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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Pecan Lodge

5 Stars

With Pecan Lodge, coming off a tie for #2 in the Texas Monthly top 50 list, I had the pleasure of entertaining a guest from Austin who wanted to try some of the D/FW 7 from said list. Matt, is an amateur BBQ lover, having tried some I have not and vice versa. Resembling Daniel Vaughn ever so slightly but less of a Far Side cartoon, he drove up to Dallas on a Thursday morning and we met at Shed #2 in the Farmer's Market. A blind man date with only thing in mind...meat.

I had previously tried Pecan Lodge earlier in the year and would've given it a 3 star rating based on that experience. I asked for fatty brisket but was given lean. It was a bit dry although had one of the better smoked flavors I've tried out of other briskets. The ribs were so-so as I had just experienced some stellar ribs at other local and Austin joints. Some clown in front of me ordered a massive platter eliminating all sausage and depriving me of a handmade link that day. Needless to much for the hype.

With Matt making the trek from Austin, I decided it was time to give Justin Fourton's spell another shot at hypnotizing me as many others have been. We ordered a three meat plate with a mix of fatty and lean brisket, one rib and one handmade link. The okra was of course ordered as this side was a highlight from my first visit. When Matt goes to work, he has pen and pad ready and a scale to measure meat to ensure he doesn't over indulge at each place. I'm quite the opposite of this preparation as I rely on pictures I take to jog my memory. I also like being a member of the clean plate club, leaving no meat behind.

Starting with the sausage, I found this particularly fresh and was pleased that it was handmade rather than ordered elsewhere. I do wish other Dallas BBQ institutes would put the time in for something that Austin, Central Texas and the Hill Country have mastered. We're still learning up in North Texas. The casing was thin and the pork had a fine grind that came apart easily upon eating. There were visible flakes of pepper and with a hue of red to the pork link with mild spice. Next was the brisket. It was exactly what I hoped it would be. The texture was among the best I've experienced. The visual was sexy from the marbling while the juicy fat provided a buttery effect upon mouth entrance. The Mesquite wood gave it a very pronounced smoke flavor with a tart after taste from the Mesquite. I'm not the biggest fan of Mesquite but now I realize why everyone falls head over heels in love with this brisket. The bark was stellar with neither the pepper or salt from the rub over powering one another. The rib was next and on this stop, it erased my previous feelings toward these meat lollipops. This time the heavy pepper was well-balanced with the semi-sweet glaze on the surface. Again the flavors married well without the either rub nor glaze fighting for dibs on your taste buds. The pork came off from the bone with a clean removal that I applaud.

Compared to my first visit, I can finally say that I understand why Pecan Lodge has many loyalists and tied for #2. The okra was still amazing and I would recommend using the tangy sauce as it's kiddie pool. Matt and I left that day with me not giving a damn about using a scale because I wanted to cherish this moment and commit gluttony. It will be interesting to monitor the friendly competition between Pecan Lodge and Lockhart Smokehouse as Dallas' top Q joint. What's even more exciting...there are others not far behind.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

John Mueller Meat Company

4 Stars

On the spring-like December day that John Mueller made his announcement via Twitter ( kind of ) about his return, I had so happen to dine at "the other place" on South 1st. Was this a sign? Sure. Why not. Although the Tweet was more of a sign of technological bewilderment on his behalf.

After less than a month since the abrupt end to the South 1st location, Mr. Mueller was again back in the saddle, ready to do battle with any one and every one. Ready to retake claim at BBQ King and Tyrant. Mueller's story, which surprisingly hasn't been turned into a drama on Lifetime, added to the anticipation and mystery not only regionally but statewide. One can almost hear Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" as background music to the continuing saga of the Mueller name.

John Mueller Meat Co. was visited right after Micklethwait Craft Meats during my April mini-tour. My traveling partner, Robert Lerma, had already visited John's place upon it's opening that morning and brought me a pork rib to Micklethwait. It'd have to wait because I wanted to hit up Mueller after Micklethwait. Robert was a good trooper and obliged.

