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Days 11-15; April 13-18:


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#1 Fat Guy

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Posted 01 May 2002 - 11:07 AM

The ceviche at Acapulco Video proved elusive.

I had never met our Austin hosts, Liz and Jeff. Mrs. Fat-Guy had encountered and befriended them on a backpacking trip, and she assured me they were both amiable and -- according to them -- food-savvy. Not that I often doubt Mrs. Fat-Guy, but those who claim to be "totally into food" and the like rarely are. But when Jeff suggested we kick off our Austin food tour with ceviche at a Mexican video store, gastronomic credentials were established beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Our first attempt to secure a portion of ceviche at Acapulco Video, however, ended in failure and humiliation. It was my error in judgment: I thought it was just something you ordered, and they gave it to you. Not so: It is a favor. And a big fat white guy with a goofy smile saying, "Hi! One order of ceviche, please!" is not the ideal candidate for receipt of ceviche in the Acapulco Video scheme of things. Thus, although it was clear that the gentleman at the table nearest the counter was eating ceviche (and enjoying it), we were told rather sternly -- arms folded, head shaking, no eye contact -- "No ceviche."

This is where I should have cut my losses, regrouped, and lived to fight another day. But I was road weary and my judgment was impaired. Stupidly, I challenged: "Well, what's that guy over there eating?"

"No ceviche."

"So, you just ran out? Like, that was the last portion?"

"No ceviche."

"Will you have ceviche tomorrow?"

"No ceviche."

"How about Sunday?"

This last inquiry actually struck a chord because the dour gatekeeper of the ceviche turned around to make eye contact with the even-more-dour big boss standing in the kitchen doorway, who looked at the ground and shook his head.

"No ceviche."

We disengaged, for the time being. On the way out, we examined the selection of Mexican music videos and sombreros.

At least we had no trouble getting plenty of barbecue in and around Austin. (That is, unless you count my inability to understand what anybody in Texas is saying.) And it was good barbecue.

The attempt to define regional barbecue styles rarely yields useful or realistic categories. What you'll most often read about Texas barbecue is that it's beef, specifically brisket. Certainly, this is a convenient categorization, and it has intuitive appeal given that Texas is known as cattle country and there are longhorn steers emblazoned on practically everything in the state, from novelty underwear to the stanchions supporting the highway overpasses. Yet any Texas barbecue place -- even one being run by a grizzled pitmaster selling smoked meat out of a shed -- offers a variety of meats including pork ribs (always, in my experience), sausage (most of the time, and usually referred to as "links" or "hot links"), chicken, and even mutton. The myth of Texas barbecue as beef is similar to the myth of Memphis barbecue as ribs: You go to Memphis and everyplace sells plenty of stuff in addition to ribs. Nor is it a question of authenticity: Pork ribs are as entrenched a part of Texas barbecue as anything made from beef, and I'd hazard a guess that many Texas barbecue establishments -- even the old timers -- sell more pork than beef and have done so for ages.

Stylistic definitions are a bit more insightful, but it may be that there are no clear barbecue definitions anymore (if there ever have been at all). They certainly can't be derived from the menus on offer at barbecue establishments (only about ten percent of a typical barbecue menu will conform to the alleged regional traditions), or from the ordering habits of locals (chicken, which as far as I know has no barbecue tradition behind it and which doesn't make for particularly good barbecue anyway, is a big seller almost everywhere), or from the history books (I suggest you not read about culinary history at all if you want to believe there are very many traditional, local, authentic foods anywhere in the world). Even the much-discussed distinctions between Eastern North Carolina and Western North Carolina barbecue fail to hold up consistently in the real world as you travel across that state. The most authoritative-sounding definitions tend to come from the rulebooks of the regional barbecue associations that administer barbecue competitions, but these hardly seem relevant outside that circumscribed arena.

Still, if Texas barbecue is anything it is pure. Predictably, every state with a barbecue tradition tries to characterize its barbecue as being all about the meat. But in Memphis, for example, there is almost always a great emphasis on sauces and rubs (depending on if you get wet or dry barbecue). In North Carolina, there is the ever-present vinegar-based sauce. In Texas there often is no sauce, no rub, no sprinkling of anything except perhaps salt. It's just meat. If you want sauce, you add it at the table. There may be the occasional dry rub or basted-on sauce, but it is not the baseline style.

So why does Texas barbecue get so little respect? As a theoretical proposition, to the barbecue purist, Texas barbecue should be the most desirable form of barbecue. Yet I don't think I've ever heard anyone outside Texas say Texas barbecue is the best barbecue. So, I'll say it: Texas barbecue is my favorite kind of barbecue because it's the least meddled-with, the most revealing, and also -- though this doesn't affect the taste -- the most fun.

Almost anyplace you go to eat Texas barbecue, you'll find yourself not only dining but also participating in a party. At the Salt Lick Bar B-Q, in Driftwood, it seems as though that party is both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party during convention week. The place is so big, it would be insulting to measure it in football fields. You'd want to jump straight to multiples of New York's Central Park to get the right order of magnitude. I believe 2,000 customers can be accommodated at once between the indoor and outdoor dining facilities, and it seems another 2,000 are waiting on line, and of course in Texas each person arrives individually in his or her own 4x4 truck and takes up two parking spaces.

When you enter the Salt Lick premises, a guy with a gun (it's Texas) directs you to the parking area. Do not, as we did, attempt to unload your passengers and then go park because the guy with the gun (who is an off-duty sheriff's deputy) will scream, "No unloading!" while gesturing towards the sign that says, "No unloading!" You'll also be cautioned, twenty minutes later when you've hiked back from your parking space, not to register with the hostesses unless your party is complete. "Liars will be prosecuted," reads the sign, which I assume is in jest because everybody lies and says there's a complete party waiting to be seated. Given the hour-long wait, it seems a harmless fib.

