Who knew that, in 2020, walking into a restaurant and sitting down for a meal would, at least temporarily, become a thing of the past? That we would suddenly ransack grocery store aisles for beans and rice, that buying fresh produce or sitting down to a sublime dinner would suddenly require careful strategy?
If David “Uncle DT” Thom didn’t know any of these things, his business model is at least tried and tested for the time of coronavirus and social distancing.
As Santa Fe restaurants have shifted their model once again, Thom was only pivoting back to his original business model at Uncle DT’s Smokehouse on Rufina Street. In addition to hot pickup or delivery barbecue and sides made to order by the plate or the pound, Thom’s one-man operation had been offering frozen and vacuum-sealed brisket, smoked chicken and turkey, pulled pork, ribs and tofu for more than a year before Uncle DT welcomed his first in-house diners earlier this winter. The vacuum-sealed meats he sells keep in the freezer for at least two years, Thom says, and his boil-in-bag reheating plan requires less than an hour before dinner is served.
A visit to Uncle DT’s Smokehouse yields the kind of reassuringly no-frills visuals you’d expect to see at a pit master’s digs. The storefront is a converted garage complete with corrugated tin, turquoise floors and black walls featuring memorabilia from Thom’s career as a bluegrass musician. One overhead light flickers occasionally and atmospherically. If beer were available, we decided, we might eat at one of the four small tables inside – but since it wasn’t, we opted for takeout. We figured that was what Thom did best, anyway (and, a few days later, taking food home became the only choice).
Four days a week, Uncle DT’s lunch and dinner menu offers smoked brisket, chicken, pulled pork or tofu sandwiches or plates, as well as pork ribs, coleslaw, potato salad, cowboy beans and cornbread – and occasional specials (when we went, beef ribs and smoked turkey were also available). Thom, who uses antibiotic- and hormone-free meat whenever possible, draws inspiration from Texas BBQ – as a touring musician, he logged time in the smoked-meat Valhallas south of Austin.