For all the ways to prep and cook a Texas-style brisket, most would agree that long, slow smoking is the key to meat that is tender and full of flavor. It’s not hard to do, it just takes time, and lots of it.
At Davila’s BBQ in Seguin, the time spent perfecting smoked brisket and chicken, hand-made red-hot sausage, and two kinds of sauces – mild and hot – has brought fathers and sons together for 60 years.
Open six days a week for lunch and dinner, Davila’s BBQ occupies a small cafe on the corner of West Kingsbury and Traeger streets in the shadow of the Seguin water tower in one of the oldest towns in Texas.
The restaurant serves a population of about 29,000 and a growing barbecue tourism crowd in addition to running a daily food truck and catering business. If that’s not enough, they’ve recently published a cookbook, appeared on several cooking shows, and accepted guest chef invitations from restaurants, near and far.
All that work means the Davila men – father Edward and son Adrian – spend a lot of time together.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” said Adrian, whose father put him to work in the restaurant at a young age just as Edward’s own father, Raul, did many years ago.
“Because the barbecue business is so competitive … we have a father-son [relationship] but it’s always business. You’re always ‘getting it.’
“But, getting to create something with your father and learning a craft, like I did from my grandfather … when he fell and broke his hip and couldn’t work anymore, you knew then what he had passed down was something that’s irreplaceable.”
After working as a butcher, Raul opened the restaurant in 1959 in an old schoolhouse. The family slept in two back rooms and his wife, Geronima, helped run the restaurant.
In 1972, Davila’s moved to its current location, a building one block east that they had been using to make sausage. It’s where Raul built the pits that are still in use today. Raul passed away in 2002 at the age of 96.
Adrian, 45, now leads the restaurant, which still uses Raul’s unwritten recipes and methods inspired by the vaquero lifestyle of his family history, infusing classic brisket, ribs, and sausage with Latin flavors and ingredients.
The restaurant mesquite-smokes up to 30 cases of brisket a week, plus pork spareribs, lamb ribs, and chicken quarters, and makes 3,000 links of all-beef sausage and 40 gallons of sauce.
Customers line up at the counter-service window throughout the day, and the Davila’s BBQ food truck, bearing a cartoon likeness of Raul, serves about 120 H-E-B warehouse employees a day.
In addition to the traditional sides of potato salad, green beans, creamed corn, and coleslaw, Davila’s menu also includes brisket tacos, Spanish rice, lamb ribs, tamales, seafood, and burgers. Desserts include banana pudding, Big Red cake, and a variety of pies.
It was Edward, 69, who opened the door to his son’s future notoriety in the greater barbecue world, and that of this small-town barbecue restaurant, back in 2013.
A customer had shown up after closing time, and Edward, who was hanging out with his buddies, opened up and showed him around. (“Leaving the restaurant at night is like leaving ‘home,’” Edward said.)
The customer turned out to be a TV writer, producer, and director from Australia who told Adrian he should write a cookbook, then introduced the Davilas to an agent and publisher.
“I never had any written recipes before,” Adrian said. “Now I was writing a book.”
With help from a co-author and his wife, Adrian wrote Cowboy Barbecue in 2018. He and the book have since been featured on the “Today Show,” and in the Washington Post and Texas Monthly. In the meantime, Adrian has appeared as a guest chef on Food Network’s “The Kitchen,” and the Cooking Channel’s “Man Fire Food.” He’s in talks with a network to produce his own show.
The small-town pitmaster has also been invited to cook as a guest chef at restaurants in San Antonio, New York City, and abroad. In May 2018, Adrian was invited to cook in Bogotá, Colombia, at two restaurants, La Fama Barbecue and The Ugly American. Those were frypan-to-the-fire experiences for him.
“When I went to the pop-up [restaurant] in New York or Restaurant Gwendolyn, they said give us your list [of ingredients], and I was like, ‘I’ve never even been in an organized kitchen, much less taken over,’” Adrian said. “I’d never been trained, and I had to figure it out. It was like survival.”
Recently, Adrian has been promoting his restaurant to barbecue lovers in San Antonio, his first taste of a big city as a kid, he said. “San Antonio and us, we are alike I’ve always felt, because of who we are as a brand – we are family-oriented. We always want to make people feel like they are at our table when they are here.”
Food Chick Tours owner Julia Rosenfeld includes a trip to Davila’s BBQ on some of her tours because she considers it both authentic and distinct, what she called “MexiQ.”
“Adrian’s father is really cool about allowing guests to tour the pits and smokers,” she added. “Everybody thinks they are a ‘barbecuer,’ and people want to hear other people’s way of doing barbecue, not just to hear it, but to argue about it.”
For Father’s Day, June 16, Davila’s BBQ is offering a family plate, available for takeout or dine-in, that serves 4 to 8 people and includes a beer for Dad. To celebrate Davila’s 60th anniversary, the restaurant also is offering 60-cent beers for all dads (limit two per person).