Seating, whether inside or out, is at picnic tables. If you haven't eaten at three other barbecue places in the same day, the thing to do is order family style. $13.95 per person buys you infinitely replenished platters of brisket, sausage, pork ribs, potato salad, coleslaw, beans, bread, pickles, and onions. You can also just order barbecue plates and sandwiches.

Hays County, where Salt Lick is located, is a dry county -- alcohol is not available for sale. So Salt Lick is strictly BYO, and boy do Texans know how to bring it. Relatively small groups of diners arrive with coolers so large they need wheels to be moveable. This isn't particularly reassuring since everybody dining at Salt Lick had to drive to get there. Certainly, though, it keeps the costs down and allows you to drink whatever you like so long as you're willing to schlep it.

We were joined at Salt Lick, incidentally, by eGullet.com member NewYorkTexan and his wife, who it turns out have -- among others -- a dog named Fluffernutter.

The current owner of Salt Lick is Hisako T. Roberts, who I believe is Japanese and the widow of Thurman Roberts (the co-founder). It is alleged that the recipes and techniques in use at Salt Lick -- which boasts one of the only open-pit barbecues remaining anywhere -- have been handed down from generation to generation in the Roberts family since the Civil War. There is also apparently some sort of Asian influence in the barbecue sauce, but I couldn't detect it.

You'd think with such popularity and so much hoopla (Salt Lick has been written about effusively in GQ, People, and just about everywhere else) the place would be overrated, but it actually produces first-rate, technically correct barbecue that puts most other barbecue to shame. Still, of the barbecue places we tried in and around Austin, Salt Lick was the most generic. I'd go back, but not before I'd go back to Lockhart.

Lockhart, Texas, in the hill country outside Austin, is one of the great centers of barbecue, with allegedly more barbecue per capita -- however that is measured -- than anyplace on Earth. The streets are lined with aircraft-carrier-sized barbecue barns, each of which seems to be owned by the former co-owner of the place next door who had a fight with his or her former partners (usually relatives) and set up a solo operation.

At the advice of our hosts, we chose Smitty's Market, though Kreuz Market and Black's Barbecue came highly recommended as well. At Smitty's, you line up near the pit (a brick-lined trench with smoke feeding in from coal pits on the side) and interact directly with the incomprehensible pitmaster. He places a double layer of brown butcher paper on a scale and mumbles something at you. By pointing, gesturing, and saying "Huh?" a lot, you can pretty much negotiate a meal and know what most of the stuff you're eating is. Upon completion of the weighing transaction, the guy throws a loaf or so of sliced white bread on your barbecue and you go over to another counter where you pay by the pound and acquire side dishes, drinks, and condiments.

Smitty's illustrated another reason I like Texas barbecue the best: It's usually not overcooked, in part it seems because it is cooked at higher temperatures than most other styles of barbecue. This makes eminent sense. The whole idea of barbecue -- as well as most of the old methods of preserving and slow cooking -- in days of yore was to take tough, undesirable cuts of meat and make them tender. It also had the secondary goal, to be sure, of masking the taste of borderline-rancid meat. And, as a variant of smoking, it acted as an antiseptic and a method of preservation. None of this is necessary anymore. We no longer smoke meat to preserve it or to make is safe and chewable, just as we no longer make wine to preserve grapes or cheese to preserve milk. We do these things, in the present day, only because they make food taste good. And to make food taste good, you want to apply a lot less smoke to it than would be necessary to sterilize it and break it down into mush. So, now that we have safe, tender, refrigerated meat available to us year-round, why smoke anything longer and slower than it has to be smoked? As long as the smoky flavor gets in there, why not also enjoy meat that isn't overcooked? Even with tougher cuts like brisket, where some extended cooking is necessary in order to break down the collagen, there is an ideal point of doneness that is reached far in advance of when most barbecue places pull the meat off the heat.

As an example, perhaps the best piece of barbecued anything I've had anywhere ever was a piece of prime rib at Smitty's. We arrived early in the day, and the pitmaster warned us through a series of grunts that the prime rib was still a little rare. But when we indicated that we were game for rare meat, and asked him, "How rare is it?" he replied with his longest sentence of the day: "I'd eat it." Well, you haven't lived until you've had medium-rare barbecued prime rib. Imagine all the goodness of medium-rare prime rib combined with the smoky flavor of real pit barbecue. It's difficult to improve on that combination.

At Sam's barbecue in Austin I had the rare opportunity to try barbecued mutton. Mutton turns out to be a meat ideally suited for barbecue, because it has a robust gamy flavor and plenty of fat. The caramelized exterior bits of the mutton get crunchy and sweet, while the meat becomes infused with juicy fat. Mutton is all I'd get at Sam's, though -- the other barbecue was tough and dry.

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The only barbecue place we visited that had nothing particularly great on offer was the Iron Works downtown. Although picturesque, and not bad (it would be the best barbecue place in town in any non-barbecue area of the country), the barbecue tended towards chewiness. Perhaps it was an off night.

At some point during our Austin feeding frenzy, we made a second attempt at obtaining the ceviche at Acapulco Video. But it seems that, despite the store's lengthy hours of operation, the same gentleman always works the cash register at the Acapulco Video food counter. And he remembered us. "No ceviche," he stated emphatically, even though once again it was clear that at least one customer was eating the stuff. As a concession, because we had at least earned some respect by taking a second stab at the ceviche challenge, he motioned to a series of glass jugs on the counter containing various fluorescent colored substances and inquired, "Drink?"

