Backtrack more than 100 years ago to the early 1800s.
Texas was a sprawling (still is) mass of land where cotton planters from the Carolinas, Alabama and Mississippi went to take advantage of cheap land prices and took with them their penchant for barbecue.
But Texas barbecue would become a unique form of cooking all its own. After the Civil War, beef became the most characteristic of Texas barbecue and still is to this day.
Fast track to Grand Cayman today where the best Texas barbecue south of the Gulf of Mexico can be found at Lone Star Bar and Grill, which celebrates its 25th anniversary 18 December, on West Bay Road.
“Anybody visiting or settling here from Texas always comes to the Lone Star,” says Ashleigh Lund, who owns the restaurant with her husband Kim. “Texas and barbecue are synonymous, it’s just how it is with Texans.”
While the Lunds are no strangers to Texas, they knew they would have to get special training in how to do a proper Texas barbecue.
They started with their local producer of foodstuffs – Progressive, which linked them with Certified Angus Beef.
“Progressive and Angus Beef both have been incredibly supportive in helping us build the menu and Texas recipes. They both jumped on board with the smoker right away. We took a big leap of faith with this endeavour in a really tough time. The smoker was a major expense and commitment, so we needed support and assistance, which they readily gave us. The Lone Star is and has been their biggest Angus beef seller in the Cayman Islands and they showed us they believe in us,” she said.
At the helm of all things barbecue at Lone Star is Nigel Parker, the official Pitt Boss. Noe Rodriguez is the Texas chef, who helped develop the menu with more than 15 years in authentic Texas steakhouses and restaurants.
The smoker is a lure to those passing by Lone Star – the smell of the smoked meats entices you to step in and savour some true Texas flavour.
“The smoked meats are hard to beat,” Ashleigh says. “Everyone loves barbecue! Popular items are the wings, pulled pork-either alone or in a sandwich, beef brisket and the babyback ribs. There is just something about the flavour of smoked meats. We are proud of our Signature Smoked Sirloin too; it is a hit with the steak lovers.”
The smoker comes straight from Pitts and Spitts in Houston, which pioneered the Texas barbecue pit industry and set the bar for all barbecue smokers since it opened in 1983.
It gets cranked up promptly at 8am each morning, but the cooks are looking at a 4am starting time to meet the demand. But the smoker does its thing all day long.
To compliment the smoked meat, Lone Star offers up its All star barbecue sauce, which really blends well with all the flavours.
The smoked barbecue is just one of the ways the Lunds have renovated Lone Star.
Patrons from the past will see a new menu featuring something to please just about any palette and a higher quality of food than what the restaurant had become known for.
Diners can feast on excellent salads and sandwiches and hand-rolled Angus beef burgers squirting with juicy melted cheeses and sweet potato fries.
For starters there are Fredericksburg fried pickles, potato skins, cheddar fries, mozzarella sticks and absolutely amazing buffalo wings for appetizers.
“We also have a great barbecue sampler platter so people can sample or share the barbecue and we will have a bar menu for lighter snacks and smaller portions for happy hour,” Ashleigh said.
And deserts; there are plenty of deserts. If there’s anything besides barbecue that Texas is noted for, it’s deserts.
Try the Texas Bourbon Pecan Pie, Hot Apple Pie…a la mode, chocolate layer cake, carrot cake or the Texas Milkshake.
Recreating the menu has certainly been a learning process for the Lunds and the Lone Star staff because getting the recipes right and pulling it altogether is a real challenge.
“We had in our favour the theme of a typical traditional Texas family barbecue restaurant with great burgers and steaks. Mike Flowers did it right in the early days and we wanted to do it right again. Texas makes great food and everyone appreciates good barbecue, good atmosphere and good value; that’s Texas for you,” she said.
The team is now focusing on a catering menu. Lone Star will offer whole smoked turkeys to take out for Christmas. It takes nine hours to get the birds perfectly smoked, but anyone who has ever tried one knows the wait is worth the effort.
On the anniversary date of 18 December, Lone Star will offer 50 per cent off all barbecue food, $7.50 buckets of Budweiser beer, a free Lone Star T-shirt with each bucket of beer, and shot specials.
In addition to a new and enhanced menu, customers can expect changes at Lone Star itself.
For starters, Lone Star promises better and friendlier service as well as a clean and improved facility both inside and out. The staff of 25 employees – including Deborah who has been there from the very beginning of Lone Star and has a loyal following – have dedicated themselves to making the re-branded Lone Star the perfect spot for diners on the Island.
The renovation itself was a labour of love and the team had only six weeks in which to accomplish its mission.
