Billowing clouds of smoke drift onto Southeast Powell during my Friday commute. It’s either a tire fire (totally possible in this neighborhood) or someone running a bootstrapping meat-smoking operation. Lucky for me, it was the latter: Holy Trinity Barbecue, a new Texas ‘cue cart making waves in Portland’s always-growing smoked meat scene.
Holy Trinity is self-taught pit master Kyle Rensmeyer, a Dallas, Texas native who started selling his smoked meat under the name Q PDX in 2016. For three years, he managed the weekend-only operation by selling at street fairs, outside of breweries, and running to-go orders out of his house. But in May, Rensmeyer opened the window to his royal blue cart at Southeast Powell and 35th in the mostly-vacant parking lot of the now-shuttered Original Taco House.
In a fenced-off smoker across the lot, Rensmeyer cooks brisket over Oregon white oak for 14-16 hours every Friday. The result: thick, pink-rimmed slabs with a black peppery bark and deep veins of fat. It’s some of the best brisket I’ve had in Portland—so tender you can pull it apart with a fork. It could go toe-to-toe with current Portland pit boss Matt’s BBQ.
“The Trinity,” $22, gives you a little bit of everything: the aforementioned brisket; spicy, snappy Czech-style sausage made with brisket ends and studded with mustard seeds; and sticky, fatty pork ribs. The best of three sauces is a jack-of-all-trades, Worcestershire-heavy, Kansas City-style option. Sides are better than most you’ll find at barbecue joints around town, with cheesy, course-grained grits, pulled pork-strewn pinto beans, and very Texan (served cold, under a whip of thick custard) nana pudding.
Rensmeyer spent most of his adult life sampling barbecue in his home state, inspired, at first, by Dallas’s Pecan Lodge, and later eating his way to Austin’s famed Franklin Barbecue. When Franklin Barbecue’s Aaron Franklin visits Portland for his annual Feast food festival pilgrimage, says Rensmeyer, he gleans what he can from the gregarious “wealth of knowledge.” “There’s a lot of great Texas barbecue styles,” explains Rensmeyer, “but everybody starts by the baseline of Aaron Franklin. He’s where we all strive to be.”
For now, Holy Trinity is weekends-only, 11 a.m. until sold out (typically in under 2 hours), although Rensmeyer hopes to open for lunch on Fridays soon. The old Original Taco House lot, meanwhile, will soon be transformed into a new food cart pod. By September, he says, Southwest Portland’s craft beer emporium, John’s Marketplace, will open a second location inside the Original Taco House space (3550 SE Powell Blvd), with six new carts and plenty of seating to follow.
With Holy Trinity as its anchor and a massive beer selection on-hand, the new pod could end up at the forefront of Portland’s shifting cart scene.