New Orleans has been enjoying a boom time for barbecue. The same is true for boudin. Satisfying a craving for either once required some travel, though both are now well-represented by purveyors in the city.And yet lately what's set me eagerly ambling down the road again is a new obsession at the intersection of the two.
Gonzo‘s Smokehouse & BBQ is a new shop in Luling that’s open Fridays only. But it’s been earning a name in local barbecue circles for years with its Central Texas approach, a stripped down, plainspoken style defined by dry rubs, patience and, above all, brisket. Gonzo's cut a different path with its boudin however.
This looks much as you’d expect from good Cajun butcher shop — a plump link straining at the casing, mottled with the rice and meat and flecks of green onion within. But that whiff of smoke you detect is not just coming from the smoldering barbecue trailer out back.
Specialty links from Gonzo’s are made with smoked beef; that's either brisket, the same the shop sells by the pound and packs into sandwiches, or barbacoa, here a rendition of slow-smoked beef cheeks.
This is different from smoked boudin — a wonderful cornerstone of some Cajun butcher shops where the whole pork link is smoked. The beauty of these bad boys is the variation of flavor and texture.
The brisket boudin from Gonzo’s adds another dimension. The smoky, salty, crusted beef provides the X factor in the equation, bursting with rich flavor that changes bite by bite between the soft rice and seams of spice. You might get a chunk of barbecue in one nibble and a lighter taste of its smokiness in the next.
Take a look at a link cut open in profile and you might see a hunk of beef with its purplish smoke ring embedded in a wreath of meaty rice. It’s all flavor.
Brisket boudin has turned up and turn heads in Texas barbecue country. We now have a version a little closer to Louisiana boudin country. The gonzo pit master behind this is Jason Gonzalez. He grew up on the west bank cooking with his family in the Louisiana way and took on barbecue later. It was a hobby that grew into a passion that became a side hustle.
He started Gonzo’s Smokehouse and BBQ as a mobile festival vendor a few years back. The business was growing to the point where in December he decided to leave his career track job at an engineering firm to take Gonzo’s fulltime. Because this is 2020, you already see the cliff ahead for this plan. The robust festival calendar he was banking on was swept away by the pandemic.
But over the summer, he decided to open up a storefront location. He chose Luling because it’s close to family, close to the industrial plants where he does catering work, and, importantly, because it was affordable.
He gets some help on Fridays for prepping and serving, but in the preceding days, Gonzalez works solo behind the shop. He has twin smokers, each fabricated from 500-gallon propane tanks, each mounted to the same trailer. It's like some double-barrel "Mad Max" contraption but with a heart of gold touch: Each smoker is named in honor of a grandma, Mabel and Patsy.
The shop is in a strip mall facing the levee a few miles from the Hale Boggs bridge. It would be easy to overlook, but most people do not show up here by happenstance.
Many Gonzo’s regulars pre-order and have pick-up times firmly in mind as their Fridays begin.
They're coming for pulled pork that flakes apart under a darkened, salty surface, and pork belly burnt ends that pop with fatty flavor and char. They get sides like grits with gouda folded in and mac and cheese studded with bits of chorizo.
Many are coming for Gonzo’s brisket all on its own, with its variegated inner color, a beef flavor as vivid as jus and deep as marrow and the craggy, glistening black bark of its crust.
Gonzo’s shop is as spare and stripped down as the menu — all orders are served to go, whether you order ahead or walk up. Gonzalez plans to add dine-in service at a small collection of tables in about a month. For now, though, the bare bones approach has proved durable enough through the pandemic.
So many rituals of local life are off or altered now. But fall still puts Louisiana people on the road, even if that football tailgate is in a buddy's backyard and the family gatherings are in the driveway instead of the den. It’s nice to bring something special to the party. In Luling, Gonzo’s is smoking up some special stuff just up the road.