“The age of the building alone dictates a rustic ‘joint’ type of place; so that worked in our favour, but with 25 active years of use, the priority was first to thoroughly clean everything from the ceiling to the floor in the entire establishment,” said Ashleigh. “That alone took a great deal of teamwork and staff to accomplish. The rest was truly fun. We completely renovated the inside with new bathrooms, flooring, walls, paint; you name it, it’s been revamped. The great thing is that the ambiance lends itself to reclaimed wood and old photos with rustic saddles and metal stars everywhere. The Cadillac ranch, the Fort Worth Stockyards and the Texas flag were a must for the decor. Willie Nelson, Janis Joplin and even UT’s former Colt McCoy grace the walls alongside old images of the original Texas Rangers and real Texas cowboys. Anything Texas is part of the decor. We had an absolute ball doing it. Nowhere is there greater state pride than in Texas and it is not hard to find what you need fill the walls with Texas mystique, especially if you love it. It’s fun to see all of our residents from Texas come in and identify with the things on the walls and items on the menu.”
But redoing an aging building did have its challenges.
“There were so many. We had a new one every day yet the deadline to open and get back in business forces you to get it done,” she said. “The bathrooms were a challenge for the space. Expanding them was not an option so working around inherent difficulties was a big challenge, but we forged ahead. The outside bar was a challenge as we needed to run a water line to it to make it a fully operational service area and literally rebuild the structure to be solid and secure, which also accommodated the new smoking laws. Reinforcing the outside patio roof was important and recreating an ambience on the patio were critical.”
The Lunds took over Lone Star in October 2007, but had to wait until recently for the complete renovation.
“It was a big coordination and quite a lot of love to bring back the essence of the Lone Star Bar and Grill when many told us to just change the name and start over. We had faith in what Mike Flowers established. We wanted to bring back the magic that made it great. Great food, great atmosphere and great service became our mission last summer. We even sent our chef to Texas for a serious week-long Angus beef barbecue tasting and training course so we were absolutely sure to be conveying the true taste of Texas barbecue,” Ashleigh said.
The decor also conveys a true taste of Texas and new furniture is on its way.
“We have more photos to hang on the walls depicting things Texas and recognisable landmarks. Willie Nelson and Janis Joplin are definitely Texas and they had to be on the walls. There is a great shot of real Texas cowgirls we love and a photo of about five pairs of old beat up cowboy boots titled ‘If only they could talk’. We have a Houston Space Center shuttle blast off image, the Dallas skyline and the Texas state fair’s famous wheel on the walls next to images of Texas Bluebonnets and longhorn cattle that’s just mesmerizing,” she said.
Fifteen big screen HD TVs grace the walls of the interior and outdoor sports bar at Lone Star where fans can watch all sports packages: football, soccer, rugby, hockey, basketball, major boxing matches and most other sports events.
The signature drink at Lone Star is, of course, the Margarita – frozen or on the rocks as well as fresh, ice cold draft beer. And then there’s the Corona-rita. It’s a small pitcher of tasty frozen margaritas with an upside down Corona inside for a great added twist.
Hours are 11 am to 1 am, Monday to Friday and 11 am to midnight on Saturday and Sunday.
Special events include Trivia on Tuesdays, YouTubia and sports specials.
“We go big on American Thanksgiving with smoked turkey dinners and we also go all out on 4th of July because America, Texas, barbecue and 4th of July are simply a must to celebrate with live music; barbecue specials and Shiner Bock buckets (its a great party)!”
The outside bar boasts two big televisions and many of the indoor tellies are visible from the outside facility.
Hours for that bar are noon until 1am on Mondays through Fridays and noon until midnight on Saturdays and Sundays.
“The outside bar area is a large, wide open, shady and cool area right on Seven Mile Beach where there is always so much going on, so patrons can enjoy the outdoors on high top tables or on one of the many bar stools or lower restaurant tables, taking in the action along West Bay Road and at the bar or watching one of the games. It is fun to be outside where there is a great energy,” Ashleigh said.
Mostly you will see a lot of Budweisers being served at the bars. The brand is an ardent supporter of Lone Star and is a top seller as well.
“The Lone Star family wants to sincerely thank all of our supporters and loyal customers because without their patronage and support throughout the years, we would not have been celebrating our 25th. Please give the Lone Star another try if you haven’t seen our new improved look and menu- we hope you’ll give our real Texas BBQ a try too!”
Future plans include catering, as mentioned above, as well as a drive through service “so people can just pull up and pick up family barbecue dinners to take on the boat for the afternoon or home to the dining table for an easy wholesome meal that everyone enjoys at an affordable price,” she said.
Plans are also in the works for more activities, events and promotions like Super Bowl, 4th of July and specials for sports and games.