Monday, December 30, 2013

Virgie's Bar-B-Que

Amber and I were still in Houston. The Justin Timberlake show the night before was awesome. In case you guys wanted to know, I am a fan now. We had tried Gatlin's BBQ the day before and were in search of another BBQ place. I heard Killen's BBQ was really good, but today was Friday, and they are only open on the weekends. We again chose another restaurant off the Texas Monthly list. Virgie's Bar-B-Que is the only Houston joint that made it on the 2008 and 2013 list.

The parking lot of Virgie's looked busy, and on the inside, most of the seats were taken. Amber and I shared the three meat plate of brisket, ribs, and sausage with a side of potato salad and green beans. We had just eaten breakfast at our hotel. Our food was served in a to-go container. Perfect for sharing some 'cue at your car? Yes I am talking to you, DV. I had ordered moist brisket, but most of the pieces I got were lean. I did not want any meat to go to waste. The brisket was smoky and tender. The flavor was bland in my book though. There was a slice of moist however. The moist was a little bit better. In case you did not know, I am not a lean cut kind of guy. The rib pieces I got were chewy and tough. It did have good smoke and flavor. I really wanted to like it. The sausage was good, but I am not a fan of sliced pieces of sausage though. I want to bite into the a whole link of sausage and get the snap or pop I am looking for. The grit was good, and the sausage was tasty. Amber ate the green beans so I have nothing to say about them. I do not like green beans period. I did enjoy the potato salad though. It was sweet and creamy. Both barbecue restaurants we ate at in Houston had sweet tasting potato salad. What is up with that?

All in all, the barbecue was decent, but I was hoping for more. To tell the truth, I was a little disappointed. It might have been an off day. If I lived in Houston, I would definitely try it again to make sure how I feel about it was correct. I do not think I would be back considering there are other choices for me to try first. Grade: B-

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 5535 Gessner Dr, Houston, TX 77041
Phone: (713) 466-6525

Monday, December 23, 2013

Gatlin's BBQ

Preview of new location in 2015

Some of you may know I did not eat barbecue till I started college. I grew up in the Houston area, but I had no sense of the barbecue scene there. The only BBQ joint I have eaten in H-Town was at Goode Company Barbeque. An ex-girlfriend introduced me to it, and I liked the food so much, I wanted to eat there every time I go home. It had all changed the last time I ate there though. I had just finished my first marathon, and Amber and I went there to "celebrate." The brisket was dry and not good. They also did not have any moist but only lean? Weird. Everything I ate was forgettable and borderline bad. We were going to Houston this time for the Justin Timberlake concert. I know. You can blame the wife on this one. This at least gave me an opportunity to try some new places. I consulted the Texas Monthly Top 50 list for some help and ended up choosing Gatlin's BBQ because it was not out of our way to the hotel.

Trying to park around Gatlin's was a pain. It was in an industrial part of town, and they were busy as well. A good sign, right? The eating space inside was a little bit cramp. They did have outside seating, but we were not tempted to do so on this cold day. Did you know that the pitmaster/owner Greg Gatlin used to be a defensive back at Rice? <insert Miley Cyrus voice> "That's pretty cool." Today I ordered the usual- brisket, ribs, and sausage. Surprise, surprise. The brisket was solid. It had a good crust with a nice smoke ring. It was a tad dry and could have used a little bit more salt, but I still liked it. The ribs were the winner here. They were tender and juicy and had an excellent rub/glaze. The smoke was also on point as well. I could probably have eaten a rack of them. The homemade spicy sausage definitely had a kick. I like the grit and casing, and it had an ideal flavor. I also got some potato salad and coleslaw on the side. The potato salad, although mustard based, was really good. It was eggy and sweet. The coleslaw was not bad either. I should have tried the dirty rice. I heard it was delicious and awesome. Maybe next time?

