Texas Hill Country Trail Region

Participant in the Texas Historical Commission's
Texas Heritage Trails Program

Barbecue and Brew

Kent Black BBQBy Alisha McDarris

My husband Josh and I have never been the type to frequent chain restaurants or order the same take-out week after week. We’ve never been regulars at a diner or had weekend brunch rituals because we’re adventurous diners and we love to try new things. We also love to travel. When we heard about the quality beer and BBQ in San Marcos, we jumped at the opportunity to head south from our home in Austin to try it out.

We set out for San Marcos on a lazy Saturday afternoon in search of pub and grub. I researched our options in the car while Josh manned the wheel and we made a game plan for our day of restaurant and bar hopping, giddy with anticipation.

The weather was a bit chilly, but we pressed on, eager for our culinary adventure. It turned out that the chill in the air made the cozy dining room of Kent Black’s BBQ, our first stop, even more welcoming.

Speciality BBQ

The converted cotton warehouse exuded a rustic Texas vibe and I pointed out the dollar bills and loose change that had been lacquered into the floor.

“If you drop your change on the floor, do you think you’d be able to find it again?” Josh joked.

I laughed, already enjoying our excursion.

But the food was even more inviting than the atmosphere. Creamy mac and cheese and the smoky, meaty goodness of Kent Black’s specialty brisket was just the comfort food we needed. Thank goodness Mr. Black opened that second location after the first in Lockhart was such a success.

Sean Patrick's Irish Pub and Texas GrubIrish Texan

With full bellies we moved on to Sean Patrick’s Irish Pub and Texas Grub because I wanted to see what a mash-up of a Texas and Irish pub looked like. We discovered that it looked like an Irish pub with big Texas pride. With 70 beers on tap, over 50 of which are brewed in Texas, and two that are made in-house, it was hard to select just one, but we went with the house-made Black 1847 porter and reminisced about our trip to Ireland two years ago. The Guinness! The Jameson! The bangers and mash! The pub brought it all back in the best way.

Taproom Pub and GrubTravel-themed pub

Next on our list was Taproom Pub and Grub, which offered a lively atmosphere with its bartenders joining customers for a birthday shot and a shelf above the bar piled high with an array of kitsch and knick-knacks, which I learned were a collection of souvenirs that the employees and regulars had brought back from vacations over the years. Travel was definitely a theme here, with the Around the World Tour of beers. It included 60 brews from various origins and might just be the next best thing to visiting those locales in person.

“Who knew we just had to go to San Marcos to travel the whole world in one evening?” I teased.

Josh grinned back. “Quickest trip around the world ever!” he agreed.

Relaxed beer garden

Louie’s Oyster House and Beer Garden was just around the corner and Josh and I made a beeline to an umbrella-ed picnic table in the yard. It offers 110 beers plus cocktails and in a fun, laid-back setting.  The family-friendly joint offered an outdoor stage for live music, playground for the kids, and regular crawfish boils. It was definitely the fun, local hangout that I love discovering in my travels.

Vintage flavor

Zelick’s Ice House was up next and I admired their beautiful garden patio peppered with Adirondack chairs. We debated whether to relax with a drink outside in the sun, surrounded by fresh greenery. But we thought it might be fun to soak up the local atmosphere by getting our drinks inside the old 1930s gas station with live music. Zelick’s has a strong emphasis on Texas craft beers, some of which can only be found there, so it was definitely a place with real Texas flavor.

Hay's BBQTop-notch BBQ

After Zelick’s, Josh and I were happy to enter the warm, bright, diner-esque atmosphere of Hay’s Co. Bar-B-Que. We heard it made Texas Monthly’s top 50 list and all the beer sloshing around in our bellies needed some meaty tempering.

The smoky sweet smell of BBQ titillated our nostrils as we entered. As tender pork ribs and homemade sauces were sampled, Josh and I admired the pit masters who were passionate about perfection, carefully tending the meat with a close eye on everything. All the meat is cooked on 100% wood burning pits, with a dry rub and mesquite and post oak wood to give the meat the most delicious flavor. My mouth was watering as we got closer and the scent of sizzling brisket filled the air. A beer bus alongside a stage fashioned from a truck, picnic pavilion and playground out back completed the fun, laid-back scene. I could just imagine the fall festival atmosphere that must reign here all summer long.

Classic local brewery

Our last stop of the night was a short jaunt to the outskirts of the city at Middleton Brewing, a well-established and relaxed brewpub that we loved. The bar only has 12 beers on draft, but that’s all they need. Most of them are brewed right there on site and four of them are distributed around Texas. They have beer for beer connoisseurs and those who are just entering the craft beer game. Their Belgian amber ale, Garnet, hit the spot for both of us after a long day.

Josh listened as one of the brewers discussed the brewing process, comparing it to the handful of times he has made his own wine, and we both reveled in the relaxed atmosphere as we munched on sliders from the food truck outside.

I couldn’t have been happier with the end of our evening, especially as one of the two bar cats hopped up in my lap and made himself comfortable, warming my legs as I stroked his head. Filled with incredible barbecue and beer, Josh and I were equally delighted that we had found such a fun culinary destination so close to home. And eagerly plotted when our travels could take us back to San Marcos to revisit these newfound gems.

Learn more about San Marcos’ culinary treasures!

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