We purchased a colorful drink, but it brought us no closer to ceviche-worthy status. We seriously considered finding a kid in the parking lot and sending him in to get ceviche on our behalf. We half seriously considered paying the guy who was eating the ceviche to give us a taste. We one quarter seriously considered the purchase of a piñata, which we would have lashed to the front of the van for the remainder of the road trip. We also noticed, in the section of the store (a mega-store, really) nearest the back wall, a peerless collection of rear-illuminated paintings-on-glass. These tasteful and subtle works of art, through clever manipulation of light, would give the appearance of waterfalls falling, hummingbirds' wings fluttering, traffic patterns progressing through Manhattan at night, and such. Each also offered a sound effect, such as running water or chirping birds. The effect of all these paintings taken together was quite harmonious.

In Texas, Mexican food is as much a way of life as barbecue, and my recent experience in Austin was thankfully free of Tex-Mex glop. Although the unfortunate Tex-Mex style of pseudo-Mexican cuisine is available all over Texas (and has regrettably defined a large percentage of Mexican restaurants across the country including in New York), Texas is still blessed with more real Mexican restaurants than you can shake a stick at. As much as I'd like to say that Mexican cuisine in New York City is improving (and it is), it is nonetheless the case that tiny Austin has approximately ten times as many good Mexican restaurants as New York, a city approximately ten times its size.

In particular, I enjoyed the widespread availability of excellent Mexican breakfast food. The egg-and-potato taco, ubiquitous in Austin, would be my favorite breakfast snack were a good rendition available back home. Loca Maria's Taco Xpress, which has perched atop its entryway a statue of Maria looking to all the world like Xena, Warrior Princess, the humble egg-and-potato taco is elevated to culinary stardom by the addition of a variety of freshly made salsas. The salsas are presented in large bowls and you have to fight the crowd to get at them, plus there's a sanitary regulation in effect that prevents you from spooning salsa directly onto your taco (you must instead place it in little plastic cups and transfer it to your taco). But it's worth the struggle.

Tacos in Texas, unlike in New York, are soft-shell tacos. And we had quite a few good ones all over town. Even a basic Mexican grocery store like La Michoacana Carneceria has stellar tacos available from a counter up front, for about a dollar, including crispy-juicy fried pork and a wicked-hot cactus taco that I didn't try but that gave Jeff pause.

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Las Manitas Avenue Café is a downtown Austin institution, and is known for treating its workers well. Breakfast dishes are more involved than just tacos, everything I tried was good, and dining outside on the patio is a great way to pass the time.

We attempted to dine at Taqueria Arandas #2, but it was closed seemingly forever. Instead of seeking out #1 or #3, our hosts made the executive decision to demote us to Taqueria Arandas #5. There was no apparent loss of quality, however, and I even ordered in Spanish -- no doubt triggering fits of giggles among the waitstaff after we departed.

Another nice thing about being surrounded by Mexican grocery stores is that you always have access to Coke and Pepsi imported from Mexico, where it is still made with real cane sugar and not nasty-tasting high-fructose corn syrup. I had one at La Mexicana, along with a number of unfortunate Mexican pastries.

We didn't make it to the acclaimed Fonda San Miguel restaurant, opting instead to try more cheap Mexican and barbecue, but I have it on good authority that Fonda San Miguel is Austin's upscale Mexican restaurant par excellence. I'd like to try it someday.

Due to the insane pace of our schedule, we had made it clear across Louisiana without stopping for a single crayfish boil. Luckily, the mudbugs caught up with us at Robbie's Cajun Kitchen in Austin, where there was a crayfish boil event in progress just in time for our visit. Impeccable crayfish were going for $4 a pound.

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Austin is also blessed with an impressive local ice cream culture, which is fortunate given the oppressive heat. Not only is Austin hot like the rest of Texas, but also it's humid like Louisiana. For soft ice cream, the connoisseur's choice is Sandy's, where the frozen custard has that old-fashioned taste that has been stamped out by the likes of Dairy Queen (though DQ will do in a pinch). For real ice cream, though, a place called Amy's serves some of the creamiest, richest ice cream I've tasted -- certainly a notch up from Ben & Jerry's on the creaminess scale. My only objection: Some of the examples, such as the mint chip, are so heavily infused with their flavorings that the taste of the ice cream itself is masked.

We enjoyed Austin very much, and found it to be an oasis within Texas. It is more akin to Burlington, Vermont, or Asheville, North Carolina, or even Berkeley, California, than it is to the rest of Texas -- plus you get barbecue. As an added bonus, Momo met a girlfriend -- Liz and Jeff's next-door neighbor's dog, Jessie -- and, despite their altered conditions, they spent most of the long weekend humping one another. Liz and Jeff's dog, Okemah, wasn’t quite as fond of Momo, but she politely tolerated him.

So, Austin is a great place to dine, to live, and to have a dog. Despite our best efforts, though, I never did get to try the ceviche at Acapulco Video. But I'll be back.

Places We Ate

Iron Works Barbecue
100 Red River
Austin, TX
(512) 478.4855
www.ironworksbbq.com

La Michoacana Carneceria
1917-1 E. Seventh
Austin, TX
(512) 473-8487

Loca Maria's Taco Xpress
2529 S. Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX  
(512) 444-0261  

Sam's Bar-B-Cue
2000 E. 12th
Austin, TX
(512) 478-0378

Las Manitas Avenue Cafe
211 Congress Ave.
Austin, TX
(512) 472-9357

Salt Lick
P. O. Box 311
Driftwood, TX
(512) 894.3117
www.saltlickbbq.com

Sandy's Hamburgers
603 Barton Springs Rd.
Austin, TX
(512) 478-6322

Smitty's Market
208 S. Commerce
Lockhart, TX
(512) 398-9344

Taqueria Arandas #5
2448 S. 1st
Austin, TX
(512) 707-0887

Amy's Ice Cream
1012 W. 6th
Austin, TX  
(512) 480-0673

Robbie's Cajun Kitchen
1203 W. 6th
Austin, TX
(512) 477-7768

La Mexicana
1924 S. 1st
Austin, TX
(512) 443-6369

Places We Didn't Eat

Acapulco Video
2009 E. 6th
Austin, TX
(512) 482-0215

Fonda San Miguel
2330 W. North Loop
Austin, TX
(512) 459-4121
www.fondasanmiguel.com

