CAMBRIDGE — The stars that night were big and bright, deep in the heart of Central Square, where a native New Englander and his Tex-Pat partner cooked up a Texas-style dinner. With clever spins on Southern favorites — like pimento cheese gougeres and plenty of frosty Texas beer, the Lone Star State might have gained a few new fans.
On a recent Sunday evening, Joshua Lewin, chef of Beacon Hill Bistro, and native Texan Katrina Jazayeri, marketing assistant at the Cambridge caterer Cuisine en Locale, turned Gallery 263 into a barbecue joint named Austinland. Guests, including transplanted Texans, dressed in cowboy boots, floral pearl-snap shirts, denim, and a few flashy accessories (a sheriff’s silver star and a long horn bolo). In lieu of chef’s whites, Lewin wore a green camouflage cap, jeans, and a pearl snap shirt; Jazayeri paired denim and plaid with black cowboy boots.
The evening began with two gin-based cocktails, one flavored with Lillet and the other with grapefruit juice, and platters of gougeres made with pimento-flavored cheese. Ramekins of the popular creamy cheese spread were scattered throughout the room, with long red radishes for dipping. In the back room of the gallery, Lewin and Jazayeri set up a makeshift kitchen for plating the first courses while the star of the show, 10 pounds of meat shipped from Southside Market & Barbecue in Elgin, Texas, rested in a grill on the sidewalk.
Last summer, Lewin, 28, and Jazayeri, 24, traveled to Texas for a week, investigating various barbecue legends like Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Ruby’s BBQ in Austin, and Southside Market in Elgin. Lewin picked up a few techniques to bring back home to Boston. You need patience for Texas-style barbecue, says the chef, and the simplest sauce. Seasonings are limited to salt and pepper, as the smoke makes up most of the flavor. Since he can’t get sturdy old oak for smoking, Lewin uses hickory. In the end, the only three things that matter, he says, are meat, seasoning, and smoke.
Dinner was scheduled in stages, with the lighter courses served first, to accommodate a two-stepping lesson before the barbecue. The first course was a milky chilled corn and dill soup with pink peppercorn brittle and pickled clam, a twist on the traditional pickled shrimp. Next was an authentic sope, a kind of thick tortilla made with cornmeal, topped with a slaw of mango, avocado, and dill, with quick pickles and a creamy jalapeno sauce inspired by the popular Austin-based Tex-Mex restaurant chain, Chuy’s. The first round finished with a pretzel-dough kolache filled with peppery pull-apart goat meat, paired with spicy Dijon mustard, and sprinkled with crunchy negrini seeds.
After a final swig of Lone Star, the tables were pushed aside and two professional dance instructors explained the finer technicalities of the Texas two-step. The duo started with the basics of the country waltz — quick-quick, slow-slow — adding twists and turns as Brooks and Dunn’s “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” played on repeat in the background. After a while, Lewin and Jazayeri appeared on the dance floor for a turn or two before dashing off to check on the barbecue. As the dancing slowed down, Lewin rushed in with a big aluminum tray that steamed at the sides and left a sweet smoky scent in the air, instantly clearing the room of any lingering two-steppers.
The cooks plopped a loaf of white sandwich bread in the middle of the table (slices help mop up leftover barbecue sauce), and placed a single butcher-paper wrapped package in front of each guest. They were true Texas-size portions, each package containing a link of spicy beef sausage, several slices of still-pink brisket, a mound of vinaigrette slaw with carrots, cabbage, and peppers, a dollop of tangy mustard-potato salad, and a few rounds of raw white onion. Guests helped themselves to family-style tubs of quick pickles and a special tomato-based peach and pepper barbecue sauce.
You need patience for Texas-style bar-becue, says the chef, and the simplest sauce. Seasonings are limited to salt and pepper, as the smoke makes up most of the flavor.
To finish the evening, Lewin walked around the room with a wooden cutting board stacked high with two-bite pecan pralines.
A sweet Southern ending for homesick Texans.