Across the Brazos from Baylor is a part of Waco most students are oblivious to: a community full of rich history, beautiful soul and great food. So, when I got the gloomy-Friday-barbecue-eating blues, I did what any other college kid would do—I skipped class and crossed the bridge into East Waco and made my way to 310’s Kitchen.
I rolled down Martin Luther King Boulevard and got ready to turn right on Elm. I was discouraged, though, by a large sign informing me the road was closed. Construction. So, I whipped around and took the back way.
A few minutes later, after navigating the detours and road closures, I pulled into the parking lot—well, the grassy patch beside the patio. I scratched a few interview questions on the back of my homework and stuffed them in my back pocket before walking over to the trailer to order. If I had learned anything from writing my first article, it was to eat first and interview second.
I’m not sure if it was the weather or the road construction, but I was about the only person who came to get a bite to eat. No problem. Saved me a wait in line.
I ordered brisket and sausage as part of the two-meat plate, which also came with two sides. I chose the macaroni and the rice and beans. I also tacked on some pork ribs and the blue crab deviled eggs, just so I could get a taste of everything.
I took a seat at one of the picnic tables on the patio and waited for my food to come out. Three dump trucks drove by before my first item arrived, hauling busted concrete from the nearby construction.
One of the boys brought out the first of my order. A Styrofoam box with four pork ribs. They had a nice color to them, a decent bark and great smoke. I wanted to wait until I had all my food before eating so I could take a picture, but I was getting hungry. It happens, being a growing boy and all.
The ribs had good flavor, but they took a little more tug to get off the bone than I would’ve liked. Other than that, they were pretty good.
Shortly after, the blue crab deviled eggs came out. Truthfully, I’ve never really been a fan of deviled eggs; however, 310’s prides itself on the fact that it offers more than just barbecue, so I knew I had to try a few.
I scooped up one of the eggs and took a small bite. I was pleasantly surprised. It was a great twist on a basic dish. The addition of the blue crab was enough to turn me into a believer.
Then they brought out the star of the day: brisket. My two-meat plate was set down in front of me, and I quickly dressed the box up with the leftover ribs and deviled eggs to take a picture and dug in. The first thing I noticed was that the brisket was leaner and lacked the deep smoke ring I had remembered from my first visit a few months before.
There was no need to worry, as it was still tender and just as flavorful. Although it was on the leaner side, it didn’t really need any sauce, but the sauce taste so good I didn’t think it would hurt to add some, either.
I finished up and wiped my mouth with a crumpled-up paper towel. I walked around to the side of the trailer to complete the second part of my visit.
I found the owner, Tony Berotte, and shook his hand. I asked him if he remembered who I was. He did. I was that food writing kid from last time. I asked if I could get some pictures and a short interview out of him. He was happy to oblige. After a short photoshoot in front of the smoker, we headed back over to the plastic picnic table to talk business.
Tony received a very early introduction to the world of barbecue. “There was always barbecue when I was coming up,” Tony said. He said barbecue was a requirement at every holiday. People would cut a 55-gallon drum in half, put a grate in it, and start smoking.
“I think I was like five-years-old or something, they was cooking, and I went out saying I wanna help, I wanna help, I wanna help. They said I could season the meat. So, I go over there and get the stuff and they tell me I really got to rub it in. And I rubbed it in, and they cooked it, and everyone told me it was seasoned so good and so well and that made me happy,” Tony said.
A few months later, five-year-old Tony was sleeping on Labor Day when someone shook him awake. “At 4 a.m. someone was shaking me saying to get out of bed, get out of bed and go start the fire in the pit. And from then on, I was cooking,” Tony said.
Growing up on the Gulf Coast, the only thing they smoked was ribs, sausage and chicken. Central Texas style brisket wasn’t a thing in Galveston. It would be years before Tony ever tried smoking one, and even longer before he got the hang of it.
Then Tony made his way to college in California. He heard talk around town about barbecue. He figured that because California had a bigger population, it would only make sense that the barbecuing would be better. “It was Hollywood. It had to be better,” he said. It was not what he imagined.
“I went out there and those guys had flame flying all over the place. They’d put some chicken down, burn it all up and wipe some sauce on it. That’s not barbecue.”
So, Tony got himself a pit and started “doing it right” for his friends on holidays and any other time he could.
Then he got busy with life. Between raising kids, starting companies and running nonprofits, barbecue fell out of Tony’s life. He’d always thought about opening a restaurant, but it wasn’t a possibility at that point in his life.
Years later, though, his work brought him to Waco, Texas. At about the same time, barbecue was rising in popularity with joints like Franklin’s down in Austin garnering national attention. Tony said, “I started hearing all these people talking about these young guys and how great they were, and I was thinking, ‘Wait a minute. Are these guys that much better than we were when I was coming up? Did they discover some new tricks or something new?’”
