Castroville's Central Texan Barbecue is the best place for ribs, sausage, and brisket we've found in California. Jenny and I enjoyed our inaugural meal there in 2000 at the start of a drive to Texas. We figured that fate was smiling as we pulled onto the parking lot and smelled the wafting of smoked meat from two open pits. On that summer day, we met the gregarious (though sometimes cantankerous) pit-master, Don Elkins.
Born in 1938, one-time cotton picker and trapper, 20-year veteran of the Army's Special Forces (including duty in Vietnam), Don has been the heart and soul of The Central Texan since 1984. During our first meeting, back when he was nearly a dead-ringer for Willie Nelson, Don told us of his early years in Red Rock, Texas, espousing the glory of Lockhart, Texas 'que and planting the seeds of our 2007 Wood Family Southern Routes BBQ Tour. Of course, if you can't make it to the real Texas, Don's place is a pretty good facsimile, complete with sawdust floors, country music, and plenty of western paraphernalia.
About once a month we make the roughly 45-minute one-way drive to Castroville, enduring the backed-up traffic when the four-lane converges into a two-lane near the Moss Landing Power Plant, all to visit our little version of Central Texas. Sometimes the brisket is tender, sometimes it's a little rough, but Don's artistry is always infused with that sublime smoke. Each time we make the turn, I scrutinize the "open" sign, searching for neon proof that Don is keeping the flame alive. How fortunate that the light continues to shine.
(Photographs by Andrew and Jenny Wood)