Monday, November 5, 2012

Uncle Joe's Place

I have memories of eating at my “Uncle” Joe’s place, but they are vague memories from the early years of my life.  My grandfather would sometimes take me to visit “Uncle” Joe, and we would always talk with him and “Aunt” Jessie while we ate spicy smoked beef and cheese enchiladas.  Then “Uncle” Joe went away.  My 4-year-old mind didn’t understand this, and it took me a number of years before I understood that he had died.  But we still went back from time to time to visit “Aunt” Jessie and her children.
“Uncle” Joe’s place was a restaurant.  I believe it was also their home, but I was never certain about it.  The building leaned according to the direction of the wind, and there was no, uh, d├ęcor to it.  It was simply a place to eat.  But it was a very, very good place to eat.
“Aunt” Jessie was also known as Mamasus to almost everyone else.  She and her children continued to feed anyone who walked in the door and through the kitchen to the room where only a few tables and chairs were set up.  And for years I continued to eat there, first with my family, and then as I grew up, on my own. 
When I was about 20 years old, some friends invited me to join them for dinner at Joe T. Garcia’s restaurant for some Mexican food.  I didn’t know where this was, and they were shocked.  Anyone from Fort Worth should know this.  But they gave me some familiar sounding directions, and I drove there.  It was “Uncle” Joe’s place.  I had been eating there all my life, and I didn’t know this tiny ramshackle house was well known and well respected among the Texas restaurants.
One of the Garcia children, Hope, greeted us on the way in and seated us at one of the two larger tables.  Without asking what we wanted, dinner was served.  As always the food was brought to the table family style, and everyone helped themselves to a portion from the serving dishes.  And as always it was very, very good. 
I made it back to the restaurant many more times over the next 5 or 6 years before I moved away from Fort Worth, and I began to notice a third generation of children making their appearance as helpers, servers, and cooks.  But the old restaurant always looked the same.  It was always leaning as though it was going to fall over, but it was always clean and freshly painted.  And busy.  I guess my visitations were timed about right, because I never waited for more than a few minutes for a place to sit down and eat, but I started noticing when I left, a long line of people were standing outside the door.
That was nearly 40 years ago.  I checked out the restaurant on-line recently and it is nothing like my memories.  There is a sprawling building with many spacious outdoor patios for the guests.  Ambience is the extreme opposite of the original building, and there is now a menu.  I hope to get back to visit some day and see if the food brings back memories of “Uncle” Joe’s place.
I can’t remember the exact flavors of the barbeque Joe T. served when I was a kid, but I do remember the uniqueness of the taste.  It was a flavorful, slightly spicy, smoked beef, and I am reminded more of chuck than brisket by the texture.  I don’t remember it being served after his passing, and it could have been something not normally available anyway.  Knowing my grandfather, he may well have special ordered it ahead of time.  But here is the version I created just to satisfy my own hunger.  Warning!  Don’t be in a hurry.
Spicy Smoked Beef
Serves 6.
    1 (10-ounce) can chipotle chilies in adobo
    ½ stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
    1 (3 to 3 ½) pound chuck-eye roast.  Choose one that is well marbled.  (Even better, make a second roast at the same time.  There is never too much of this stuff.)
    Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Set the roast(s) on a counter, covered, for about 30 to 45 minutes while preparing a smoker for low heat with oak and pecan wood as the smoke source.  The heat should never exceed 225F, and 210F to 215F is ideal.
Remove any stems from the chipotle chilies and place the chilies with all of the adobo sauce in a blender.  Pour in the butter and blend until smooth.
Rub the outside of the roast all over with the mixture, and then pierce deeply with a sharp fork to force some of the sauce into the meat (an injector also works).  Rub the meat again to evenly coat the meat.  Sprinkle salt and pepper over the top.
Wrap the meat in foil and place in a smoker for about 1 hour.  Open the foil wrapper so the meat and juices are still contained, but the meat is fully exposed to the smoke.  Smoke for three additional hours at 215F, and then allow the temperature to slowly reduce to about 190F to 195F over 1 or 2 more hours.  The internal temperature of the roast should also be about 190F to 195F.
Remove the roast from the smoker and wrap in several new layers of heavy foil.  Wrap the foil in several layers of towels, place in a small empty ice chest (not Styrofoam), and close the lid for 2 to 3 hours to finish.  This “sweating” time allows the fats in the meat to continue to melt and distribute through the meat.
Remove from the foil, slice and serve with a couple of big cheese enchiladas.

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