Sunday, February 28, 2016
Kolacny Bar-B-Q (Hallettsville, TX)
When Kolacny Bar-B-Q (pronounced co-lotch-nee) first opened its doors in Hallettsville, Texas in 1989, I was but a six-year-old chap in neighboring Schulenburg. It's hard for me to fathom how I spent the next twelve years of my childhood a mere hop, skip, and jump away from Kolacny's and never even knew of its existence until a few months ago. If you scour the Internet, you'll barely find mention of Kolacny's on any of the usual sites. In fact, before Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn reviewed the joint back in September, its presence on the World Wide Web consisted of a dummy Facebook page, a blank Yelp profile, and one brief nod on a Czech food blog from 2013. My dad had never heard of it either, and my mom was only vaguely familiar with the operation through a friend. Had we all been living under a rock this whole time? This was an oversight which I was hell-bent on rectifying as soon as humanly possible. I flew back to Texas to help celebrate my grandma's 87th birthday, a worthy reason in and of itself, but I won't pretend that the smoky allure of barbecue didn't play into my calculus as well.
Its Saturday and Sunday-only hours make Kolacny's a bit of a barbecue unicorn, as does its off-the-beaten-path locale. The bright pink building isn't what you'd expect to find in a town of 2,500 people, and it certainly doesn't scream "barbecue" by any means. Kolacny's isn't so much a restaurant as it is a place to house a counter and some pits. In a town like this, however, the general idea isn't to provide customers with a ritzy dining experience, it's meant for you to pick up good food to enjoy at home with friends or after church with family.
Their 'que is cooked via direct heat over the pitmaster's own felled oak trees. That's some serious dedication right there. Kolacny's is literally a "mom and pop" operation, both of whom are incredibly friendly and welcoming (although Mom is decidedly more talkative than Pop, who stays hard at work out by the pits). They're some interesting characters, that's for sure. Not wanting to miss out on any of their tasty offerings, I made sure to call my order in a day ahead of time. It's a good thing that I did. When we arrived at 11:30am to pick everything up, the only meat which hadn't been spoken for was one chicken, some sausage, and a little pork steak. Bottom line: if you want barbecue from Kolacny's, plan ahead.
I had ordered a meat-tastic buffet to get a true sense of Kolacny's expertise: pork steak, brisket, pork ribs, and a few half-chickens. Head sausage was also available from the deli case, but I chose not to partake today. We also snagged sides of potato salad and coleslaw for good measure, even though we had plenty of side dishes left over from the previous night's dinner.
Not being a big fan of coleslaw in general (particularly the heavy mayonnaise variety), I stuck to the potato salad. It was nice and creamy, with just a hint of mustard to jazz things up. The small-diced potatoes were just right, with a good crunch of pickles in each bite.
The pork steak is certainly Kolacny's specialty. It had a great char from the pit, and the rosy pink meat beneath was perfectly cooked. The tender and juicy pork had a great smoke level, which was all the more evident in its well-rendered fat. I would have liked just a touch more seasoning on the crust, though.
I have to say, this was some of the best, juiciest barbecue chicken I've ever had. I liked that the skin hadn't been cooked to a rock-hard crisp, and it was packed with flavor. I found just the right amount of saltiness to satisfy my palate without being overpowering. The meat itself was very juicy and much smokier than I had expected.
When it came time for pitmaster Ervin Kolacny to slice up our order of brisket, it was readily apparent that we were getting the very last of today's allotment. This ended up being a glorious fatty chunk of the point. Spectacular! The brisket was beautifully smoky, especially the jet-black bark. A simple salt and pepper rub was more than sufficient here. Flavors aside, the meat was a little tough for my liking, but it was otherwise fantastic.
The big, meaty pork ribs came with a nice dose of black pepper that permeated each bite. They were decently smoky, although there wasn't much bark to speak of. I also thought they were a tad on the dry side. The meat, however, still came away cleanly with just a slight tug. Direct heat tends to be a bit hard on moisture, so I chalked this one up to the cooking process itself.
In a digital age where even the most obscure information can be uncovered in the blink of an eye, it's astonishing that a place like Kolacny's could exist for nearly three decades in relative seclusion. I find comfort in the knowledge that there are still some surprises to be found in small town America. Kolacny Bar-B-Q might be hard to come by, but it's certainly worth the effort.
100 S. Russell
Hallettsville, TX 77964