Gatlin's BBQ is a definitely a great choice for barbecue in the Houston area. I enjoyed everything I ate, but I wanted something more. For once, the hype got to me but do not get me wrong. It is worth the visit no matter where you live in Houston or beyond. I also met Greg's mom, Mary. She has to be the nicest person in the barbecue business. Next time I go to Houston, Gatlin's will be definitely on my radar again. Grade: B+

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 3510 Ella Blvd, Houston, TX 77018
Phone: (713) 869-4227

Monday, December 16, 2013

Vic's BBQ

Eating out on your lunch break is not always the easy. Your time and choices are constricted. There are a handful of barbecue joints that I can make it to within reason. Vic's BBQ is the closest one. The first and only time I ate there was right after I started working for Progressive Insurance. I remember it being decent, but some of my co-workers swear by it.

When I got there, the parking lost was packed. Every time I drive by it, it looks packed. Is that supposed to be a good sign? Inside there were people but not as many that the parking lot would indicate. The atmosphere had a working class feel to it. Everyone in there seems like they were on their lunch break between jobsites. I ordered the three meat plate with the usual meats of moist brisket, pork ribs, and sausage. I got coleslaw and potato salad on the side. The brisket was surprisingly decent. It was very tender, and the smoke ring and flavor were superb. I did not need any barbecue sauce for it. The pork rib was tender but not falling off the bone. The rub and smoke gave it nice flavor. The sausage was probably one of the better commercial sausages I have ever had. It had the just right amount of fat. The casing and grit of the sausage was on point. The coleslaw and potato were bland. Nothing special to write about.

It is a solid barbecue restaurant. It is definitely worth a visit. It is relatively cheap, and they are pretty quick in getting you in and out. Vic's is barbecue for the everyday working man. Going into this visit, I would have guess I would have given them a lower grade. I was pleasantly surprised. Grade: C+

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 3502 Burleson Rd, Austin, TX 78741
Phone: (512) 445-4250

Monday, December 9, 2013

Freedmen's Bar

I went to the University of Texas at Austin so I am very familiar with the West Campus area. I lived in West Campus all but one year of college. There was an old looking building behind Bongo BBQ. I had no idea what was inside the building and never ventured in. The owner of Bongo passed away about five years ago, and Cuatro's took its place. Then the owner of Cuatro's wanted to transform that old looking building which led to the birth of Freedmen's Bar. I met the pitmaster, Evan LeRoy, the night before at the Austin Barbecue Society dinner. He got the job off an ad on Craigslist. Interesting, huh? I felt slightly bad when I met him because I had never been to Freedmen's. I changed that the very next day.

Getting there from my work by the airport was not the easiest. I had to take into account of the lunch time traffic and took the long way there. I picked up my friend Rob on the way. West Campus has definitely changed a lot since my undergrad days. There are condominiums everywhere. When we got to Freedman's Bar, the outside of the restaurant looked vaguely the same. The building is an Austin historic landmark and was almost 150 years old. I did not expect to find what was behind the front door. I felt like I had traveled back in time to an upscale speakeasy. It was simply beautiful inside. This is where a picture is worth a thousand words.

We sat outside on the covered patio, and I ordered the Holy Trinity Plate which came with moist brisket, pork spare ribs, and house-made sausage all for $17. It was served with some house pickles and bread but no sides. One bite into the brisket and I was hooked. The meat was so tender, and the crust was perfect. It had a great peppery smoke flavor. Sometimes I wish good brisket like this is available to me 24/7. I would just clap my hands and a plate would appear in front of me. The ribs were what you expect to get at a good barbecue joint, but there was nothing special to write about. I wish there was more of a rub or a glaze. It was borderline boring in taste. The sausage was good but light. It had a nice with a good snap. It was made up of brisket and pork belly. Speaking of pork belly. Rob got the smoked pork belly for his plate and let me have a bite of it. Wow. It was succulent, rich, and mouthwatering. The rub and smoke worked well together. I want to see smoked pork belly be offered more. If I did not have to go back to work, I would have loved to try one of their drink concoctions to go with my meal.

I would throw Freedmen's Bar into the fancy barbecue category. It is also situated in a peculiar part of town however. I am not sure being surrounded by college students is the best idea, but then again I do not own a restaurant. I remember not having a lot of disposable income back in the day. Maybe the bar will help bring in the traffic? The barbecue is definitely worth a visit if you have the money or time to get there. This week is also Freedmen's one year anniversary. Check out the festivities. Grade: B+

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 2402 San Gabriel St, Austin, TX 78705
Phone: (512) 220-0953

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Prophets of Smoked Meat

"How did a guy from Ohio become so obsessed with Texas barbecue?"