A good resource for all things Austin is the Austin Chronicle Website at www.austinchronicle.com

Photos by Ellen R. Shapiro

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#2 col klink

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Posted 01 May 2002 - 11:57 AM

I'm so glad you made it out to Lockhart! My favorite bbq (from a proprietor) is from Kreuz's market. Primarily because they don't use sauce, but also because they have prime rib. Never have I been so happy with beef as I was with their smoky prime rib that just melts in your mouth. The first thing that went through my mind when you mentioned Lockhart and not going to Kreuz's was "what about the prime rib!!!" So I'm very happy you found some. Kreuz's also serves up thick cut pork chops which can be tasty but tend to be dry. Their hot links were my favorite of all of the 'que joints as well.

Texas bbq is near and dear to my heart and is the one thing I miss about Texas. But if you think Austin is humid, Houston is an armpit. Did you happen to get out of the car when driving through?

I really wish eGullet was around when I was living in Austin because now I just dive into out of the way eateries and I'm jealous of all of the little taquerias you visited that I never saw. Guess I'll have to make a trip back!

#3 Fat Guy

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Posted 01 May 2002 - 12:15 PM

If there was a flaw in the barbecue at Smitty's, it was that the pork chops were a bit on the dry side -- and also pricier than everything else. I think, given the overall decrease in the fattiness of pork over the past couple of decades, it may not be wise as a general proposition to subject this already lean cut to the intensity of the barbecue process. We tried quite a few items at Smitty's (are Smitty's and Kreuz's related, or is that Smitty's and Black's?) and thought all but that pork were definitive. I wish we had been able to go in the old days when the forks and knives were chained to the tables.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#4 col klink

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Posted 01 May 2002 - 12:34 PM

That's not necessarily true about the pork chops. I've had great success smoking the thick cut chops by first brining them for a day or two and also being vigilent about moping on a regular basis, about every 30 minutes or so. But I do agree that most places shouldn't smoke 'em because they rarely get it right. Funny that the chops at Smitty's were more expensive than the prime rib.

Did you happen to check out Rudy's BBQ? It's a combination gas station/bbq joint that serves up decent 'que and serves up the best creamed corn on the planet. It has pretty good kitsch value and a decent peppery tomato based sauce.

#5 Robert Schonfeld

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Posted 01 May 2002 - 12:43 PM

May I suggest that the highly estimable reports of the Fat Guy, with equallly fine photos by Ellen, are like a great meal: lots and lots of background, expertise, time and effort to prepare, and only a fraction of that to consume. It could be that Shaw is on his way to becoming a living metaphor for the subject he covers so well. Drive safely, Ellen.
Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

#6 CathyL

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Posted 01 May 2002 - 01:26 PM

Steven, thanks for another wonderful report.  It made me hungry for brisket!  Recently a friend was writing an article about mail-orderable meats and gave me samples of brisket from both Cooper's and Black's.  The latter was far superior: moist, tender, just smoky enough.  I haven't been to Smitty's and will have to invent an excuse to visit Austin so I can.  

Condolences on the ceviche debacle.  At least Momo got some jollies.  Have you and Ellen seen The Osbornes?  Kind of like watching a train wreck - it's horrid, but you can't look away.  They have a dysfunctional bulldog (as you'd expect from a dysfunctional family), and in a recent episode there was a graphic sequence of said dog puking, with that eloquent pre-puke urp...urp...urp...that bulls do so well.  My husband and I howled, remembering our long-departed pup, and I thought of you.   :wink:

Looking forward to the next installment...

Cathy

PS  If you still need someone to accept your Beard award, let me know.

#7 project

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Posted 01 May 2002 - 02:56 PM

Fat Guy, you wrote:

    The myth of Texas barbecue as beef is similar
    to the myth of Memphis barbecue as ribs:  You
    go to Memphis and everyplace sells plenty of
    stuff in addition to ribs.  Nor is it a
    question of authenticity:  Pork ribs are as
    entrenched a part of Texas barbecue as anything
    made from beef, and I'd hazard a guess that
    many Texas barbecue establishments -- even the
    old timers -- sell more pork than beef and have
    done so for ages.

Got to comment on ribs in Memphis BBQ:

I ate TX BBQ only once, but on Memphis BBQ, I have
to be something of an expert!  I fed myself and lots
of Poodle skirts, circle pins, and pony tails lots
of Memphis BBQ, for years.  I grew up on the stuff
and now decades later likely have several pounds of
fat still present!

I may have eaten close to a ton, literally, of
Memphis BBQ, and I hardly ever ate a BBQ rib in
Memphis.

Then, and such things rarely change, Memphis BBQ, by
weight and by dollars, was nearly all fresh pork
shoulder, cooked over oak and hickory charcoal, and
served coarsely chopped on a white bread bun with
BBQ sauce and coleslaw.  And, the situation was
similar all the way up to Dyersburg and all the way
over to Knox Patch.

That time in Memphis also makes me an expert on R&B
music.  I well remember The Five Blind Boys, Memphis
Slim, Guitar Slim, BB King, Little Richard, Fats
Domino, WDIA, WHBQ, Dewey Phillips, Red, Hot, and
Blue, and, eventually, even that truck driver from
Humes High School, Presley.

The R&B music is junk:  I much prefer Bach to
Prokofiev, violin, piano, organ, and symphony
orchestra.  But, fresh pork shoulder, slowly
roasted, coarsely chopped, with some BBQ sauce, a
white bread bun, some coleslaw, some hot sauce, and
a bottle of beer is still a decent lunch,
competitive with cassoulet and Macon Blanc!

