If you’ve driven through West Texas, you know it’s a long way from one place to the next. Small towns dot the map and gas stations and restaurants are rare, welcomed lifelines for the miles ahead. Marathon, Texas (That’s “Mare-thun” if you want to pronounce it like a local) is just such a town. With a population of less than four hundred, Marathon’s street light swings at the crossroads forty-five minutes north of Big Bend National Park. Despite the dangers of the desert, there’s a settling comfort in these long roads, small towns, and grand landscapes. In Marathon, that comfort is also delivered in the form of slow-smoked barbecue and cold craft beer at The Brick Vault.
The original establishment on this corner was an old mercantile founded in 1886. In 1927, a fire brought the building to the ground – the only thing to survive the fire was a vertical bank vault out back made up of the original red brick. A Gulf Gas Station took the street front and remained for a decade with the brick vault serving as storage through the years. In March of 2019, Phillip Moellering lit a fire in a pit, it’s been burning ever since. Phillip has been a resident of Marathon since 2010, and on arrival, he went to work with the well-established, Gage Hotel. A few short years into it, Phillip and company were wanting a better way to feed their community. With his upbringing in family-style barbecue, they decided to pursue the craft head-on.
Phillip’s knowledge of barbecue culture began at home in his early years in the Texas Hill Country. Big platters of smoked meats and homemade sides were a Sunday staple, and often there were leftovers for the week ahead. Three generations of Moellering barbecue tradition are carried on here in Marathon. He honors that tradition by taking his family’s sausage recipes and turning them into everyday staples during barbecue service. Along with the “Texas Trinity” of brisket, pork ribs, and sausage, Brick Vault is delivering consistently on smoked turkey, pulled pork, and yard bird. Every pound is perfected slowly, thanks to post oak and the 1000-gallon offset smoker built by Mill Scale Metal Works. In the old brick vault, you’ll find pastrami short ribs and pork belly for bacon being “cold-smoked.”
It’s a winning formula for Phillip and his crew. Why change up tradition? Why stray from the beaten path? It’s this formula, this exact arrangement that has people from all over the state dining in at this building on weekends. Adventurists leaving Big Bend, large groups on vacation, local high school kids, business owners from the next town over, or any wandering traveler out west – these doors see every type of hungry soul. To top off the entire experience, they’re also pumping out their own beer. Lagers, blondes, IPAs — the list goes on. A few craft beer choices will occasionally rotate seasonally but every in-house beer that’s got the Brick Vault name on it will do the trick.
Small town charm; some towns have it, some don’t. Some small towns are just that —small, lackluster, overlooked, and forgotten. Whatever Marathon lacks in size is made up for in heart and hospitality. There’s plenty to discover and the locals take care of each other and their guests without question. Moellering refers to Marathon as a “village” so perhaps we’ll coin the term “village charm” when speaking of Marathon. No matter how you describe it, The Brick Vault is flying the comfort flag in West Texas for all those in search of it. Follow the smoke out west and you’ll find it, too.
Words and content: Flint Field Tx - @flintfieldtx