Friday, March 13, 2015

2015 #SXSW BBQ Guide

SXSW. It is one of my favorite events of the year. SXSW is a film, interactive, and music festival/conference that spans two weekends. People from all over the country and world come and spend time in Austin. One thing I hope is that they do not miss out on the great barbecue located here. I am going to try to make it easy for you if you were one of them. Here is this year's guide with my fourteen picks in no particular order. Click on the name for a full review.

Freedmen's Bar (2402 San Gabriel St, Austin, TX 78705) - Located in West Campus, this is a great stop to get out of the busy downtown area. Barbecue can be fine food. The brisket here is luscious. The crust with the tender smoky meat will make you think that you have sinned. Yes it is that good. You will think you are cheating on bacon if you get the pork belly here. It is rich, meaty, and succulent. Even after day drinking all day, explore their cocktail menu. You will enjoy the finer things in life. They are open into the night. There is also a church close by.

Valentina's Tex-Mex BBQ (600 W 6th St, Austin, TX 78701) - Smoked meats in a tortilla? It is a smart idea. You can walk and eat at the same time. You might want to sit-down here though because the pure awesomeness might make you knees buckle. The brisket is great in a taco with guacamole, sandwich or by itself. They have pork ribs every day now. Pray that they will have their beef ribs on special. I would hate my life if I missed out on those. The in-house made tortillas are not meant to be thrown at a football game. These are meant for good eating. The trailer has late hours and is tucked behind a bar. What more could you ask for?

La Barbecue (900 E. Cesar Chavez St, Austin, Texas 78702) - Phenomenal brisket? Check. Great pork ribs? Check. Superb sausage? Check. You cannot go wrong here. Will there be a line? Of course there will be because you are talking about an outstanding BBQ joint. Do not forget to get a beef rib. You will also find a great BBQ sandwich here. El Sancho. Get it loco style. You are looking at a three meat plate between two buns. Brisket, pulled pork, hot guts. A sandwich bordering on being magical and crazy. You will not regret it.

Micklethwait Craft Meats (1309 Rosewood Ave, Austin, TX 78702) - I had trouble pronouncing the name at first. That is probably the only thing wrong with this BBQ joint. The 'th" is silent in case you were wondering. I am a fan of all their smoked meats. Put on your running shoes and run here so you can beat the line. Tom has turned sausage making into an art/craft. The types of sausage smoked vary day to day. Lamb chorizo, kielbasa, and pork belly andouille to name a few. His beef rib was also crowned the best in Austin by the Austin Chronicle. The smoked barbacoa is fantastic. The homemade bread is also fabulous. I do not like grits, but their cheesy grits have converted me.

Kerlin BBQ (1700 E Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX 78702) - This has to be the most underrated joint in town. Bill and his wife are out to take your money and in return will satisfy your hunger. If it is Friday, order everything off the menu and you will thank me. The pecan smoke works well with the meat. The pork ribs are so tender and smoky. The sausage is one of my favorite. Great grit and fat content with a snappy casing. BBQ sandwiches and kolaches are served the rest of the time. Get the brisket and cheese kolache. They are to die for.

Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew (6610 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78757) - We are talking about a no fuss barbecue joint. The BBQ is solid all the way around. They are open for dinner and serve local draft beers. The beef ribs and sausage are the highlights here. Not a bad place to wind down for the evening. You never know, you might run into Matthew McConaughey here.

Terry Black's Barbecue (1003 Barton Springs Rd, Austin, TX 78704) - Conveniently located downtown, this makes for a good rest stop during the day. Do not get intimidated by the line. There are a lot of meat cutters available so the line moves fairly fast and efficiently. Everything I have tried has been cooked well. You can even find their BBQ sauce at HEB now. Did I mention there is also free air conditioning? Take a tour of pits while you are here.

John Mueller Meat Co (2500 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702) - Can you say pepper? Pepper and smoke can make beautiful music together. The power of the peppery bark on the brisket and beef rib will make you sing. The pepper meddles with the meat and forms this crispy bond that produces a lot of flavor. Beef ribs when smoked right are downright amazing. Get the sausage while you are at it. Do not lollygag too long by taking pictures because John might get onto you.

Blue Ox BBQ (1505 Town Creek Dr, Austin, TX 78741) - A perfect pit stop to get a second wind. They share space with a coffee shop so load up on some caffeine and quality 'cue. The coffee rubbed pork tenderloin is fantastic. The pork ribs are on par as well. On Sundays, they have all you can eat pancakes. Pancakes and brisket? Sign me up! Another place that stays open later.

