I have to admit I got a kick out of the reaction I saw from some of you guys in the comments to my post about my trip to Austin. As I got a few requests for my foodie impressions from there, here’s a brief summary, in chronological order.
First stop was La Barbecue, in East Austin. To give you some sense of my priorities, we stopped there on the way from the airport to the hotel where we were staying. Like many of such places in Austin, it’s housed in an upscale food truck park.
It was hot as hell, by the way. I felt for the folks working inside there, but they were all friendly and helpful. Not that it mattered, because they could have been the biggest assholes on the planet and I still would have loved them for serving me this:
The first bite of that was as close to an Oh. My. Gawd. moment as I’ve had eating… well, anything. Brisket isn’t supposed to melt in your mouth, but that came damned close. The texture was matched by a wonderful smokey goodness and a terrific bark that, somewhat surprisingly wasn’t that strongly seasoned. The sausage, which they make as well, was great, but ultimately came off as a dining experience that would have been better spent on more brisket. By the way, La Barbecue also makes its own dill pickles, which were excellent and nicely complimented the meat.
Final grade: glorious.
The next day was my pilgrimage to Franklin’s, also in East Austin. We didn’t discover until we got there that it was only three blocks from the hotel where we stayed. (Marketing note to Sheraton: you might want to make a bigger deal about that.)
Franklin’s is the hot thing right now. How hot? Well, it opens at 11AM and we got there at 9:15 to discover a few people had the same idea:
That’s on a Friday morning. I thought we’d beat the working crowd, but it turned out that most of the line was like us, people visiting Austin who had to try the place.
For a joint with a long wait for its clientele, Franklin’s has management of the time down to a fine art. There are umbrellas to borrow to keep the sun out. There are chairs you can grab to settle down for the hours until you’re served. They put out a water station. A woman came around to sell cider, beer and coozies. Plus, you get to talk to your neighbors. All told, it’s almost like a tailgating experience. No, really.
And in the end, if it were analogous to a tailgating experience, I felt like when I got my order, my team had kicked some righteous ass.
Brisket, pork ribs and turkey. The brisket was easily the match of what I had the day before, although Franklin’s seasons the meat a bit more than La Barbecue. The pork ribs were excellent, but, again, kind of a place holder that would have been better spent on more brisket. The turkey was, surprisingly, a revelation: juicy, flavorful and nicely smoky. I would order that again.
Final grade: worth the four-hour wait and then some.
We took a day off from barbecue before heading to the town of Lockhart on Sunday. I was on an ambitious schedule, intending to sample the wares of three of the town’s best known places in a couple of hours.
The first of those was Kreuz Market.
Kreuz bills itself as the oldest continually operated barbecue joint in the state. This is its second location, as it’s moved from its original spot on the square in the heart of Lockhart.
Given the schedule, I did pace myself a little, ordering a little brisket and sausage.
Florescent lighting isn’t kind to barbecue, I’m afraid. The brisket, while not up to the standards of my first two stops, was still quite good. The flavor and the bark excelled, while the meat was not quite as tender and juicy as what I’d eaten in Austin. The sausage was terrific. If I made a return trip, I’d have that again.
Final grade: good, but you can do better.
From there it was a short drive to Black’s, which bills itself as the oldest, continually operated by the same family barbecue restaurant in Texas. (It seems that family disputes are a large part of the Texas barbecue story.)
Black’s is a little different from the other places I tried, in that in addition to the barbecue, they have a quasi-buffet set up where you can order lots of sides. I didn’t go down that path. I was there for the meat.
Damned good. The ribs were as tasty as the ones I had at Franklin’s, and while the brisket wasn’t quite as good as its counterparts in Austin, it was certainly nothing to sneer at. The bark, in particular, was excellent.
Final grade: if I had eaten here first, I would have been more impressed, but still, I wouldn’t kick it out of bed.
On to the final destination: Smitty’s Market. This was the original location for Kreuz until there was a family falling out. This is what you see when you walk in the front door.
The gentleman running the pit was a great guy. He let me walk around and check out what he was smoking at the time.
Anyway, I ordered — guess what? — fatty brisket and sausage.
Again, apologies for the lighting, which doesn’t do the food any favors. The brisket wasn’t up to the highest standards in that it wasn’t quite as tender and juicy as what I had at La Barbecue, Franklin’s or Black’s, but it was tasty. The sausage was great, though. Lockhart kicks some major ass in the sausage department.
Final grade: fourth place, which is more impressive than it sounds.
So there you go, a thousand words on Austin barbecue. Eating it was better than writing about it.
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