Monday, July 28, 2014

Wilhite's Bar-B-Que

I drive by Wilhite's Bar-B-Que almost every day on the way to and from work. I take an alternate route to avoid the heavy traffic on IH-35 during rush hour. I had no idea it existed until I read something about it from Brisketman. It is also kind of hidden because it shares space with a gas station. I took a long lunch on this day to explore Wilhite's. When I got there, I knew why I have been missing it when I drive by. The sign was small, and the location was odd. I would have never guess that a barbecue restaurant was located right there.

The first thing I noticed was the prices. Everything was relatively cheap. I got the three-meat plate with two sides and drink for under 10 bucks. The order came with moist brisket, pork ribs, sausage, beans, potato salad and sweet tea. The brisket was really fatty. It was sitting in a pool of grease on the plate. It was heavy on the salt but tender with a good texture. The smoke was nice but not as deep as I was looking for. The pork ribs were solid. They had a good flavor, and the meat came off nicely from the bone with some resistance. The sausage was an all-beef one that came from Meyer's Elgin Smokehouse. For being a beef sausage it had a nice fat content. The snap and grit was ideal. The sides seemed like they came from the store. Nothing to write home about. I also tried some of the chicken (not pictured) as well. I could not eat it because the breast meat was so dry.

I get why some people like Wilhite's Bar-B-Que. It is quick, easy, and cheap. You get a lot of food for less than 10 dollars. I could not finish everything off my plate. I was so full. You could easily miss this place if you blink as you drive by. It is tucked away next to a Valero gas station. I could see myself picking up some decent 'cue on the way home one day from here. They even have all you can eat catfish on Fridays. What is there not to like? Grade C+

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 4903 Farm to Market Road 1327, Creedmoor, TX 78610
Phone: (512) 243-2703

Monday, July 21, 2014

Terry Black's Barbecue

Do not confuse this place with Black's Barbecue in Lockhart. Brothers Mark and Mike Black were going to use the name Black's Barbecue Austin, but Uncle Kent was not having any part of it. Kent Black, who manages the one in Lockhart, did not want to create any confusion for customers. To make things even more confusing/interesting, the owners of Black's are opening a location in Austin on Guadalupe. The brothers ended up naming the place after their father in his honor. Now that I got the family drama out of the way, let's talk about Terry Black's Barbecue. They have been open for over two weeks. I have been anxious to try them out, but I fought off the urges. I gave them a little bit of time to work out any kinks.

Terry Black's does have a great location. They are located downtown which makes them a great lunch spot to meet up. Traffic getting there was a nightmare for me, but that is Austin for you on a Friday. When I arrived there to meet some friends for lunch, the parking lot was full. I wanted to meet after one in the afternoon to hopefully avoid the lunch crowd. Inside, the lines were relatively short. There were three chopping blocks so the line moved at a good pace. Everything on the menu was competitively priced. I order two slices of moist brisket, one pork rib, and a ring of the regular sausage.

The Certified Angus Beef brisket was good. It was cooked perfectly. It was tender with a nice bark, and the fat was rendered well. Although it was good, I felt like it was missing something. More smoke and more flavor? The pork rib was tasty. It came off the bone without any effort and had a sweet glaze on it. The rib was cooked a little too long which made it a slightly dry for my preference. Terry Black's makes two types of sausage in-house. Regular and jalapeño. The grit was coarse just the way it should be, and the fat content was ideal. It tasted fine, but the casing was hard and crunchy. Some of the meat was sticking to the casing. It was like the sausage had a candy shell coating. It was either cooked too long or too high or both? I tried both barbecue sauces they had. I liked both of them, but I prefer the mustard-based spicy sauce more.

I am excited about Terry Black's Barbecue. Sure I was not blown away from the barbecue, but they are still relatively new. It is possible that their huge smokers are not well-seasoned yet. Though the barbecue is good, but they do show a lot of promise of being even better. They serve quality barbecue right in the heart of the city inside an air-conditioned building. I know I do not enjoy eating barbecue outside when it is 100 degrees in the blazing sun. This is the ideal place for me to take out of town guests too. Central, indoors, good Texas barbecue, short wait, and parking. Grade: B

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 1003 Barton Springs Rd, Austin, TX 78704
Phone: (512) 394-5899

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Man behind the Smoke : Evan LeRoy

I am going to try something new with the blog. I have never considered myself a writer. I kind of want to stretch out my writing legs a little bit. Please let know what you think of this piece. If this works out, I might try to do something similar frequently.