Smokey Denmark's Smoked Meats Co. (3505 E 5th St, Austin, TX 78702) - A sausage making facility should have good links on their menu. Well they do not disappoint you here. There are tacos and sandwiches specials that make it easier to eat if you are on the go. Boudin, boudin, boudin, boudin rocking everywhere. Yeah. Do not forget the boudin. Get a bunch of it. The casing could barely hold in this smoky Cajun goodness.

Brown's Bar-B-Que (1901 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704) - This is the only place on the list that is "south" of downtown. You will find them next to Corner Bar. Get the brisket. Get the chicken. Get the cabbage. Yes. It might be the only vegetable you eat during SX. Get the smoked peach cobbler. Simple? Now go.

Lambert's Downtown Barbecue (401 W 2nd St, Austin, Texas 78701) - Fancy barbecue? Sure it is, but does it matter? Their brisket is excellent. Slap your mother good (I do not condone violence). Their menu comprises more than just barbecue. Their baked mac and cheese is stellar. Try their appetizers. They also have happy hour specials. Order a few drinks. Do not miss out on their brunch. I would recommend making a reservation just in case.

Black's Barbecue (Austin) (3110 Guadalupe Street, Austin, TX 78705) - Do not have time to go to Lockhart? That is a bummer. Lucky for you, you can now get a taste of Lockhart without driving there. The full menu is not available at this location but that is fine. Get the brisket, beef ribs, pork ribs, and sausage. Heck just order it all. Grab a beer and relax outside away from the hustle and bustle on the patio.

Franklin Barbecue (900 E 11th St, Austin, TX 78702) - Yes there will be a line. A very long line. It is worth the wait to get some of the best barbecue in the United States. I have no words and explanation for the brisket. Aaron uses salt, pepper, and post oak smoke. There has to be more. Cows from Mars? Trees from Mordor? It is just so damn good. It might one of the best things that you will ever put in your mouth. The pork ribs are delicious and are almost falling off the bone. Franklin also now serves beef ribs which sadly I have yet to try. Get the Tipsy Texan while you are it. It is sandwich that has chopped beef and sausage with some coleslaw. A great combination that is messy but tasty.

Until next time, happy smoking...

Friday, March 6, 2015

Austin Guide to Bánh Mì

The Smoking Ho has gone international! Well not really. I am branching out from BBQ temporarily to do an Austin Food Bloggers Alliance City Guide on Bánh Mì. I am half Vietnamese and grew up on it so I do have some street cred, right? Anyhow I get annoyed when people misspell it bahn mi. That is like me spelling the Italian classic, pizaz. Well almost. Banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich that is served on French bread. You will find it filled with all kinds of protein like grilled pork, pâté, fried eggs, tofu, meatballs, and head cheese. It is normally dressed with cucumber slices, cilantro, jalapeños, and pickled carrots and daikon with Vietnamese mayonnaise. When I took on this task, I thought it would be rather easy. Go to five or six place and take some pictures. Big mistake for assuming. There are a lot more restaurants than I realized that serve banh mi. I do not regret it though because I had a fun time doing it. Drum roll please...

Baguette House
10901 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753 | 8:30 AM-7 PM daily

Although the thịt nướng (grilled pork) is money here, there are a lot of great options on the menu. They use a French baguette so there is less bread with more crunch. Add a pâté chaud and a Vietnamese iced coffee to your order, and you will thank me later.

Dang Bánh Mì
9070 Research Blvd, Austin, TX 78758 | 11 AM-9 PM daily

From the guys who brought us Plucker's comes a joint that brings us the Vietnamese classics. Pho, vermicelli, and banh mi. They even went to Vietnam to learn from the source. I got the Dang Original banh mi which has Char Siu pork belly, pork tenderloin, ground pork, homemade pâté, mint, cilantro, green onion, cucumber, Char Siu sauce, saté, Japanese mayo, and pickled papaya and carrots. It is not your typical banh mi, but it is for sure a hearty sandwich. Use the Dang Sauce liberally. It is a cross between Sambal and Sriracha.

Elizabeth Street Cafe
1501 S 1st St, Austin, TX 78704 | 8 AM-10:30 PM daily

Upscale Vietnamese cuisine? That is some kind of oxymoron. I used to frown upon this concept. The breakfast bánh mì changed my mind. 10 bucks? It is worth every penny. The sandwich comes stuffed with jalapeño fried eggs, crispy pork belly, avocado, mint, house-made mayo, sambal, and cilantro. A mouthful for sure. A tasty one that is.

Lily's Sandwich
10901 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753 | 9 AM-9 PM daily

LiIy's is my favorite spot in Austin. I love xíu mại (Vietnamese meatballs), and they have the best ones in town. At $3.70, it is the cheapest banh mi in town as well. I have yet to try the other things on the menu that are not banh mi. That tells you something.