But, if you get up to Memphis and take Poplar from
the river going east, then on the south side of the
road past Overton Park, just before the bridge over
the tracks and on the SW corner of Poplar and the
Union Avenue extension might still be a good BBQ
place with some terrific BBQ beans.  These are about
the only thing worth having with a BBQ sandwich, and
a good description of what they do would be good to
have.

Of course, for such a lunch, the best dessert is
chocolate ice box pie!

Ah, some of the best good ol' time flavors still
left to enjoy!

On TX beef BBQ,

    http://www.eagleques...0-4.html#10.2.1

claims that the origin was just two German butchers
in about 1950 which means that it is quite recent.
What would be the right food and wine to go with
R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

#8 Jinmyo

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Posted 01 May 2002 - 04:15 PM

Yet another wonderful entry, Fat Guy. But I see you're only up to Aril 18th of the log and it's now May 1st.   :wink:
"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

#9 jhlurie

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Posted 01 May 2002 - 08:31 PM

No soup for you!  I mean Cerviche.

One year... come back!
Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

#10 Beachfan

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Posted 01 May 2002 - 08:40 PM

Loved the post.  And I'm not a BBQ fan.  

In fact the post rises to the top of a special travelogue category - travelogues so illustrative that it satisfies the urge to go there!

In case there is any doubt, this is a compliment.  If you've ever read Riding the Iron Rooster by Paul Theroux, you know what I mean.

I know by outing myself as a non BBQ fan, I risk being ostracized.  I guess I just don't learn.

PS The cerviche in the video store sounds like a great movie script start.
beachfan

#11 Fat Guy

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Posted 01 May 2002 - 09:02 PM

Beachfan: My life is like a series of great movie openings, but they never seem to develop into full-fledged plots.

Jhlurie: The thing that always bugged me about the Seinfeld Soup-Nazi bit was that the real guy was so much funnier than the guy they invented.

Jinmyo: There are only three more entries coming for the US part of the trip. One will be about life on the road and will cover a big part of the gap in time between then and now. One will cover California. And the other will cover Oregon and the Northwest. Chances are, Mrs. Fat-Guy will guest-write that one because she's closer to the subject matter. Then we'll be moving on to Canada and the procedure will change a bit. Stay tuned.

Project: I've long been under the impression that Memphis barbecue's national reputation rests on its ribs. Does anybody else have data points here?

Klink: Well, sure you can brine and baste, but I'm talking about just throwing meat on a rack and smoking it. That's where I think the modern day pork chop may fall short -- yet I have a feeling the pork chops of old could handle it. I didn't have a chance to get to Rudy's, though it was recommended. As for the price of pork chops, I'm not certain they were more expensive per pound than the beef -- it's just that they were about half a pound each and therefore two of them cost a bit, whereas the slice of prime rib we had was smaller.

Cathy: We've missed the Osbornes but have followed the phenomenon. It would be wrong of me to comment based on secondary sources, though.

Robert: Thank you.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#12 NewYorkTexan

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Posted 02 May 2002 - 05:24 AM

Steven – Have you thought about a career with the Austin Tourism Bureau?  It is always nice to see a yankee have a true appreciation for Texas Barbeque.  

Based on your review of Smitty’s, I have to go there.  I have always been loyal to the brother that owns Kreuz’s Market and have not been to Smitty’s since they took over the original Kreuz location a few years ago.  I find it impressive that that same pit has been producing great barbeque since 1900.  

The secret to the popularity of Iron Works is its location, downtown next to the convention center and near several office towers.  On good days, they serve the best beef ribs in Central Texas.  

Did you eat anything else at Robbie’s Cajun Kitchen?  They have only been open for a few weeks and I do not know anyone that has been there yet.  

I have forwarded your post to Virginia Wood, a food writer at the Austin Chronicle.  She is by far the most talented food writer/critic in Austin and hopefully she will become a contributor to egullet.

#13 Ron Johnson

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Posted 02 May 2002 - 05:51 AM

Fat Guy: Another great installment. Keep them coming.  I am not sure that I agree that long and slow cooking has lost its purpose because meat quality has improved.  Braising and slow-smoking still create a pretty awesome product, even if it is not rare.  Something about rendering all that internal fat and basting the meat, plus breaking down the collagen in thos cuts like shoulder and shank.  However, I would like to try that med-rare prime rib.
Project:  You are correct.  Based on my experience living in Memphis for six years and cooking in the Memphis in May Barbeque Contest twice, pork shoulder is the king of barbeque in that town.  Ribs are a big deal at Corky's and Rendezvous, but thats about it.  One way to demonstrate the dominance of pork shoulder is the fact that the top category for the Memphis in May Barbeque contest is the pork shoulder category.  He or she who wins pork shoulder may proclaim the title of champion of the contest.  I think that says it all.
The most popular barbeque in Memphis is pulled pork from a slow smoked, dry-rubbed shoulder, on a Rainbo bread bun with a squirt of hot sauce and a spoonful of slaw.  With a cold beer, I can eat about 5 of those.
I am trying to envision where this barbeque place is on Poplar that you describe.  Is it before you get to the Poplar Lounge?  I thought that I had been to every barbeque joint in Memphis.  It would be strange for me to have missed that one because I lived in that area for a year before I moved back to Midtown.

#14 Fat Guy

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Posted 02 May 2002 - 09:26 AM

NewYorkTexan: The crayfish boil was outdoors and a special event, so we never set foot in the restaurant. Great to meet you, by the way.

