Most people around Oklahoma grew up eating barbecue, but Justin Carroll wasn’t one of them – his family couldn’t afford it. After he got steady on his own two feet, however, he dipped his toe into that world.
One fine day in 2016, Carroll says, “I don’t remember why, but I decided to buy a brisket and cook it on a friend’s smoker. A miracle happened and it was delicious!”
After that, it took him three years of trial and error to learn what he’d done right, and how to do it again consistently. Those were fun years.
“It caught my interest and became an obsession,” he says. “I loved the idea of watching fire, controlling smoke, the science of it. The aerodynamics, the temperature, how the shape of the smokestack affects the meat, how you can change a few simple things and make your product unique.”
Carroll formulated a way to make his brisket uniquely his. For much of the twelve hour smoking process, he wraps the bottom in a loose foil receptacle, a “foil boat,” so the liquid fat collects at the bottom and the brisket cooks in it, like a confit. At the same time, the top is exposed to smoke.
If you were one of the many who waited in line a year or two ago to get brisket from Carroll’s food truck – 1907 Barbecue – before he sold out (and he always did, very quickly), you’d likely remember catching a glimpse of him – a tall, energetic man working quickly over the smoker, despite the 115 degree heat in his truck. He barely had time to take your order. But one of the few people who came so many times that Carroll managed to talk with him was a man named Andrew Aguero.
Aguero came of age in Karnes City, Texas, which he describes as “a small, Hispanic-dominated town way south of San Antonio. We didn’t have white bread there, we grew up eating tortillas.”
The families who have lived for countless generations in that area – just north of what’s now the Mexican border – have developed their own take on Mexican cuisine, and Aguero grew up eating all the local specialties his mother and grandmother cooked so very well: carne guisada, pork verde, arroz con pollo.
“And I never knew I was eating Mexican food,” Aguero wryly recalls. “We just called it food.”
Aguero has made a career in the restaurant industry. He was general manager of MAD Eats, Erik Reynold’s restaurant in Owasso. Later, he went to San Antonio to open a restaurant with Andrew Weissman, a James Beard-nominated chef and restaurateur. And, unlike Carroll, Aguero did grow up with barbecue, but down in Karnes, they called it barbacoa and made it the traditional Mexican way, using an outdoor pit. It was natural for the two chefs to hit it off. They decided to open a restaurant together – 1907 Cantina.
It’s a lively, casual place in the middle of the old Bixby town center, just southeast of South 151st Street. You’ll find a lot of Aguero’s mother’s favorite recipes here, including the carne guisada (beef stew) and the pork verde. But there’s a difference – carne guisada and pork verde are normally made like a stew. But here, to make pork verde, they cube the pork, toss it in a chile verde marinade with tomatillos and jalapeno, and then Carroll puts it in his smoker at around 250 degrees for four hours. After that, they bring it inside and stew it. The carne guisada is made with Carroll’s brisket, smoked for 12 hours before they stew it.
“And it’s better that way!” says Aguero.
“Don’t tell his mom!” adds Carroll.
There’s another thing you shouldn’t tell his mom. Dishes like carne guisada are usually served on plates. But at the Cantina, says Aguero, “everything is eaten with your hands, everything is on a taco.” Why? “Because everything tastes better on a tortilla!”
The tortillas come from a tiny factory in north Tulsa, Tortilleria de Puebla.
“They have the best corn tortillas I’ve ever had,” says Aguero, “except for my grandmother’s.” Most of the toppings are traditional dishes from Aguero’s family, but some are made with what Arguero describes as “fun stuff we came up with.”
There’s a sausage taco based on the wraps served at football games south of San Antonio. All of the tacos are a delight, bursting with flavor. Perhaps the best is the brisket taco, made with the very same slow-cooked brisket that delighted Carroll’s fans at the food truck (and still delights them at their spot at Mother Road Market). It’s smoked for 12 hours in Carroll’s huge, 1,000 gallon smoker in a truck parked near Mother Road, and then brought to Bixby daily, where it’s enlivened by Aguero’s blend of pico, queso fresco, candied jalapeno, chipotle and pickled onion. It’s the perfect collaboration.