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Old 04-18-2006, 09:17 AM   #1
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Join Date: 07-18-04
Default Southside Market gets ripped

Southside Market in Elgin has a towering reputation as one of the best barbeque restaurants in the Southwest; it's even featured on the menu at Virgil's BBQ in New York. That reputation must have originated long ago, because I've gone there off and on for more than a decade and it's never been terribly good. I heard recently that they had gone through a shakeup in their cooking staff, so I thought I'd go by and give it another try and write a review with a relatively open mind.

As a dining facility, you can't fault Southside Market. It's a big building with a traditional rustic atmosphere and the pits are out back so the air-conditioning doesn't have to fight the heat. Inside there's a double serving line to handle big crowds, a nice big dining area, and lots of special features like an ice cream counter and a full-service butcher shop. They also have a sound system and play classic country, which adds to the atmosphere. All in all, just the right environment for great barbeque. Unfortunately the quality of the food doesn't live up to the presentation or the reputation.

For this visit I took the kids with me to get a youthful perspective and I ordered a little bit of everything for us to try. They only wanted potato chips and bread for sides and were mainly focused on the extensive selection of ice cream for after the meal.

Elgin is known for its sausage, and Southside Market has signs on the outside of the building and several places inside the building declaring it the "Home of Elgin Hot Sausage." Well, Elgin sausage, as a whole, isn't all that great whether you get it in a store and cook it yourself or get it hot at Southside or Meyers, which are the two main purveyors. Like most Elgin sausage, what Southside offers is coarse, ground pork, extremely greasy, and contrary to their claims, it's not spicy at all. It's boring, unappetizing sausage. Compared to the extraordinarily good hot sausage available in nearby Taylor and Lockhart, it's not even worth considering and its reputation is certainly undeserved.

The best items on the menu were the beef ribs and the mutton. The beef ribs had pretty good flavor. The rub was undistinguished, but the meat was tender and fairly moist. The mutton was the one item that had improved since the last time I visited. Previously it had been undercooked and extremely greasy, but this time it was much better cooked with a nice crust on it, and while it was still somewhat greasy hard to avoid with mutton the flavor was not bad at all. Not the best mutton ever, but a definite improvement over the last time I ate there.

The brisket was somewhat less good, but passable. It was a bit dry and tough, but the flavor was okay, with the same rub as the beef ribs. The pork ribs were the worst things we tried. I can only describe them as disgusting. Not something I would ever want to put in my mouth again. They were dry, tough, and vinegary-tasting. To be fair, my eldest daughter found them less repellant, but she doesn't usually like pork, so perhaps that was because brisket doesn't taste much like pork.

Sadly, the best part of the meal was the Blue Bell ice cream cones we got on the way out. When the best thing a barbeque joint has to offer is their mutton, which most people won't touch with a ten-foot pole no matter how good it is, there's a real problem. If you're coming to Texas for the barbeque and you've heard great stories about Southside Market, don't believe them. When you get to Elgin, just keep on driving down Highway 290, take a right on the old Taylor road, and any barbeque you find there will beat it hands down.

Dave Nalle has worked as a magazine editor, a freelance writer, a capitol hill staffer, a game designer and a history professor. He now designs fonts for a living and lives with his family on a fortified compound just outside Austin. You can find his writings on politics and culture at The Elitist Pig and his writings about fonts, art and graphic design at The Scriptorium.
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