Lulu B's
3632 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704 | 11 AM-4 PM Tue-Sat

My first place in Austin that I had banh mi from was at Lulu B's. I thought it was expensive, but I did grow up in Houston where you could at the time find a sandwich for under two bucks. Lulu B's used to be a trailer on South Lamar, but now they have a brick and mortar location. I tried the lemongrass tofu on this visit, and it was a great change of pace.

8557 Research Blvd, Austin, TX 78758 | 10 AM-6 PM Tues-Sun

Tucked away inside Hong Kong Supermarket, Ng BMT might be a hidden gem. I stumbled upon this place while doing research for the guide. Here, the bread makes the sandwich as it is baked fresh every day. It has a good amount of chew with a nice crust. The prices are very reasonable as well. The combo sandwich here consists of pâté, Vietnamese ham, and pork head cheese which is the golden standard for banh mi. The Texas Trinity. Subway's Cold Cut Trio (but better). You can only take it to-go though. As I finished the sandwich at work, I wanted more. It was fresh and tasty, but I was 20 minutes away. Boo.

Pho Van
8557 Research Blvd, Austin, TX 78758 | 10:30 AM-9 PM daily

I wonder now that Ng BMT is in the same parking lot, if Pho Van's banh mi business would suffer. This was the first place in Austin where I had pho when I was a freshman at UT. I went away from my normal order and got the grilled chicken banh mi here. It had a good flavor and texture. The rest of the sandwich brought everything together.

Saigon Le Vendeur
2404 E 7th St, Austin, TX 78702 | 11 AM-7PM Mon-Sat

Saigon Le Vendeur is close to my work so I go here frequently. The O.G. is a refreshing palate cleansing sandwich. It comes loaded with cold cuts of steam pork roll, cured pork roll sausage, and dried pork with liver pâté. I am always stuffed when I am done eating the sandwich. If I start off with an appetizer, I am miserable the rest of the day but in a good way. Their specials always look intriguing and amazing. Maybe someday.

Tâm Deli & Cafe
8222 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753 | 10 AM-8 PM Wed-Mon

If there was THE banh mi place in town, a lot of people would pick Tâm's. It is a solid pick. I ordered the combination sandwich that came with Vietnamese ham, pâté, and roasted chicken. I thought it was an odd choice for the third meat though. The pickled carrots were grated instead of being julienned which takes away some of the crunchiness. The rest of the menu is really strong and has a lot of options. Besides the classics, the bánh cuốn (steamed rice rolls) hits the spot every time.

Thanh Nhi
9200 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753 | 10 AM-9 PM daily

In my humble opinion, Thanh Nhi is underrated in the Vietnamese food scene. I have never had a bad item from their extensive menu. I got the xíu mại (pork meatball) on this visit, and it was good. All of their banh mi cost $3.99 which is a great deal. When you go, order some nem nuong rolls. It is better than your traditional spring rolls.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Willie's Bar-B-Que

A few years, two barbecue joints in town were busted for buying stolen meat. Sam's Bar-B-Cue was one of them and the other was Willie's Bar-B-Que. I recently had the boudin sausage from Willie's and wanted some more of it. Willie's shares space with a barbershop and a gas station so you could easily miss it as you drive by.

You can only order the meat by the half pound so I went with a three-meat plate that is not listed on the menu. The plate came with moist brisket, pork ribs, and Elgin sausage with sides of potato salad and beans. I also added a link of boudin sausage. When I got my food, I looked down and saw a lot of the meats covered in barbecue sauce and seasoned salt. I thought that was a weird touch. The brisket was thinly sliced into small rectangular cuts. I did find an unscathed piece from the sauce and salt. The brisket tasted like smoky roast beef. There was not a whole lot of flavor so the seasoning salt and sauce did come in handy. The ribs were gray on the outside and pink on the inside. It was void of any flavor. Without the pink, I would have guessed the ribs were cooked in an oven the day before. The meat was tender and coming off the bone. The sausage had a nice spicy bite, but the casing was really chewy. It was beefy and a good amount of fat. The smoked boudin was definitely the highlight. The casing was snappy and could barely hold in the filling. The richness of the sausage played nice with the Cajun spices. I would have liked to see a little bit more meat in it because it was very heavy on the rice. There was nothing to note about the sides. Plain, bland, and probably store bought.

I do not know if I could trust a restaurant that would buy stolen meat. The word quality comes to mind. If you are taking a chance on your main product, what else are you willing to do? Willie's smoked boudin was solid, but I would rather go to Smokey Denmark for that. Grade: Other

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 4505 E Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Austin, TX 78721
Phone: (512) 926-9340