At this point it was early in the afternoon and meat was running out. I purchased the fatty brisket, a link and luckily one end of spare rib was left and I quickly snatched that up as well. We sat down and John walked over to speak with us. After noticing I was taking pictures of the food, John smirked "I didn't cook that for you to take pictures of." Good point. I snapped the sausage and it bled grease. It was a solid piece of meat and John Lewis took very good notes while previously under Mueller. When the brisket was served, it was steaming hot but already falling apart on it's own. This unfortunately caused it to dry a bit. It definitely provided hints of the Post Oak but also hints of less flavorful bites. The bark was pretty on point though partly dry as well. Lastly was the lone rib end. The heavy pepper and honey glaze made this one of the best ribs I've had.

By this time, Robert and I had struck up a BBQ heavy conversation with our picnic table neighbors who hailed from Los Angeles. They had made the pilgrimage to Austin for the Food and Wine Festival taking place that very weekend. We then asked what they do and the reply was restaurants, one in particular titled "Animal." I had just caught up on the previous Hell's Kitchen episode the day before and recognized Jon Shook, Owner and Executive Chef of Animal, as appearing on the show. A nice conversation ensued with their final question, "If we had one Austin BBQ joint to visit, which would it be?" Our answer will not be revealed but it was not Franklin's.

With my second meal of the day complete, I left with a different perspective of John Mueller. Not so much was the ass every one bemoans of but a man who is very personable though with slight elusiveness, though I'm not here to judge people. Just their food. While the sausage rocked, the brisket was not 100% on this day. Hours later I undoubtedly confirmed the rib statement while digging into the leftovers from Robert while casually strolling through my hotel and past amused ( or disgusted ) guests. I believe they were either jealous or semi-aroused by the seducing sounds coming from my direction.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Micklethwait Craft Meats

3 Stars

Attempting to keep up with the blossoming Barbecue scene in Austin I actually visited the newly opened Micklethwait Craft Meats (MCM) in February. After driving past an unruly line of business type, hipsters, and tourists at Franklin, I was eager to be among the first BBQ fans to try Craft Meats. Somewhat regrettably, I left upon learning that brisket was only served at dinner and when visiting a BBQ joint, I do my best to tackle the Texas Trifecta in one sitting. No worries as plans to return would be executed soon enough.

Micklethwait Craft Meats took to the trailer / food truck / BBQ scene by storm with almost immediate praise of the quality. Sometime in March, news of brisket being sold for lunch was announced as the response to his Texas Post Oak brisket was high across the board. Supply, meet demand. My opportunity for a return visit surfaced toward the end of April and MCM was on the agenda. The night before my Craft Meats visit, I was floored by Freedmen's and literally floored by an unhealthy abundance of Mescal from Clive Bar, where I swore I found Waldo. Oh, the next day would be tough.  

A local Austin photographer, Robert Lerma, met me and a female companion at Craft Meats to offer his musings as well. His travels have taken him to many of the finest Texas BBQ joints while generating photographs along the way. I was delighted at the visual of the meat displayed in the trailer and even more so meeting Tom Micklethwait. For the sides, slaw and jalapeno cheese grits were the culprits. After living in Mississippi, I quickly became a sucker for grits and rarely turn down a chance to order them.

Robert and I, as well as the female companion whose opinion that "trailer BBQ does not sound good and there's no way I'd ever eat BBQ from a trailer"...sat down at the picnic table. After taking a bite myself, I quickly fed her the Thai sausage and...dun dun dun, "Oh wow, I usually don't eat sausage but this is some of the best I've had." It was agreed that the sausage was superb and just the amount of spice I'd expect. The ribs, although a bit shy on the meat portion, were enjoyed equally as they had the mark of Central Texas style with salt, pepper, and peppercorn. Where they lacked in meat, they settled for with flavor. Here's where my visit took another turn. The brisket. It was dry, flavor-less of the Texas Post Oak, and the bark was crisp to the point it flaked off with an ashy texture. I've seen other patron's pictures of the brisket where it glistened nicely but this was not my experience.

