Meet Ruth LeClere, The Woman Behind Central Texas Style Barbecue on Pearland’s Barbecue Trail
Family-owned restaurants are special. It’s at these establishments that generations work together to serve time-honored meals while building bonds with their communities. For 50 years at Central Texas Style Barbecue at 4110 West Broadway in Pearland, co-owner Ruth LeClere has blended food with family, while offering locals a delicious place to recharge and refuel. She shares ownership with her son, Devon Nixon. The familial legacy began with her mother, who passed away in 2018. Today, there are three generations working side by side that include at least four of Ruth’s grandkids.
“It’s definitely a family business,” she says. “My daughter-in-law Elvia makes all the desserts, plus she does a million other things. My oldest grandson Jude is totally amazing. He’s there all the time. It’s his passion. It’s like having two jobs. If we have a day where we go in early and get off at 5:00 p.m., we call that working half a day. The good thing for us is we’re there with family so that makes it more enjoyable.”
The restaurant has grown organically over time, expanding the building space here, adding parking space there. Thanks to Ruth’s foresight and proactiveness, the business is as brisk as ever, despite the pandemic.
Could you please briefly share how long you have been at Central Texas Style Barbecue and how you came to work there?
My mom, who was from Cuba, came to work for the man who opened it, and we worked there for about a year before we bought it. This is my 51st year — we’ve been there 50 years. From the time I was 14, I quit school and I came to work with my mom at the restaurant. As country people from Cuba, we always cooked with wood. We never titled ourselves “pit master” or anything like that.”
Where did you learn the basics and/or more elaborate cooking techniques that you use now?
We pretty much taught ourselves through trial and error. My mom grew up cooking with wood, so we just did it. A long time ago when we first opened, the menu was super-limited. We had brisket, sausage and ribs. That was pretty much it. We had chicken only on Wednesday. Now we have chicken everyday. We have a million side orders. We used to just have beans and potato salad. Now, it’s almost like a cafeteria. We have side orders and Cuban-inspired side orders.
How does the cooking process work?
The smokers run 24/7. We put the brisket on in the evening and smoke it all night. Sometimes, we will finish it in the morning. Then, we cook ribs, chicken and sausage all day long.
What type of wood do you use?
We use only hickory. Every now and then, like once a year, I’ll get a little bit of pecan and maybe throw a stick in there but it’s almost 100% hickory. We have a guy in Houston who we’ve been getting wood from for a long time.He brings it every week. I love hickory because it’s not a super strong taste. For me, mesquite is super-strong and I just like hickory.
Please tell me about your sauce:
We just have one kind of sauce. It’s a tomato-based sauce. I like citrus-y sauce [and] ours is kind of on the thin side. It’s the same sauce we’ve been making forever. We have [bottled] hot sauce if somebody wants to spice it up.
What are currently the most popular meats, sides and desserts?
Our absolute most popular is the baked potato with chopped beef. We sell a ton of those. We have something for everybody.
What do you suggest first-time visitors order?
The baked potato. They’re really big [and] super rich, but you can get a half-potato or buy a whole one and save some for another meal. Most people order it with chopped beef, but you can also get chicken or sausage. If you want ribs, we can put ribs on the side. The baked potato also comes with butter, sour cream, cheese and chives. We have vegan baked potatoes, too, with vegan butter and vegan cheese. You can get that either with vegan “sausage” or “vegan chopped beef”. It’s smoked jackfruit, but it looks like chopped beef.
How do you prepare the vegan components?
We buy the sausage and smoke it on our pit. The jackfruit is also smoked on the pit with the same seasoning that we put on all of our meat. Then, I put on barbecue sauce [and] cook it some more. It looks like chopped beef and I think it tastes delicious. It doesn’t taste exactly like chopped beef but I have people who come get it all the time. They really like it.
Do you have any limited-availability specials?