When most people go to a restaurant, they look for good service and good food. They do not care how everything else works. This also applies to barbecue joints as well. Many pitmasters put their livelihood into the smoked meats they serve to you. They spend all night prepping and tending the fires. It is often a thankless job. I am going to try to shine some light on some of these pitmasters with a series called "The Man behind the Smoke." It will not be limited to just males. I just happened to call it this because the field is dominated by men. There are only a few handfuls of their counterparts out there.
The first spotlight belongs to Evan LeRoy of Freedmen's Bar.

If you have never tried the barbecue from Freedmen's, shame on you. Get in the car and drive there now. If I could describe it in a simple manner, I would say it is awesomely delicious. I am a big fan of the brisket and pork belly because they are both succulent and phenomenal. They are two of my favorite meats to get in Austin if that means anything. Evan has been at Freedmen's since the opening. He actually stumbled upon the job while looking for supplies on Craigslist. I would venture to say this has been the ideal match.

Born in 1986, Evan LeRoy has spent most of his life in Austin. He attended St. Michael's Catholic Academy where he also played soccer and lacrosse. His career aspiration was to get into the film industry so he wanted to attend college in the Southern California area. Things did not work out the way there were supposed to. When it came down to it, he had a choice of staying in Austin to attend UT or leave home and go to Florida State University. I think most kids would elect to leave home to get away from their parental units.

At FSU, Evan majored in English and envisioned that he would be a writer someday. During his time in Florida, he met two people that would impact his life. He met Diego Abreu while working at a fish restaurant. Diego is now the sous chef at Freedmen's. The other person Evan met is now the most important person in his life. He met his wife Lindsey when they were both writing for the school newspaper. The couple recently got married. Congratulations!

After graduating from college, LeRoy headed back to Austin. His goal was to become a food writer. To hone on his skills, he furthered his education at Le Cordon Bleu. His love for food started right around the time when TV food shows started to become popular, especially Good Eats. “Alton Brown is a personal culinary hero of mine. Love the way he makes culinary education so entertaining,” Evan adds. During his time in culinary school, he also worked at Hudson's on the Bend.

With Lindsey in New York City for an internship, Evan made the move to the Big Apple. He worked at a couple of restaurants and experienced culture shock. Although everything was not going to plan, Evan learned a lot from the whole ordeal. He eventually landed a gig at Hill Country Barbecue. “I worked my way up. I started on the line and then became a cook. I was promoted to pitmaster when the prior one quit during a health inspection,” Evan says. He was there for a year but knew he had to make his way back to Texas to chase his dreams. On a trip to North Carolina one time, Evan tried the barbecue there and hated it. He thought it was dry and bland. He definitely belongs in Texas.

After landing back in Austin, LeRoy actually worked at Lambert's Downtown Barbecue for three days. Differences in food philosophy led to a quick exit. LeRoy managed a Torchy's as he was laying down the footwork for his own food truck. The ultimate goal for him is to own his own restaurant. While gathering supplies for his own food truck, he came across upon the posting for Freedmen's. Freedmen's Bar has been in existence for about a year and a half now. Directed by their pitmaster's ideals, a lot of the food is made from scratch. The barbecue sauce takes two days to make. I am enamored with the pulled pork sauce. I like that are Asian inspirations behind the sauce. The sauce consists of apple cider vinegar, hot sauce, and fish sauce.

Around 5 pm the evening before, natural choice briskets and pork butts are loaded into the smoker and smoked for about 12 hours. A simple salt and pepper rub envelops the meat. The bottoms of the meats are covered with foil right before the restaurant is closed. This process makes sense because the meat will not dry out as fast but still absorb all that post oak smoke. Once the brisket and butts are removed in the morning, the pork ribs go in. After about four hours in the smoker, barbecue sauce and jalapeño jelly are layered on to the ribs and then wrapped in foil. The resulting products simply amaze me. The mouthwatering meats taste smoky and tender. They also produce their own sausage in house. Not many places in Austin do that. No meat scares Evan. He has mastered smoking quail, duck, prime rib, and lamb ribs to name a few.

To help with flexibility, Freedmen's just procured a second smoker. Even on their busiest day, which is Friday, no line is to be found. That is good thing because LeRoy hates lines. Who wants to wait in line for barbecue? He also despises brunch. “It is a quick turnaround for the wait staff and bartenders. Who wants to deal with hung-over and hungry crowd,” Evan says. He would rather cook his own meal. If I had skills like him, I would probably think the same way.

