In 1878 the town of Mesquite emerged from under the lingering smoke of locomotives. Nearly 135 years later smoke is still in the air, emanating from the barbecue pit at Mesquite BBQ. Established in 1959 within walking distance of the original railroad stop and Mesquite High School, the restaurant is the oldest surviving restaurant in Mesquite, sporting the ninth health permit issued in the city.
In 1959 The Texas Mesquiter was already calling the area around the restaurant “Old Mesquite.” Weekly newspaper columns included “Activities for Presbyterians,” a newcomers section where names and addresses of new residents were printed and advertisements for a $0.75 lunch at Big Town Coffee Shop. Attendance at birthday parties, earning of Bachelor’s degrees and going on vacation made it to the presses. Texas & Pacific Railway reestablished passenger service at Mesquite Depot after a 20 year hiatus, but a month later The Texas Mesquiter reported that only 8-10 people were using the trains daily.
Influxes of newcomers helped liven up the sleepy town, but this corner of Mesquite still retains its small-town charm. For decades, a nearby chain-link fence overlooking Belt Line Road has functioned as a billboard, with letters written in Styrofoam cups trapped in diamonds of steel wire. Employees at an A-frame Whataburger that opened in the 60s bring food to your car. Outside of a nearby salon, the red and blue stripes on a rotating barber’s pole have faded into the white. There is no manufactured nostalgia here, just rich history. This former railway stop is now the junction of past and present, and Mesquite BBQ is in the thick of it.
Owner Kent Crouch started helping his father at the restaurant when he was 10 years old. While he was in junior high in 1969, he could ride his horse to the restaurant. Crouch graduated from the high school across the street in 1975 and went on to Angelo State on a football scholarship, playing offensive tackle. Before becoming a restaurateur Crouch wanted to be a fireman and applied for a job after earning his degree, but flunked a colorblindness test with flying colors. A few years later his father passed away unexpectedly and he began to play a larger part in business by helping his mother. Now he and his wife, Lisa, own the restaurant and have covered its walls with photos that chronicle this history of their family and city.
At the end of the day, meat is the most important ingredient of barbecue. Some say it should be the only ingredient in barbecue. That’s why Mesquite BBQ doesn’t add spices or seasonings. Their meat goes in a cast iron barbecue pit heated by a hickory-fed flame. The pit was designed by the late Herbert Oyler, the original owner of the restaurant, and contains a rack where meat revolves rotisserie-style while heat radiates out of the firebox. Amazingly, about 3,000 pounds of brisket is smoked every week. The brisket cooks overnight and is pulled out of the pit when it feels right, regardless of time spent in the pit.
“What makes us good is that we just know when it’s good and tender,” Crouch says with the casual air of someone who has been barbecuing so long that muscle memory has come to mean more than words. In the words of Justice Potter Stewart, “I know it when I see it.”
Crouch follows Texas-style barbecuing techniques, but says that pulled pork threw him for a loop. “In this part of the country, beef is king,” Crouch said. In the 1960s the restaurant stopped selling pork because very few people bought it. Yet as the town grew and demographics changed, the appetite for pork grew as well. Crouch’s “Texas-style” pulled pork made it on the menu just last year.
While the menu may not be as dynamic as others, it stays true to its roots. For many Mesquite natives, it’s where traditions began and continue to this day.