We have $5 smoked turkey legs every Saturday and Sunday. We have an Eddie Special, which is a brisket grilled cheese, on Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.. It’s super-popular and a huge sandwich. It takes two people [to prepare] and a huge griddle. We have to move a bunch of stuff, so that’s why we only do it one day a week. We chop the brisket dry for the sandwich, but serve with a cup of sauce on the side.
What are your personal favorite dishes at Central Texas Style Barbecue?
We make Cuban sandwiches, which is something you can’t get just anywhere. We make these early in the morning, wrap them in cellophane and sell them at lunch. We put them on the plancha [grill] until they get crispy, and they’re so good. I get the Cuban bread shipped in from Miami from a really old Cuban bakery. I also like the congri, which is black beans and rice. It’s a recipe from my mom.
Since you’ve opened, how has Pearland changed, and has that changed how you do businesses and what you serve?
Pearland has completely changed from what it was in 1969. It was a little town. I like it a lot now that it’s way more diverse. There are many more people with different cultures, so it’s a more interesting place to live.
We have started making chicken everyday. Back then [when we opened], Pearland was much smaller, so people would call and reserve their chicken. They’d call Wednesday morning and say “Save me a chicken. I’ll be there at 5.” We used to take phone orders and not even ask for a name. Now, we even have vegan options on the menu. It’s a very small percentage of what we sell everyday, but we do sell it everyday. We just cook it in small portions. If somebody’s a vegan and wants to come eat lunch with their best friend who isn’t, at least they have something good to eat.
Please tell me about the Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie. It caught my eye on the menu!
That is an old family recipe. I have never seen that pie anywhere else, ever. It’s made with pineapple, a layer of cream cheese filling and pecans sprinkled on top. I probably ate half a pie every day when I was pregnant with my first son. Everyday I’d be like “Okay, I’m just going to have a bite and then it turned into two bites.” It’s still my favorite dessert when it’s really cold with some milk.
What’s the best part of your job?
For me, the best part of my job is getting to know my customers. We’ve been here for so many years that I not only still see my original customers, but now also their kids and grandkids. I get to be part of their family traditions and holidays. I also love spending time with my family, and I get to do that, too. Most people don’t.
How have you approached the COVID-19 pandemic?
We closed down the inside of our restaurant even before we were mandated to do so. We wore masks from the beginning (since March) and implemented a new business plan. We put all of our business on the back porch and still have it that way. We do tons of to-go orders and offer curbside pickup. I took — and still take — that pandemic very seriously, and I just want everybody to be as safe as possible.
What drives the food concept at Central Texas Barbecue?
We like to just throw something new in there every now and then. We’ve been around forever so you gotta add something new, switch it up. But there are also just food trends in general, like we used to have chicken once a week, and then of course people started wanting chicken. When so many people were opting for plant-based diets, we added the vegan dishes. So, we’re always paying attention to what people want, but we don’t completely change the menu. We always have all the same stuff that we’ve had for 50 years, but we’ll add new things just to keep it fresh.
I’m pretty sure we have the oldest restaurant in Pearland. I want to keep going so that my grandkids and their kids can have another 50 years. Every day when we’re in there, it makes me miss my mom a lot, but at the same time I feel like it’s a legacy that continues. It’s cool that at one time we had four generations working there, and hopefully we’ll have four again instead of three.
Is there such a thing as an “average” day at Central Texas Style Barbecue, and if so, what would that entail?[Laughs] Never, no! There’s always something — this thing broke or that thing broke, they didn’t bring something…
What’s your favorite way to unwind from work?
I went for many years taking only two days off a month — every other Sunday. Just since COVID, have I started taking a little more time off. I love to go camping, and my kids encourage me to go. I have more freedom. In fact, I’m camping today. It’s my favorite thing to do. I’m looking at a river right now while we talk. It’s pretty awesome.
Visit Central Texas Style Barbecue at 4110 West Broadway. For more information visit the website or call (281) 485-9626 .