Tony decided he’d get back into barbecue and do a little investigating. “Those guys were good,” Tony said, “They were good, but at the same time, they wasn’t better than we were back then. They were good. As good, but not better.”
So, Tony got a smoker and started smoking again. He had the ribs and chicken down, but brisket was something he didn’t know.
“I probably wasted six—no more like seven—I probably wasted about $7000 learning to cook a brisket. Buy ‘em, throw ‘em away. Buy ‘em, throw ‘em away. Eventually I got it,” Tony said, laughing.
Another dump truck drove by as I glanced over my sloppily written notes. I found the next question. “What’s been the biggest influence on you, in terms of making barbecue?”
Tony thought for a minute. “Well, I’ve got Texas and Louisiana. When you grow up on the Gulf Coast, you’ll have one parent from Texas and the other might be from Louisiana, so you get a blend of both flavors. My grandmother always had nice, bold seasonings.”
“I’ve been influenced by the old guys. I’m 65, so guys who were around cooking back in the 60s and 50s. There was a place called Honey Brown’s in Galveston when I was little. They just had the greatest barbecue. I searched for years to find someone who had the same flavor, and I couldn’t, but I was able to duplicate it and elevate it and that’s what I use on my ribs today. Find some 90-year-old shuffling around Galveston and say Honey Brown’s. They’ll know it.”
I then asked Tony what he did differently, what he did that set him apart from other barbecue joints. The first thing was the seasoning he mentioned earlier. He uses an adjusted prime rib rub on his brisket. Tony says this makes it taste more like a really good steak rather than another piece of barbecue meat. The second thing is his spritz. Lots of places will use apple cider vinegar to spritz their meats as they smoke. Tony prefers rice wine vinegar. “It’s a lot less harsh and has a softer flavor,” Tony explained to me.
Another difference Tony noted was that it isn’t solely a barbecue restaurant. “It’s more than just barbecue,” Tony said, “It’s like 1800s to 1960s-style home cooking. It isn’t this new novelty and carnival type food. I just want you to come eat here and have a great meal and leave knowing you had a great meal.”
Tony isn’t worried if his brisket is the best in Texas. “It’s just gonna be the best brisket I can make each time, and if I do that, it can stand up to anything. Everybody here is trying hard to do the right thing and you can’t kick ‘em for it.”
I asked what brought him to East Waco and Elm Avenue.
He got recruited to come to Waco to turn a business around. When he got done with that, he was ready to relax. He wanted to get a pit, retire, open up something in Waco and do some really great cooking. He started talking with people in town, including Nancy Grayson of Lula Jane’s bakery, which closed last November. They told Tony about East Waco—what it was about and what the streets were going to be.
“What I do like is it’s an old setting. Look at these streets. They remind me of walking the streets in Galveston or New Orleans. There’s no other place in Waco that has that feeling. It reminds me as a kid coming up, we could walk up and down streets just like this,” Tony said.
I asked if he felt a connection to East Waco. He stopped. He said that although he’s not connected to what was here, he feels a connection to what it is and what it can be. “It’s perfect,” he said.
Another dump truck drove past, drowning out our conversation for a moment.
“So, you’re a fan of all the change happening here,” I asked, speaking up to be heard over the sound of the truck.
“Yeah,” Tony said and paused. “I guess because I’m part of it. I think it needs to happen. It’s better than sitting down here with empty buildings that are falling apart. Change is going to happen. I lived in LA. I know change. Change is happening in Houston, change happening in Galveston, change is happening in Austin and change is gonna happen here. I welcome it. And if you understand it and embrace it, you can make it a great change. If you just let it happen, then it can be bad. I want for you young people to have a really nice place to come to get away from the hustle.”
I was out of questions, but it had started drizzling and I didn’t want to walk out in the rain. So, we kept dry under the patio cover and continued shooting the bull.
Before I finally left, Tony made sure I got one of the beef ribs he had just taken off the smoker. The bark was phenomenal, but sadly I was too full to eat it all, much to the luck of the freshman I took my leftovers to.
With that, I shook Tony’s hand, thanked him for his time and headed out to the parking lot—well, the grassy patch beside the patio. I hopped in my car and followed the detour signs back to Baylor, dodging the potholes and construction.
If you’re ever eating at 310’s Kitchen—and you should—get me a quarter pound of brisket, a couple deviled eggs, and one of those giant beef ribs, and don’t forget to tell them who sent you.
Jackson Woodruff is a Junior from Greenville, Texas studying corporate communications. Jackson is a Christmas tree farmer, Guy Clark fan, and an avid barbecue connoisseur. When he’s not in class, you can find Jackson sitting in a booth at a hole-in-the-wall eatery or in the stern seat of a canoe, exploring the sights, sounds, and tastes of Texas.