Ron: I agree that braising cuts still need to be braised or otherwise slow-cooked in order to gelatinize their collagen, but I think they can still be overcooked -- and often are. And the cuts that are inherently tender, well, they shouldn't be cooked overlong. In terms of Memphis barbecue, I speak as a total outsider but I assure you that in the perception of many non-Memphis residents -- who have had the legend of Memphis barbecue spoon-fed to them by the media -- Memphis barbecue is about ribs primarily. I also wouldn't be surprised to learn that Corky's and Rendezvous -- where ribs rule -- pull in more tourist traffic than all others. My point above was that Memphis barbecue is not in reality totally rib-centric -- just as Texas barbecue is not all beef. I'm talking only about perceptions, and mistaken perceptions at that. Likewise, when it comes to perception, I think those barbecue competition rules have little relevance outside their circumscribed arena.

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#15 Ron Johnson

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Posted 02 May 2002 - 10:06 AM

Fat Guy:  I agree, outside of the midsouth, Memphis is primarily and mistakenly known as being rib-centric. I have been to too many places billing themselves as "memphis style barbeque" restaurants and been baffled by the fact that no pulled pork shoulder is sold.  You are further correct that this misperception is due to the fact that so many tourists only encounter Corkys or Rendezvous where ribs are pushed as the main deal.  
As for the competition, I only mention the Memphis in May contest because it is considered the World Series of barbeque.  If they think pork shoulder is the thing, then who am I to argue?  
At any rate, I was very interested to read your account of Texas 'cue.  I have a friend from College Station (go Aggies?) who has prodigious cookouts at his home, but always disclaims that they are nothing compared to those in Texas.  I guess everything is bigger in Texas.  I wonder if the Fat Guy moniker is still as apt when you are in Texas?

#16 robert brown

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Posted 02 May 2002 - 08:03 PM

M's put up 10-spot in first in honor of Colonel's BBBQ for Shaws (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

M's Cameron hits record-tying four homers in one game. Credits diet of Col Klink's bbq.

#17 project

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Posted 02 May 2002 - 09:54 PM

Fat Guy:

The tour stories are TERRIFIC!

Ron Johnson:

Fat Guy said:

    I've long been under the impression that Memphis
    barbecue's national reputation rests on its ribs.  Does
    anybody else have data points here?

and I believe that he may be correct and that's why I said "by
weight and by dollars" and not by fame, flavor, reputation,
quality, or competition.

For your

    You are correct.  Based on my experience living in
    Memphis for six years and cooking in the Memphis in May
    Barbeque Contest twice, pork shoulder is the king of
    barbeque in that town.  Ribs are a big deal at Corky's
    and Rendezvous, but thats about it.  One way to
    demonstrate the dominance of pork shoulder is the fact
    that the top category for the Memphis in May Barbeque
    contest is the pork shoulder category.  He or she who
    wins pork shoulder may proclaim the title of champion of
    the contest.  I think that says it all.

    The most popular barbeque in Memphis is pulled pork from
    a slow smoked, dry-rubbed shoulder, on a Rainbo bread bun
    with a squirt of hot sauce and a spoonful of slaw.  With
    a cold beer, I can eat about 5 of those.  I am trying to
    envision where this barbeque place is on Poplar that you
    describe.  Is it before you get to the Poplar Lounge?  I
    thought that I had been to every barbeque joint in
    Memphis.  It would be strange for me to have missed that
    one because I lived in that area for a year before I
    moved back to Midtown.

I was eating BBQ in Memphis from 1948 through 1964 and then
again in 1973-4.  Then as far as I could tell, the meat was
always "coarsely chopped" and not "pulled".  I first heard
about "pulled" BBQ years later from my brother in Knox Patch.
Since then, in Knox Patch, I've had some that was "pulled",
and it's good, too.

When I was in Memphis, Leonard's was famous, but I ate at
Beretta's near Memphis State U., that place on Poplar I tried
to point to, various other places, many places with a counter
and some school chairs with arms for seating, and on the road
up to Dyersburg and further east in TN.

One special place was an annual sportsman's picnic on the
grounds of the Shelby County Penal Farm on the south side of
Summer street, near the eastern edge of Memphis as of about
1960:  The BBQ was done on iron racks set over shallow
trenches dug into the ground.  Each person got a big paper
plate with chopped pork shoulder BBQ, slaw, potato salad,
bread, etc.  There was often an awesome shooting demonstration
by Herb Parsons of Winchester.

To my taste then, the pork shoulder BBQ in Memphis and west TN
was all very similar.

When I visit my brother in Knox Patch, sometimes we go to a
fancy place with pulled BBQ, but mostly we go to places with
coarsely chopped meat like we had in Memphis.

I believe that, net, all things considered, for a lunch, with
some beer, it's darned good food.  Of course, a cute poodle
skirt, circle pen, and pony tail don't hurt!

Exactly why that food is so good, I don't know, but it has
some obvious points:  The pork basically has a delicate meaty
flavor.  The pork shoulder has a lot of fat under the skin and
around the muscle groups, and during the slow cooking the fat
bastes the meat well.  The meat ends up with a tender, moist,
elastic texture.  The sauce builds on the old idea --
apparently discovered independently by more than one of the
world's cultures -- that a sweet, sour, hot, spicy mixture of
vinegar, sugar, tomato, peppers, etc. can go well with such
pork.  And, there is also the smoke along with the flavors of
any rubs or sauces used during the cooking.  I guess the
coleslaw provides a simple contrast.  And, with the bread,
it's a sandwich, which is wildly popular in the US.  Why it
works with beer, I don't know, but it does.

Compared with ribs, the chunks of shoulder meat are 'meatier'
with less that is dark or brittle.  Of course, the ribs may be
getting a lot of Maillard browning.

For Poplar, I haven't seen it since 1974.  I doubt that the
place I mentioned has been there for some decades -- my
reference would ring only for ol' timers from Memphis.  But, I
do remember where the place was, and unless Poplar has been
wildly changed the corner should still be there:  Starting at
the river, go east on Poplar.  After a few miles will pass
Overton Park on the north side.  Continue on, cross East
Parkway, and soon will come to a bridge over some railroad
tracks.  Just before the bridge will join Poplar from the
south an 'extension' to Union Avenue.  The BBQ place was on
the SW corner of Poplar and that extension.

