Just as the Houston Astros are trying to upgrade their on-field product into something that resembles Major League quality after three consecutive seasons of setting franchise lows for wins, the team is also trying to improve the overall quality of the food at Minute Maid Park. After all, if the New York Mets can have a Shake Shack at Citi Field and AT&T Park in San Francisco can serve food that makes it a legitimate dining destination, why can't Houston have in-stadium dining options that are worthy of the city's food scene?
Chef Bryan Caswell, known for wearing a bright orange Astros cap during service, has been involved with the team since 2011, and his efforts to upgrade Minute Maid's dining options in the form of El Real tacos and Little Big's sliders have certainly helped, but, with more work to be done, he enlisted one of Houston's hottest chefs to assist.
Enter Ronnie Killen, the longtime steakhouse chef whose recently opened barbecue joint has been welcomed with near universal adulation and hour-plus long lines for meat. With Killen and Caswell already set to open a burger and barbecue restaurant tentatively called The Montrose Meat Co., partnering on a new food stand at Minute Maid was a natural fit.
Two hours before every game, Killen will send a delivery of 10 briskets to the stadium — wrapped in butcher paper and held in a cooler to keep them warm.
Known as Texas Smoke: Caswell's & Killen's Texas Smokehouse, the stand in section 124 will serve burgers, barbecue sandwiches and sides like beans and coleslaw. Yes, it's the same brisket and sides that Killen serves at his restaurant, not some reheated, drowned in sauce imposter that resembles actual barbecue in name only.
"As long as my name's on it, it's going to be good," Killen tells CultureMap.
For now, he's treating the stand like a season-long catering project. Approximately two hours before every game, Killen will send a delivery of 10 briskets to the stadium — wrapped in butcher paper and held in a cooler to keep them warm. Just like at the restaurant, when those briskets run out, that's it for the game. Killen says he refuses to consider cryovacing and reheating the meat on-site.
As soon as pictures of the stand hit Twitter, Killen says he started hearing from friends and industry contacts about what it means to be associated with a major sports stadium. He's happy for the exposure and recognizes it will put his barbecue in front of a lot of people who might not have made the drive to Pearland to try it. In other words, he's not going to screw this up.
Eventually, the future restaurant will supply the brisket, but that will take until mid-season (or longer, as anyone who's waited for a restaurant to open can attest).
Killen says he'll be on hand at Minute Maid this weekend to supervise and ensure that the staff treats the meat in a way that replicates ordering it from the line of his restaurant. Or, as close as can be approximated in a stadium.
If Chris Shepherd can serve Underbelly's signature Korean braised goat and dumplings to the high rollers on the club level of Reliant Stadium, surely Killen can make his barbecue available to the baseball-loving masses.