Austin BBQ Weekend
I worked for Dell for ten years, so I spent a lot of time in Austin. However, with a goal to get in and out as soon as possible, I didn’t get to see too much of the city. It wasn’t until I had to promise Dave a weekend in Austin BBQ weekend filled with nothing but barbecue did I actually get to experience the wonders of Austin. What a great town it is – capitol of live music, and every kind exists on 6th Avenue and beyond, home of South by Southwest Music Festival, center of fabulous Texas barbecue, and now an up-and-coming restaurant scene.
We got in late Thursday night and found a great rate through hotels.com at the Stephen F. Austin Intercontinental at Congress and 5th downtown. Foolishly, we rented a car, but most of the time, we were escorted by our friend Amy who met up with us starting Friday night.
We headed to Lambert’s Downtown in a new area on 2nd. Great looking place and wonderful service. The menu was tantalizing, but with a big dinner to come, we had to stick to a few goodies. The fried green tomatoes ($12) were exceptional, still crunchy with a great batter, lump crab, mizuna greens and a green goddess dressing. A small brisket salpicon ($10) followed – I got to learn that salpicon means ‘to bind with sauce’. This was basically two soft tacos with chopped brisket, avocado, shredded iceberg pico de gallo and lime – quite good. We shared a 3-meat plate lunch with two sides ($16), choosing more brisket, pork spare ribs, chicken, macaroni and cheese and braised collard greens. Quite good but no the best we had over the weekend.
There are three main regions of American barbecue (I would add Santa Maria BBQ as I grew up there, but the massive size of the top three makes SMBBQ look puny.) The big three are Texas, Kansas City and North Carolina. Unlike the saucy two, Texas BBQ is done through offset smoke. They even have special barbecues to perform this feat, but low and slow smoking can be accomplished on any barbecue.
We headed to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library for the afternoon, our second time there. It’s a fascinating chunk of history and nostalgia from the time. LBJ passed more social legislation than any other president, it seems. I highly recommend a visit to this library. (When we retire, we will be visiting every baseball and national park as well as every presidential library – that should take us on and off the beaten path!!)
It was suggested at our dinner with Eric and Haven that, at which I was overserved and became unable to even think about writing a review, instead of simply going to The Salt Lick for Austin BBQ on Saturday for lunch, that we attempt the TriFecta – THREE barbecue joints in Lockhart, about 45 minutes southeast of Austin. Amy, Dave and I were all game to give it a try. We created the ground rules for fair judging – we would have one slice each of brisket, one pork spare rib each and share a sausage at each location. That way, we might be able to survive the day. As we worked through the three restaurants, we did have some regrets about limiting our choices. For instance, Black’s BBQ has a ‘dinosaur’ bone the equivalent of a giant beef rib that I had such a hankering for.
We started at Kreuz (pronounced krietz) Market. Story is that the dad died and the daughter and son had an intense and difficult inheritance battle. She got the location and turned it into Smitty’s, and the son moved slightly out of town and kept the name. The third location, Black’s, is about 2 blocks from Smitty’s. We found our selection to cost about the same at each location – $15. Kreuz had a dry but flavorful brisket, a really good jalapeño cheese sausage and very good ribs (winner).
Black’s was next on our Austin BBQ tour with super moist (the winner) brisket, but the sausage was ‘mealy’ and the spare ribs were dry.
Smitty’s was an amazing place with a wide-open fire pit and serious heat while waiting in line to order. I couldn’t take it and went into the dining room to get a seat (which I guess Texans wouldn’t do because it’s crowded and everyone needs a seat – oh well). Smitty’s brisket was second to Black’s, their rib was a close second, both sweet and salty, but the sausage was fatty.
SO, since everyone told us that Kreuz was the best they had, we decided to give them another chance with the brisket, the most famous cut amongst Texas barbecue. SO, we went back there on the way out of town and ordered three more pieces of brisket. We couldn’t possibly imagine eating them, but we were too embarrassed to order just one piece for three people. Our opinion did not change – the Kreuz brisket was still dry.
What a day it was. You can google Texas Barbecue Trail and get the full scoop on central Texas barbecue. It’s such a hoot!!! Also, my friend, Gloria Corral, has a book entitled ‘Barbecue Lover’s Guide to Austin‘. I’m told that my copy is in the mail.
Sunday was made for Mexican. When we saw that Guerro’s was closed for East, we used Urban Spoon to find Mexican, and instantly and amazingly, a cab showed up right in front of us. Mexican food is more TexMex in Texas, but we found a great Mexican restaurant in Austin – Casa Maria. Dave had a carne asada which happened to be a thin grilled ribeye ($14.99) and I had my usual beef taco, cheese enchilada and refried beans. It was a classic Mexican meal and a fix I badly needed. The margaritas were excellent.
We found ourselves seriously south of town and when I called for a cab, I was told there was a 90-minute wait. Yikes. It was hot, and the margaritas were telling us that we shouldn’t be out there walking. We hopped a bus believe it or not to find one of the best kept transportation secrets. For $1 (instead of the $12 cab ride half way between our destination), we hopped the marvelously clean, air-conditioned bus that dropped us one block from our hotel. We were intimidated by the driver who didn’t have the time of day to help us figure out how to pay, but these things are good for the soul and make you realize how fortunate you are at times to think that a cab is the only form of transport other than your car and friends.
Go to Austin – send me a note beforehand. You will love the heck out of this place!!!