Some places are just different — there’s a brightness to them, an energy, and they have the power to bring together people of all ages and all walks of life. They’re the lifeblood of our region, and over the year, we’ll be highlighting some of these special places across our service area. We’re calling them Hearts of the Hill Country — because when we’re there, we’re community.
Passing through the heart of Manchaca, it’s impossible to miss Slow Poke’s Brisket Shack on South Farm to Market Road 1626. Three-hundred-year-old oak trees spread their canopies over the rustic dive: a hot-rod-meets-country shack dotted with trinkets from owner Josh Rodriguez’s man cave. The Luckenbach-inspired décor invites customers into an outdoor space filled with classic cars, rusty road signs and the mouthwatering smell of moist brisket charred to perfection.
Before he opened Slow Poke’s, Rodriguez’s career revolved around one of his passions: custom body and paint work on classic vintage cars. But Texas-style barbecue ran through his veins – Rodriguez knew he couldn’t escape it for long.
“My grandfather barbecued for a living, and my father did, too,” Rodriguez said. “And now, I’m taking over the reins.”
In November 2016, Rodriguez and his wife bought the property in Manchaca and built their business from the ground up. With help from their small staff, the couple serves brisket, ribs, sausage and typical barbecue fixings out of their small trailer and trusty smoker at the front of the property.
The menu was created with the idea that simple is best, Rodriguez said. While his sausage and ribs are equally delicious, Rodriquez takes great pride in his brisket. The slabs of meat are cooked in the pit for 24-34 hours and smoked with local pecan and oak logs. The success to smoking an exceptional brisket is to crank up the heat, he said. But when customers ask him at what temperature he smokes, he doesn’t have a clue.
“It’s almost like a sixth sense I have for barbecuing,” Rodriguez explained. “I know what time I’m putting them on and when I’m taking them off. It’s just this routine I have. As long as it’s smokin’, I know we’re cookin’.”
To experience Slow Poke’s in all of its glory, make a trip to the barbecue joint on a Thursday night, Rodriguez advises. Live blues and folk music acts perform on a small stage while customers enjoy their food. The atmosphere is what makes the business unique, he said, and it’s the reason people keep coming back for more.
“When you’ve got good music, good barbecue and beer, it all just goes hand in hand,” Rodriguez said. “I’m just trying to make it the best place people can enjoy themselves, period. If you’re good to people, they’ll be good to you. I try to make sure every time someone comes out here that they get the best experience possible.”
The town of Manchaca was established with a train station, and Slow Poke’s Brisket Shack is just 100 feet away from the tracks, literally in the heart of Manchaca, Rodriguez said. Though it opened just six months ago, the place has already become a hub for the community.
“There’s just something in the air about this place, and it has its own special touch to it,” Rodriguez said. “I can’t really describe what it is, but it’s very soulful and meaningful, and I’m in tune with it.”