In Texas, barbecue is king. One thing most of the Texas legends (i.e. Pecan Lodge and Franklin Barbecue chief among them) have in common is that they started small, and gained respect the hard way. Whenever we travel in-state, we're always in search of hole-in-the-wall, off-the-beaten-path BBQ joints to try, hoping to find the next hidden gem. We recently took a trip with our wine group to Lake Buchanan (outside of Burnet) and stumbled across the quaint "Payne's Bar-B-Q Shack."
Started by Robert Payne, a retired local butcher, and his wife Penny, a retired worker in a local school cafeteria, it's been a labor of love for the couple since the very beginning. Proudly named as one of Texas Monthly's Top 25 New BBQ Places in 2015, we were eager to test it out.
It's a small restaurant space, appropriately called a shack--essentially the size of a long single-wide trailer. Parking isn't easy, as it's right on the main highway. But, once we walked in, we were greeted by a chorus of "Howdy" from every employee in the place. That made my little Texan heart so happy. That, and the fact that everything smelled heavenly.
We each got a 2 meat plate - Cameron double extra-moist brisket, which they fished out of their reserves and cut specially for him. I got lean brisket and spicy sausage. They definitely don't skimp on the portions! When it came to sides, coleslaw and potato salad are self-serve via the honor system. Beans were on-the-house, all-you-can-eat, and kept warm in crock pots by the drink station. They're Peggy's specialty, and people love them!
We scooped our sides and headed to the dining room, which is truly meant to bring everyone together. Rather than having individual seating, there were wooden picnic tables grouped together in a long row in the middle surrounded by bartops on the perimeter. The place got crowded quickly, and everyone was forced to sit close to each other and chat. We loved eavesdropping on the cammo-clad rancher giving his life story to a group of California wedding guests eating Texas BBQ for the first time. Let's just say the story started with him as a young school teacher in the 1950s, and went for another 20 uninterrupted minutes. But hey, he was turning 80, and probably earned the right to do whatever he wanted. One other fun quirk was the zip-lock baggies filled with classic white bread scattered on each table. They even had a few bags of wheat bread--just in case you were trying to be health conscious. Because you shouldn't have to ask for bread when you're at a real BBQ joint.
The brisket was everything you traditionally look for - nicely charred on the outside, beautiful bright-pink smoke ring, and melt in your mouth tender with just the right amount of fat that added wonderful flavor. The spicy sausage was crunchy on the outside, and was just spicy enough to give some heat without being overwhelming. We could have probably drunk the sauce straight from the bottle, it was that good. Cameron (who is notoriously picky about potato salad) actually thought theirs was good--the closest to his Grandmother's recipe he's had in a very long time! The coleslaw was better than average, with the right amount of tanginess. The beans were really tasty, maybe because they had bits of brisket in them, maybe because they were free. They were certainly a huge hit with the locals.
Needless to say, we were very impressed with our entire experience at Payne's Bar-B-Q Shak. It's really exactly what Texas BBQ should be. We definitely thought Texas Monthly award was well deserved. We wish it was a little closer to us here in Dallas! But, on the other hand, we're hoping it stays a hidden gem so it can keep true to its Texas hospitality and charm. We certainly will make it our new tradition when passing through Burnet!