Just a spot in the road: Thorndale Meat Market and (future) Biergarten (review)

For those who’ve been curious (or dare I hope, worried?), I haven’t died in the dry Texas heat, so bad it felt like any drive out was a race across Fury Road.  Without the doof mobiles.  Just ask anyone who lives in Texas how bad it’s been — days in the 100º’s before the heat index, no rain until the last five days, which has now turned our backyard into a swamp once more.

But hello, rain, we needed you.

That said, I haven’t forgotten any of you who keep an eye out for new recipes and reviews.  If you’ve been checking Geek Girl out for updates, one thing you’ll have noticed is the look of the place.  We’ve been under a bit of construction, exchanging our training wheels look (very basic) for something much more fun and professional.  So to christen the new look, here’s a review of my family’s new favorite eatery that also happens to be a meat market.

Since moving up to this area of the state, I find myself driving through or spending time in a variety of small towns.  Very small towns in some cases.  Sometimes, I go out with my sister and aunt just to drive and see the countryside, and that often involves lunch somewhere different.  Or at least, I try for different.  Taco Bell still wins out part of the time out of habit, but I become more animated when there are local eateries to try because I’d much rather have non-chain flavors than the same old, same old.  You know?  I’m kind of like Guy Fieri in that matter, except I don’t get paid well to eat.  Ha!

One of the small towns about 15-20 minutes northeast from where I live is called Thorndale.  For us, up until last fall, Thorndale was a town we passed through on the way to or home from Rockdale.  Prior to my brother and sister-in-law discovering the Thorndale Meat Market, we might’ve stopped at the convenience store; otherwise, we just passed through.  Then Joe and Linda called one day to tell Kathy (my sister) that they’d driven out to Rockdale to check out the metal art guy, and on the way back, they decided to stop at the meat market to check it out.  My brother, who had been dieting for surgery, and his wife had been searching for healthier but tasty food, so they decided to buy some of the meat, which is all local raised, and a lot of the beef is grass-fed.  Not only is Thorndale Meat Market just that, it’s a small grocery store, and even better than that, the owner, Trey Felton, smokes meat, and he and his employees make sides to go with it in what becomes consistently THE BEST barbecue.

Thorndale Meat Market Sign with cute pig

Meat Market and groceries

Thorndale seating

I’ve had some good bbq not just all over Texas but outside of it (in Oklahoma and Louisiana, mostly), but even the best joints I’ve been to have had their off days.  So far, Thorndale Meat Market doesn’t have off days.  Every piece of meat comes out smoked to perfection and so tender that you almost never need a knife to cut it. From their beef ribs, which look like they came off a dinosaur (they’re that big!) to their brisket, every bite of meat is melt in your mouth with seasonings and flavors I’ll never forget because I dream about them constantly.

Let some of these photos speak for themselves.

The first up: smoked turkey, babyback ribs, macaroni salad, and their beans (one of the ladies who works there came up with the seasoning for the beans, which they now sell in small to huge containers – the idea is that you can use a whole (small) container for 2lbs of beans. When we used it to season a can of pinto beans, I used just under 2 tsp to season perfectly.

smoked turkey babyback ribs

This is the beef rib and the beef sausage with their sweeter, mayo-based coleslaw and beans:

beef rib beef sausage coleslaw

Okay, this is just gratuitous beef rib porn to show just how big these things are. That’s at least 2 1/2-3 inches of beef rib right there.

big ass beef rib

The next few photos are actually from our most recent visit (as in last Saturday). We do try to go once or twice a month to eat, and The Roommate and I go every two weeks to purchase meat from the market, and I’ll talk a little more about that later.

So, one of the big sellers, according to Trey Felton, is the sausage wraps. They’re inexpensive, and it’s essentially just the beef sausage on a slice of white bread. Sounds simple, right? And perhaps a little unimpressive. WRONG. The amount of flavor in that sausage, minus the greasy fat you find in most sausage, but all of the juiciness that soaks into the break is something otherworldly. What looks simple is actually snappy explosion on your tongue. They smoke the sausage to the level of perfection that when you bite into it, the skin has an audible snap before you drown your tastebuds in the rest of it. So amazing! Well, Trey told The Roommate and I that while the sausage wraps used to be one of their biggest sellers, it’s been eased to the side for their brisket tacos, served in one of their homemade flour tortillas with your choice of toppings (homemade pico de gallo, cheese…).