While I would've liked adding another star or two, I weigh brisket a bit heavier than sausage and ribs. I don't doubt that Tom can deliver a great brisket but being new to serving at lunch, there may be some room for error. With continued growth and a promising buzz, lines from Franklin will begin to find their way a couple of blocks east to Micklethwait Craft Meats. Recently I posted this line as a reply to a comment on the Texas BBQ Posse blog which I find fitting for here and many Q joints alike:

"I will return again only because there is so much hype but due to finances, I can't spread myself too thin with revisiting the same joints repeatedly such as the Posse or Vaughn. I have to base on one time experiences which consistency can always vary with each visit and product judged differently by each individual." This will not be my last visit to the artsy yellow trailer on Rosewood Ave.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Freedmen's Bar

5 Stars

In 1869, this beautiful structure where Freedmen's is located, was built by forner slave George Franklin. George was on the forefront of developing an area known as Wheatville located north of Austin. The area itself was named after James Wheat, a freed slave from Arkansas who brought his family here in 1867. This became the first African-American community in Austin after the Civil War and over the years the building served as several different businesses including a church, residence and store. It is now historically labeled as the Franzetti store.

Researching this history I was eager to step foot into Freedmen's Bar which was named out of respect to the community's historical importance of Austin. What brought my attention to Freedmen's was the pitmaster. Evan LeRoy politely called out the Texas BBQ Posse on their overlooking of his BBQ during one of their recent tours. Being outspoken and slightly over-confident myself at times, it struck a harp chord with me. Either this guy is cocky or he may just have something up his sleeve.

With a somewhat planned and somewhat impromptu trip to Austin, I communicated back and forth with Evan to ensure he was going to be present when I visited. Normally I wouldn't make a big deal over a visit but to be a BBQ disciple, I must visit with the teacher.

Evan's culinary background begin in Texas followed by a stint at Hill Country BBQ Market in New York as their pitmaster. Finding his way back home, he dabbled in tacos out of a food trailer we know as Torchy's and then off to Lambert's for a hot minute before landing as Executive Chef/Pitmaster of Freedmen's Bar. I found Evan to be one of the most humble guys I've met and for his age, he takes his BBQ as personal as a pitmaster of 40 years.

Unlike some gourmet BBQ such as Lambert's, they are all about BBQ and don't venture into any other territory. This was fine by me. I ordered the Holy Trinity plate, rightfully named since I was drinking a damn good Old Fashion in a former church. A personal motto of mine, you always need a reason to repent and I was well on my way. No specifications to my order  were requested as I let Evan work his miracle. What was presented to me was a BBQ masterpiece probably approved by the Pope himself. Pork spare ribs, an equal serving of fatty and lean brisket, handmade sausage and pork belly. Samples of sides were brought as well.

Like a young man with his first girl (awkward moment alert) I didn't know where to start. Brisket won out and it was absolutely perfect. With Evan using Texas Post Oak he hit a homerun. The smoke ring was visible, the meat moist with the fat working well while the bark kept it together. I quickly lowered my head and gave thanks. The sausage consisting of fatty brisket, pork belly, and jalapeno had a great flavor as the ingredients meshed well together delivering a nice spice from the jalapeno. The ribs were majestic. Wonderful amount of salt, pepper, and peppercorn with the meat pulling off from a slight tug. For desert, the pork belly was heavenly. Oh yeah the sides...just order them, especially the smoked beets.

After humming praises to myself while finishing off the second Old Fashion, I then saw the light. I realized if Evan could produce this consistently then there should be no reason Freedmen's is not mentioned in the same discussion as Stiles Switch, la Barbecue, Franklin's and the rest of the booming and quite likely, new BBQ capitol of Texas. Dust off your Bible as Freedman's will have you saying Hallelujah and Amen.