Around 1960, the place had some of the character caught in
'American Grafitti'.  So, it was a drive-in, and many people
ate in their cars instead of inside.  Evenings there had a
steady flow of traffic rolling through to see and be seen.
One guy took his 1957 Chevy two door, replaced the two four
barrel carburetors with six two barrels, and lowered the rear
springs.  One guy had three two barrels and lowered the front
springs.  Another guy had the Rochester fuel injection.  There
were various short drag races on the clean concrete of the
Union Avenue extension.

A fifty cent tip would permit anyone that could drive in to
buy beer.

But, I just mentioned the BBQ, which was good, and I often ate
it also for lunch when there was no 'American Graffiti' scene.

Fat Guy may be right that the Memphis ribs are terrific and
famous, but what I grew up on there was BBQed chopped pork
shoulder.  Measured in total pounds or dollars, I believe that
then shoulder was much more important than ribs.  Your remarks
on the now famous Memphis BBQ competition was a surprising
"but welcome just the same" (Bogart) support for my pork
shoulder remark!

Fat Guy is right that there is enormous variety to the BBQ
'scene' for any part of the country.

Sure, we know that pork can make such a good substitute for
veal in many dishes that it's tough to tell the difference,
and there are many, many terrific uses for pork from Germany,
France, Italy, China, etc., but US TN, TX, etc.  BBQ is also
terrific for pork, so good it seems that the animals come with
BBQ recipes written on their backs for all cultures to use.

#18 Demonknees

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Posted 03 May 2002 - 02:05 PM

fat-guy

I rather enjoyed your Austin report.  I have found that the dining scene in Austin leans to the overrated, but there are nonetheless many overlooked gems.  Near the top of my list in this regard would be the seafood dishes at Alcopolco Video surely one of the least known and most unusual joints in Austin, you obviously have tasteful and adventerous friends that they even know of the place.  Sorry you missed it. It is unfourtunate that you missed out on Fonda San Miguel, practically the only upscale restaurant in town that lives up to billing (although it is actually fairly casual and price-wise not much more then a Manhattan push cart).  Be sure and stop in on your next visit.
I am pleased to see that you appriciated the Salt-Lick; many local BBQ traditionalists disdian it as a middlebrow tourst trap, but I rather enjoy the place, particularly the brisket, which at any rate compares favorably to any of the in-town BBQ places (except for Sam's).  I also like the all you can eat and BYOB features; generally speaking, you get pleanty of meat at local joints, but it's nice to know you can have another 3 pounds of ribs just in case.  I do have to take issue with your interpretation of Texas BBQ cooking methods however.  Ribs and susage may be smoked quickly, but not necessarily.  Brisket, however, is almost always cooked for at least 6 hours at a modest temperature with 8-12 hours more common, the salt lick boasts an average 24 hours smoke time.  Briskit takes this handeling well due to its fatty layer through the middle, allthough ,deplorably, many 'health-concious' places are now trimming this fat off - before cooking mind you- resulting in bland and bone dry meat.
Anyway, thanks for the report.

Demonknees

#19 Miguel Gierbolini

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Posted 05 May 2002 - 03:07 AM

Is today the Marathon in Vancouver?  Good luck to Mrs. Fat Guy.

#20 Ron Johnson

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Posted 05 May 2002 - 04:48 AM

Project:  The meat in Memphis is, in fact, coarsely choppped.  The term "pulled" is just what that type of meat is called because the shoulder is pulled apart before the meat is chopped.

#21 Fat Guy

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Posted 05 May 2002 - 01:05 PM

http://www.vanmarath...ts/mara2002.htm

2262  764/1022 F 188/222  F3034   4:22:16 10:01   2852  Ellen Shapiro          New York,NY

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#22 NewYorkTexan

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Posted 06 May 2002 - 09:03 AM

Congratulations on winning the James Beard award.  Anyone who reads your newsletter or your posts realizes that this will is only the first of what will many awards you will win.  

I was impressed with the level of detail you included about the Salt Lick considering I did not see you taking any notes.  You did forget to mention one thing.  Despite large crowd, it was easy to find you.  1) you were nice enough to wait by the front entrance 2) amongst the sea of pick-up trucks, SUVs, and gun toting parking lot attendants, you were the only one wearing “fish pants”.

#23 Tammyjc

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Posted 07 May 2002 - 01:11 PM

Fat-Guy I am loving your "world tour" posts.  You have always been my guide for NY dining!  I am just curious as to how Momo is liking the trip.

#24 russ parsons

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Posted 09 May 2002 - 10:33 AM

nice post fat guy, but as a former bbq hound in texas, there are a couple of points i feel obliged to make.

first, those longhorns you saw everywhere were not an homage to bbq, but to the university of texas football team. you probably would not find them in, say, college station (though you would find barbecue).

2) beef ribs are eschewed by discerning bbq lovers. they are almost impossible to prepare so they're not greasy. they are for drunken frat boys with fred flintstone complexes.

3) smoked prime rib and pork chops may be delicious, but they fall outside of the canon of dogmatic barbecuing (and who is more dogmatic than a dogmatic barbecuer?). the officially recognized cuts are sausage, brisket and pork ribs. in other, less civilized cultures, they do manage to turn out quite acceptable food by barbecuing pork shoulder and, in darkest kentucky, even mutton. this can be good, when you are out among the natives. a barbecuehound's mind should, after all, be somewhat broad ... but not so much as to be promiscuous.

4) one should automatically be skeptical of any barbecue facility with a parking guard. this is squared (cubed?) if he is armed with a cowboy gun.