When it comes down to preference, LeRoy chooses his brisket fatty. I could not agree with him more. Some of his favorite barbecue places in town are La Barbecue, Micklethwait Craft Meats, and Valentina's Tex-Mex BBQ. “I am jealous of Valentina's. When I was planning to open up my own truck, I wanted to do barbecue and homemade tortillas,” Evan says. If you are putting out good food, you have his respect. He does love some tacos. For someone growing up in Austin, tacos have to be a staple in their diet. He also enjoys a good pasta dish. For the most part, he just loves food and likes to try new and different restaurants.

In his free time, Evan cherishes his time with his wife and their dog, Star. He sees them having a couple of kids down the road. Lindsey is in the restaurant public relations field. On the weekends, you might see them hanging out with friends and drinking some local craft brews. They are die-hard Seminoles football fans. For whatever reason, LeRoy also cheers for the Dallas Cowboys. He saves himself by saying he does not agree with the way that Jerry Jones runs the team. Bruce Springsteen is Evan’s favorite musician, and he thinks it would be awesome to meet him someday. While LeRoy was still in NYC, Springsteen actually stopped in for dinner at the restaurant where he was working, but Evan was polite and gave The Boss his privacy.

Evan LeRoy lives life with no regrets. He would not switch places with anyone in the world. He is never satisfied in his work, and his drive and determination is a good indicator of his character. Even when he is not at the restaurant during business hours, nervousness and anxiety sets in. LeRoy wants the barbecue to be on point all the time because Freedmen's and his reputation are on the line. He has no understanding why some places do not try to smoke the best barbecue. Life is too short to eat mediocre barbecue. Everyday Evan strives to make Freedmen's Bar a top destination for some of the best BBQ in the state. I am excited to see what Evan LeRoy brings to the table next.

Until next time, happy smoking...

Monday, July 7, 2014

Underwood's Bar-B-Q

Amber and I have been driving through Brownwood for over 10 years now. We go through it on the way to Lubbock every time. We see the billboards for Underwood's Bar-B-Q miles out as we head into Brownwood going both directions. Hot Rolls. Cobbler. We actually stopped in once, and for some reason, we changed our mind and left. When we pass through Brownwood, it is not during lunch or dinner time. On this day we left Lubbock early so we could make it to Underwood's around noon.

When we got there, the parking lot was crowded. We had failed to beat the church crowd. The line was out the door. I am used to seeing lines at BBQ joints so it did not faze me it all. I forgot to take a picture of the menu when I was in line. Sorry. The restaurant is set up like a cafeteria. You order your protein and then grab everything else you need after. There was no brisket on the menu?! I was thoroughly perplexed that a barbecue restaurant in the state of Texas that did not have brisket on their menu. They had sliced beef on the menu which they call beef steak. The "steak" came from the shoulder of the cow. I ordered the beef steak and half rib slab combo dinner. I also added a link of the German-style sausage. Amber got the fried chicken. Included with the dinner were unlimited sides, rolls, cobbler, and drinks. The beef steak was cooked in barbecue sauce. It was tender and tasted like I was eating chopped beef but was also dry. I am not sure this piece of meat touched a smoker. I thought I saw some grill marks on it though. The ribs were not half of a rib slab. It was three ribs. They were also cooked in sauce. These for sure were done in the oven. They were tender and juicy but bland. The sausage was okay. It was really fatty and rich with a nice pop. I got a side of potato salad, corn, beans, and coleslaw. They were all forgettable. I would venture to say some of it came from a can. I tried some my wife's fried chicken. It was the best thing there. It was crispy and juicy. The hot rolls were pretty decent. I am not a sweets type of guy so I skipped out on the cobbler.

Underwood's Bar-B-Q fails as a Texas barbecue joint. No brisket at a barbecue restaurant in the state of Texas. Bah humbug. The sliced beef option on their menu online threw me off. I assumed it was brisket. Boy I was wrong. Underwood's is the Furr's of barbecue. A cafeteria style diner serving tasteless food. There was a sign outside saying it was "The Best Eatin' in Town." I hope that is not correct. After driving past here for the last decade without eating, I wish the streak had continued. Grade: Other

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 404 W Commerce St, Brownwood, TX 76801
Phone: (325) 646-1776