The Chisos community brings me joy on a daily basis. It’s so wonderful to get to meet warm-hearted folks doing interesting things, all brought together by our shared belief to Do Right and to Love Texas. Oh, and we love cowboy boots as well.
“These were so nice when I bought ‘em. They were gonna be my dancing boots.” (Photo by Danielle Davis)
On one of my trips out to Big Bend National Park, I stopped through that little-big town in West Texas known as Marfa. Over a drink at my favorite watering hole, the locals told me about a new BBQ spot in town: Convenience West. They claimed it was some of the best in Texas.
Boy let me tell you. They were right.
So it made my heart sing a bit when the pitmaster, Mark Scott, placed an order for a brand spankin’ new pair of Chisos boots. He had heard the legend and wanted to test them out himself. Mark put them through some serious work, manning his pit and putting in 16 hour days, all while wearing his Chisos.
The verdict? “More comfortable than my kitchen shoes.”
Our friend Laurel was on a trip of her own to that spiritual oasis and so we asked her to stop by and chat a little with Mark. Below is her account.
Marfa’s new school ‘cue
Written by our rootin’ tootin’ reporter in the field Laurel Miller
Every night on the outskirts of Marfa, Mark Scott feeds live oak into a battered former propane tank named Mac. Into the maw of the 500-gallon smoker—named after its maker, Mac White—go up to 50 pounds of Black Angus briskets seasoned only with salt and cracked black pepper. After 14 to 17 hours they’ll emerge, their burnished bark forming a delicious carapace around the succulent, tender meat.
Scott is the (Chisos-wearing) pitmaster at Convenience West, one of the most lauded BBQ joints in Texas. He and his wife/native Marfan Kaki Aufdengarten and their business partners baker Katy Rose Elsasser and multi-media artist Adam Bork (a native Austinite who also owns Marfa’s beloved Food Shark), opened Convenience West in December, 2017, in an abandoned building on West San Antonio Street.
“A lot of older Marfans grew up buying candy and bus tickets in this location, or watching heavy metal bands,” says Scott, who moved to town from New Orleans in 1995. “It was originally a convenience store and ticketing office for the bus station, then a performance space. It was Jimenez Chevron before we bought it.”
Growing up in Marfa, Scott says he and Aufdengarten rarely experienced barbecue outside of birthday parties or special events. “My family would stop at Lum’s BBQ in Junction when we traveled. I still love that spot,” he says.
Scott got his first kitchen job at 17 and immediately knew he wanted a career in food. He eventually became the executive chef at Maiya’s Restaurant in Marfa, until it shuttered in 2015. He and Aufdengarten then launched a food truck and did catering on the side, while Scott played around with smoking meat. While it’s true most pitmasters are born, not made, he’s in good company in the self-taught camp (anyone heard of a little place in Austin called Franklin Barbecue?). “It was a lot of trial and error,” says Scott, noting the smoker adjustments required due to Marfa’s fluctuating climate.
When a friend in the possession of an old offset smoker came calling, Scott took it as a sign. “I told Kaki, Katy Rose and Adam, we might be dumb, but let’s just open a restaurant.” That dumb idea is now an airy, modern BBQ joint infused with Texas touches, from the vintage movie theater seats on the patio to the Mexican Cokes and handwritten menus by the register.
Convenience West draws visitors from all over the world (“There’s nothing like setting a tray of barbecue down in front of a bunch of Japanese tourists”), along with legions of Texans. They come for not just the brisket but ribs, half-chickens, daily sausage specials (al pastor with pineapple and onion, venison and pecan, the ever-present jalapeño Cheddar), Chinese-style spare ribs and duck breast tacos served on tortillas made with rendered brisket fat. While Convenience West holds fast to what Scott calls, “real deal Texas barbecue,” the goal is also to have guests depart with, “a new understanding that it’s more than just brisket, beans and white bread, although that’s good, too.”
Damn good BBQ.
The sides are worth talking about too, including various slaws (roasted beets with spicy mayo, toasted almonds and mint, anyone?) green chile-spiked mac-and-cheese, a non-gloppy sweet potato salad. Depending upon what’s in season, you might find crisp, briny green beans or kimchi accompanying your sandwich or plate. “We actually really like vegetables,” says Scott. “It’s all about tryin’ to find that sweet spot; we want the sides to be lighter and prime you for another bite of barbecue.” Still, the legendary fire-roasted carrot “dip dip” comes with a side of Fritos, lest you forget you’re still in Texas.
In 2019, Convenience West had Dennis Roach of El Cucaracho Smokers in Saginaw build a custom 500-gallon mobile smoker for catering and events around the state. Pre-pandemic, the long hours meant less time for recreation (“We all enjoy spending time with our dogs, gardening, working on old cars, riding bikes, going for desert drives…and drinking cold beers, of course,” says Scott), but serving their community and carrying on the heritage of Texas barbecue is a trade-off the partners have been happy to accommodate.
While participating in pop-ups and festivals around Texas is currently on-hold due to the coronavirus, Convenience West has persevered, pivoting to online ordering and take-out.
“With everything that’s going on at the moment, it’s important for us to stay open as much as we can,” says Scott. “When we’re at work, we almost forget for a moment that the world is so tough right now. I think it’s the same for the folks ordering; a little bright spot."
Check out Convenience West for yourself at conveniencewest.com