Let me tell you. I’d been thinking about those two items non-stop since hearing about them, so last Saturday’s visit – which included listening to live music by local duo Green Whiskey – was a pilgrimage (for me) to try the wrap and taco. I was not disappointed. Since I already described the wrap, let me tell you about the brisket taco. Now, up until I moved to the Hill Country in 2010, I didn’t like brisket. No matter how hard they tried in Corpus, none of the bbq places, in my opinion, could make a decent brisket, much less a GOOD one. They were always too fatty or too dry and needed a ridiculous amount of sauce for it to be palatable. Hill Country bbq is just superior, but I will say that some places still had their bad brisket days.

Thorndale Meat Market does not have bad brisket days. Even if you ask for lean brisket, meaning they cut off the fat for you, it is juicy and tender so you don’t need a knife. The bark — which is the outer part of the brisket that’s been rubbed down with spices and becomes that almost black bark-like skin while smoking — has the best flavor, so you don’t want to skip eating that part. You can put sauce on this if you want because Thorndale Meat Market’s sauce is good, but you don’t need it. It’s got so much flavor on its own. Sliced and set on one of those homemade tortillas with some of the homemade pico de gallo? It’s Valhalla in every single bite. My greatest disappointment in it was taking that last bite and not having more after it.

brisket taco sausage wrap and pasta salad

The other big feature from last Saturday is that, since it was Ryan Davenport’s (one half of Green Whiskey) birthday, Trey smoked a whole pig. I’ve never eaten meat from a “whole smoked” anything before. Not like this. If I hadn’t been so hellbent on the brisket taco, I would’ve gotten the smoked pig, but thankfully, my brother and sister-in-law DID get some, and here’s my brother’s tray with the pig, the beef sausage, and a salad that is much better for his diet. Joe told me, “If you want a photo of this, get it now.” He’d offered a bite, but thankfully, they were giving samples up at the counter while we were ordering, and it was one of the best things I’d put in my mouth all day. Moist, tender, flavorful, smoky. It was like the end results after a hunt with the Aesir, that’s how perfect it was.

smoked whole pig beef brisket salad

And for reference sake, I want you to know that their smoked chicken and the pork steak sandwiches are favorites with my family, and they are amazing as hell. My aunt is a HUGE FAN of the chicken, and even with her small appetite, she rarely leaves a single bite on the bones, and that’s with the heaping scoop of her favorite potato salad. The Roommate leans a lot toward the pork sandwich, and it’s tender, flavorful, melts on your tongue, and they do not stint you on the amount they pile on the buns.

smoked chicken and potato salad

pork steak sandwich

I said I’d talk about the meat market side of this wonderful place, and so I will. I’ve struggled off and on with the beef and pork I bought from the grocery stores. I mean, HEB has some good quality beef, but sometimes, there’s too much fat or it can be tough, even after you cook it the way you’re supposed to. At Thorndale Meat Market, I’ve discovered that they have mistake-proof meat. Even when I make stirfry with the steaks, I don’t have to tenderize the beef at all. Just slice it thin and cook and eat, and it’s as melt in your mouth as anything you get in a good Chinese restaurant. I’m sure people could screw up while cooking with the local raised and grass-fed beef, but they’d have to try really hard to screw it up. Every time, no matter what I cook with the steaks — and I’ve tried several different cuts — and the boneless pork chops, they come out as fantastic as anything you’d find in a restaurant. I have every intention of getting my Yule roast there this year, and now that we have a smoker that Joe and Linda gave us (once I get it cleaned), I’ll be smoking my own meat from Thorndale when we’re not there to eat. If you can find yourself a reasonably priced butcher/meat market with local raised meat, my advice is to buy at least your beef there if not your pork as well. You won’t regret it. Thorndale Meat Market is so fantastic that even if/when The Roommate and I get to move away from Taylor to Pflugerville or Round Rock, we will continue to drive out to Thorndale to buy our meat from them over anywhere else.

So, if you find yourself on a small town tour of the Texas Hill Country, head east on US Highway 79 until you get to Thorndale and watch for the sign on your left (it’ll be west 79 and on your right if you’re heading in from the Rockdale way). From my understanding, they’re expanding into a full-blown biergarten in the future. Grab yourself a two meat, two side plate or some brisket tacos or sausage wraps, choice sides, and cups of delicious sweet or unsweet tea, and settle in for the best bbq meal of your life. And if you’ve got an ice chest, fill it with ice and meat that you can take home and cook later. Trust me, you’ll thank me for it.

And here’s your Geek Girl with owner and meat genius, Trey Felton.

Trey and me

Ah hah! Here’s the menu for quick reference:

Thorndale Meat Market Menu

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