Let's change it up this week. This will be a book "review." I can read? Yup. It surprises me sometimes. Who knew the writer, Daniel Vaughn aka BBQ Snob, and I share such a similar background. That line from the book sums it up for the both of us in a way. I grew up in Parma, OH when I was a kid. My family moved to Texas in 1994, and I have lived in Texas since. My love for barbecue is evident in this blog.

When I heard Texas Monthly had hired a barbecue editor, I was intrigued. The new editor had written a book about his travels through Texas visiting BBQ joints. One day when my wife and I were at Costco, we saw his book. We had to buy The Prophets of Smoked Meat. It was under 20 bucks at Costco so I did not feel bad buying the book. I rarely read let alone buy a book. The last book I read cover to cover was Mockingjay, the last book in The Hunger Games trilogy.

Daniel Vaughn fell in love with barbecue and started his own blog. He was encouraged to put his barbecue adventures into print by agent David Hale Smith. It was the first book released by Anthony Bourdain's publishing company. It took me under a month to read the book. I read most of it at night right before bed. The only issue with that was that I went to bed hungry. Writing this "review" was tough because it brought back childhood memories of writing book reviews. That is not a good thing plus I did not find any Cliff Notes for this book. I will try to make it painless for you and me.

The concept of the book is pretty basic. Daniel Vaughn and his friend and photographer, Nicholas McWhirter, would travel through Texas trying various barbecue restaurants along the way. They ended up visiting over 200 restaurants and covering over ten thousand miles in Daniel's Audi. The Audi has been replaced recently after it was totaled. They should put that car in some kind of barbecue museum. Daniel and Nick would eat up to ten places in one day. After reading the book, I wanted to do something similar. I am not sure my wife will not be happy about that. I have an appetite, and I can definitely put away some food. Eating that much food day after day would have to be a drain on the body. When we took our pilgrimage to Lockhart, I was the winner of the day. We ate at three places that day, and I was fine and could have continued. I am not sure if I can do it day after day though. Props to the BBQ Snob for that.

The chapters are broken into regions. Daniel would cover sections of the state at a time. I cannot imagine trying places that are terrible over and over. It would be a waste of dollars and calories. He encountered a lot of places where the food was downright bad. Sometimes the sides/desserts were better than the barbecue. It also seems like there was not any good barbecue west of the Hill Country. There are also four styles of Texas barbecue: Hill Country, East Texas, South Texas, and Central Texas. Hill Country is typically cooked with direct heat at a faster rate. East Texas is mostly about drenching their meat in a thick sauce. South Texas is all about barbacoa. I love me some barbacoa. Barbacoa is a whole cow head smoked overnight in the ground. Central Texas' approach is slow and low with indirect heat. This has to be my favorite style.

The approach of the book is pretty straightforward. Daniel and Nick would visit a location, try their meats, and review it. At certain points in the book, it does get repetitive for me, and I am sure for them as well. You start to run out of ways to describe good or bad barbecue. There are pictures throughout the book of the places they visited. There are snippets in the book that go into details of a certain subject (example: fat and wood). The last part of the book is a profile of pitmasters that they met along the way. It also features how each one would smoke one of their meats. Nick took a lot of quality shots which definitely help break up the book at times.

In conclusion (basically how I concluded every paper in high school), I would recommend the book if you are a big barbecue fan or a "BBQ snob." With Christmas right around the corner, this would be an excellent gift to give. It is an easy read. I would pick up the book, and the pages would fly by. You can stop at any point and pick up the book later without missing a beat. I would advise not to read the book on an empty stomach or not be anywhere close to the state of Texas. I read it while I was in Cleveland for work and was screwed. There was no good barbecue to be found. Some of us believe Texas is the king of barbecue, and this book embodies that idea. The book definitely opens your eyes to the world of Texas barbecue.

I will leave you with a line from the book: "Ohioan by birth, but Texan by the grace of God." Amen.

Until next time, happy smoking...