Campus into one of the best barbecue stops in Central Texas. Both men represent a growing, progressive spirit made possible by the last decade’s run of incredible Texas barbecue.
After a lengthy stint working at La Barbecue, Ramos saw an ethos he could relate to. “I really appreciated both the pride and the total consistency in the quality product they could deliver day in and day out,” he said of the barbecue trailer.
A San Antonio native, Ramos got his start tending meat during backyard barbecues with his extended family. When he returned to San Antonio to start 2M, he spent months hosting pop-ups and restoring a brick-and-mortar space with close friend and business partner Joe Melig, while refining his menu and recipes along the way.
“I worked to develop my own takes on sausage, and to put more South Texas flavors into our menu,” Ramos said. Some early hits include both the cilantro pork and the serrano and Oaxaca cheese sausages, which have earned regular spots on 2M’s menu.
Like most top-tier Central Texas pitmasters, Ramos cooks with post oak using indirect heat. “I like oak because it is subtle — it won’t overdo the smokiness,” he explained. The house rub injects more coriander and onion powder than at other spots, along with the traditional salt and pepper.
While 2M mostly sticks to the staples, Ramos expects to experiment with new meats and dishes as the restaurant grows. “We’re doing Sunday barbacoa, which is different,” he said. “I buy beef cheeks and do barbacoa on the smoker, just to change things up.”
Ramos also cited boredom rather than cost savings for the rise in creative menus at new establishments: “Costs are rising for everything — I think we all get antsy after a while and want to try cooking something different.”
To that point, 2M’s whimsical menu of sides mixes tradition with a sense of playfulness, running the gamut from buttermilk and bell pepper potato salad to mac and cheese with pork rinds. Pickled nopales and bell peppers also replace the more typical red onions. In the most San Antonio of touches, homemade tortillas take the place of the usual white sandwich bread.
After massive early success, the 2M team remains cautious about growth and expansion. They cite consistency and quality as their main focus for the immediate future. It might expand with a second pit next year. “This has been a lot of work,” Ramos said, “but it’s all been worth it.”
LeRoy and Lewis
Until LeRoy and Lewis’s brick and mortar opens in 2018, the operation lives in a shiny, modern food truck off South Congress. The location shares a courtyard with both the Infinite Monkey Theorem winery and Cosmic Coffee and Beer Garden in what looks to be a smart bid to create a new destination area for drinking and dining.
Guests currently crowd communal picnic tables on the weekends, while weekdays see more manageable lines (though still enough for daily sellouts — as with all great Texas barbecue, go early or risk disappointment), plus dinner service. Co-owners Evan LeRoy (pitmaster) and Sawyer Lewis (operations manager) are usually on-site, either behind the counter or roaming the grounds chatting with guests during quieter stretches.
LeRoy is the team’s known quantity in Texas barbecue circles — his excellent work at Freedmen’s earned the West Campus establishment Texas Monthly’s coveted “best newcomer” award during the 2015 barbecue festival, as well as many additional accolades. While Austin diners may not recognize Lewis by name, they may know her by sight. Before embarking to start LeRoy and Lewis, she served as Contigo’s general manager.
“It was just time,” LeRoy explained his departure from Freedmen’s. He always wanted to open his own restaurant, met Nathan and Sawyer Lewis through mutual friends, and thus began LeRoy and Lewis.
LeRoy and Lewis evolved through a series of pre-opening collaboration dinners and pop-ups with local restaurants as varied as Cane Rosso and Stiles Switch. “Our menu development is still happening,” Sawyer Lewis explained.
LeRoy concured: “It gave me a chance to step outside of the normal boundaries, and to partner with breweries, for example, which was important to all of us.”
While LeRoy and Lewis is certainly a barbecue establishment, there are some notable differentiators. The sustainably raised Texas meats come from sources like 44 Farms and Cobb Creek, which often leads to unconventional selections on the daily menu.
A number of different cuts are utilized, most notably the standout beef cheeks, which LeRoy calls his “biggest hit.” Another winner is the porchetta, which is made with pork and rabbit.
Lewis laughed when recounting a common ordering snafu, since the menu often changes: “Sometimes the traditional barbecue items simply aren’t on the board. People will not look and just order brisket, and we’ll say, ‘Sorry, could you come back Saturday?’”
While the dishes are unconventional, the smoker is not. LeRoy and his father built a smoker utilizing the Central Texas offset, indirect-heat style, which cooks with post oak.
LeRoy’s menu’s creativity is amplified by the sides and sauces. While hits such as cheesy squash and potato salad are usually on the menu, everything from fried rice to a smoked beet barbecue sauce makes an occasional appearance. There's sometimes even a banchan-style bite of kimchi and pickled vegetables served with both the sampler plates and sandwiches. The net effect is as much fine dining as Texas barbecue, though the cafeteria tray and picnic table seating are decidedly Austin.
As the business grows, the team is working toward a brick-and-mortar debut on the 290 corridor between Oak Hill and Dripping Springs, though they note that this is still in the development phase. The operation in its final form will serve as both restaurant and brewpub, with co-owner Nathan Lewis overseeing a program focused on both food-friendly German-style beers and smoked beers. (The brewpub will get a smoker reserved exclusively for smoking malt.)
Sawyer Lewis describes the LeRoy and Lewis endgame as “destination dining, where you can meet friends and take a break from Austin for a couple of hours.” In the meantime, diners can line up at the restaurant’s first trailer for some of the most creative and boundary-pushing barbecue in Texas.