5) time is relative in barbecue. sausage can be quick-cooked, meaning 45 minutes to an hour. ribs can be quick-cooked, meaning 2 hours. brisket can be quick-cooked, meaning 6 hours. but the true que hound will know that shortcuts were taken (the real key is the "snap" of the meat, that tells you it was cooked to soft without being par-boiled).

In my youth, part of which was misspent as a sportswriter and music writer in Lubbock Texas, i had the great good fortune to learn bbq at the knee of CB "Stubb" Stubblefield. Though Stubb's BBQ is now pretty well known (his sauce and canned vegetables are even available in southern california), all of this only happened after his death. when i knew him, he was running a 30-seat barbecue joint on the bad side of lubbock and was so broke his friends would throw annual "benefit" concerts to keep him in business. of course, these friends included muddy waters, joe ely, george thorogood, terry allen, stevie ray vaughn, jimmie dale gilmore and los lobos, so he managed to stay in business for quite a while ... until the IRS began asking about taxes.

he was a great man and i still think about him every time i cook (bbq or not).

#25 Fat Guy

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Posted 09 May 2002 - 04:22 PM

I believe the sidearm in question was a Glock 9mm semi-auto. Even the cowboys are modernizing, I guess.

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#26 Blue Heron

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Posted 10 May 2002 - 09:20 PM

If you get a chance, can you please tell us a little more about the breakfast tacos you had in Texas?  They sound really delicious.  Were they served in flour tortillas and wrapped up like a burrito?  Or were they in corn tortillas, taco style?  Were the eggs scrambled, potatoes cubed & fried?  Anything else in there besides salsa & sour cream?  Did you see any variations that included things like...bacon, sausage, cheese, lettuce, avacado, tomato, cilantro, onions, etc, or is it mostly eggs & potatoes?  Was this something you mainly saw in Texas Taquerias?

#27 Fat Guy

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Posted 11 May 2002 - 06:35 AM

Were they served in flour tortillas and wrapped up like a burrito?  Or were they in corn tortillas, taco style?

You usually have a choice of corn or flour, but flour seemed to be the default at the places I visited.

Were the eggs scrambled, potatoes cubed & fried?

The eggs and potatoes were combined into one blob. The potatoes had of course been precooked, home-fries style (small, irregularly shaped) but without much crust to speak of. So I assume they were boiled and then sauteed just a little. Then the scrambled eggs and potatoes were cooked together.

Anything else in there besides salsa & sour cream?

I don't recall sour cream, and salsa was do-it-yourself.

Did you see any variations that included things like...bacon, sausage, cheese, lettuce, avacado, tomato, cilantro, onions, etc, or is it mostly eggs & potatoes?

All of the above. In fact we ordered one with bacon, but the bacon never appeared.

Was this something you mainly saw in Texas Taquerias?

Yes, though we weren't eating Mexican in earnest anywhere else.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#28 El_Jefe

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Posted 17 May 2002 - 01:13 PM

Were they served in flour tortillas and wrapped up like a burrito?  Or were they in corn tortillas, taco style?

You usually have a choice of corn or flour, but flour seemed to be the default at the places I visited.


A little clarification is in order here. In Texas, a taco is almost always a tortilla (corn or flour) wrapped around damned near anything. It's usually open on both ends, which can lead to salsa running down your arm. A burrito in Texas is usually a really big tortilla wrapped around the filling, but closed on both ends. A burrito is often served with a sauce on top, while a taco usually has the salsa inside.

While flour is usually the default, most taquerias offer a choice of corn or flour. A really good taqueria serves tortillas made on premises, but flour tortillas are a lot easier to make than corn, which explains the default. A true Tex-mex aficionado, however, will always opt for corn tortillas if they are hechas en casa.

Crispy tacos are available but are the choice of kids and people who don't know any better.

Anything else in there besides salsa & sour cream?

I don't recall sour cream, and salsa was do-it-yourself.


Verily, sour cream is a California thing, and an abomination.

#29 Jim Dixon

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Posted 19 May 2002 - 10:12 AM

More than 20 years ago I worked for the Forest Service (Detroit, Oregon RD...at the time the second biggest money-maker in terms of timber sales...also scene of famous turn-of-the-century timber fraud), and a couple of co-workers were first generation Mexican-Americans. They lived down in the valley and commuted the 65 miles up to the ranger station, at least before fire season. Their wives would get up even earlier and make them fresh flour tortillas that they'd roll around soft scrambled eggs mixed with small chunks of boiled potato.

For a few weeks we shared a bunkhouse. The crockpot ran 24/7 with pinto beans, and on weekends I'd drive back to Portland and stock up on groceries I couldn't find in the little timber towns. I would make artichokes, steamer clams, and calzone for us, and Juan and Jerry would trade me from their stash of fresh tortillas, To this day, I haven't tasted a flour tortilla as good as those.

Jim
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Real Good Food

#30 ebraun

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Posted 22 May 2002 - 10:26 AM

Fat-Guy,

Really enjoyed reading your report.  I'm Austinite and just discovered this site today after a story the newspaper ran.

Glad you liked the barbecue out at Smitty's in Lockhart.  The story behind Smitty's and Kruez is that when the former owner died, he left the building to his daughter and the business to his son.  Well, a couple of years ago the daughter tried to double the rent on the son and he moved out following much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the whole of Central Texas.  

I've been to both and the quality seems to be about equal.  I'm from Kansas City where we take our brisket very seriously, but I haven't found any there that can match Kreuz Market or Smitty's.

Artz Ribs on South Lamar (just south of Taco Xpress) is my favorite in-town barbecue joint, although Sam's is right up there.

The breakfast tacos around here are great.  You have to be careful when you order the chorizo though, if you aren't careful your hands will be orange all day and a lot of it is super greasy.  Every once in a while I'll get the barbacoa tacos (traditionaly, beef cheek) but it can be seriously greasy... but thoroughly enjoyable.

Great report, I'm glad to be on.