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Return to Texas BBQ Country: Taylor, Llano, Driftwood [pics]

Return to Texas BBQ Country: Taylor, Llano, Driftwood [pics]
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  • Return to Texas BBQ Country: Taylor, Llano, Driftwood [pics]

    Post #1 - August 15th, 2007, 4:45 pm
    Post #1 - August 15th, 2007, 4:45 pm Post #1 - August 15th, 2007, 4:45 pm
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    Return to Texas BBQ Country: Taylor, Llano, Driftwood

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    If the hand-scrawled list on that wall meets your definition of "complete food," you know you've come to the right place: Taylor, Texas.

    Me, I'd come back after last year's short but bbq-filled visit with both sons in tow, to see my sister as well as friends who'd moved to the Austin area. In this case "Austin area" means 20 minutes out of town, in a one-horse town with the picture-perfect name of Dripping Springs, which was damned inconvenient if you wanted Asian fusion and funky retro shops but damned near perfect if you wanted barbecue-- The Salt Lick was just up the road in Driftwood-- a creek to swim and catch frogs in, and lots of stars to gaze at at night.

    Louie Mueller's was high on my list to try on my return because it promised the answer to one of the questions I'd come home with from my last Austin-area BBQ exploration: what's with the beef sausage at all these barbecue joints? It was a feature of nearly every place I'd tried, but its appeal had largely eluded me-- hamburger in a tube, was basically how it struck me, fairly unseasoned at most places (Kreuz Market at least dialed up in the pepper), greasy as all get out, with none of the transcendent qualities of the pork hot links found with barbecue around here. Or, for that matter, of the more familiar forms of beef-based sausage sold in meat markets, most of which are ground more finely and certainly spiced more artfully. By comparison, this stuff was like a meatloaf with its grease trapped by a skin. I knew why it existed-- because any livestock-raising culture turns its leftover bits into sausage of some sort-- but I had yet to see why anybody would boast about it.

    But Louie Mueller's was famous for its sausage above all else, which promised that here, I might find the sausage that answered the question of why this was said to be one of the main draws of central Texas barbecue.

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    And so the first thing we did after arriving at the airport was light out for Taylor and lunch. Last year I said every place in Texas seemed to be decorated in one of two styles: Cornpone or Ersatz Cornpone. Mueller's was the first place I've seen that managed to hit both the folksy and the fauxsy notes within one building. A room to the left has the requisite pseudo-roadhouse decor, as well as a sunny view of the gravel parking lot, but the main room is an authentically smoke-stained vision of a Dickensian barbecue workhouse every bit as 19th century as the butcher shop at Smitty's. Perhaps the feature that sums it up best is the wall of local business cards... turned varying shades of mahogany by their many years of bathing in smoke.

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    I ordered a little of everything that mattered-- brisket, pork ribs, a beef rib, and one each of two of the flavors of sausage offered: regular and chipotle. (The third, untried, is jalapeno.) One really nice touch: as you waited to order, the man slicing brisket up deposited a sample of burnt end on your tray to whet your appetite for what was to come.

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    The pork rib and to some extent the beef rib and brisket were all coated with large pieces of cracked pepper, which frankly made it seem like all your food had taken a spill in the gravel parking lot. Despite the condition of the room, which promised an exceptionally smoky dining experience, I found that none of the meat had all that strong a smoke flavor, compared to the places I'd visited last year. The beef rib was greasy and not all that interesting; the pork rib had a straightforward pork flavor, like a pork chop, and was similarly chewy; the brisket was pretty, and probably the best of the three, yet still short of the high quality beef flavor of City Market's, say.

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    But the sausage... oh yes, the sausage... here at last was a beef sausage which justified the species, a little more finely ground than the hamburger tubes I'd had elsewhere, yet still ground beefy, but with a buttery mouthfeel at the same time, the regular was very good, the chipotle was sublime, piquantly spicy, robustly meaty, bursting in the mouth with luminous heat. I knew at last why Louie Mueller's made beef sausage, although I still didn't know why anyone else bothered.

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    For that sausage alone we would have driven away happily from Taylor, a perfect little half-abandoned Last Picture Show town of mostly shuttered Victorian-western storefronts. See it now; in five years, to judge by Hutto to its west, it will be Home Depots and Caribou Coffees, absorbed by the metastasizing Austin metroplex. (One amusing note: downtown Austinites protest the mallification of their city with the slogan "Keep Austin Weird"; in Dripping Springs we saw a bumper sticker trying to keep their funky neighbor at bay: "Keep Dripping Springs Normal.")

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    I said we would have driven away happily... but...

    HEY! BARBECUE!

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    I knew there was such a place as Taylor Cafe but I hadn't meant to take it in on this trip until I spotted it, virtually erased by the overpass. Coming down at the other end, we doglegged our way through streets of sleepy toolsheds and machine shops until we got back to it, facing the railroad tracks. We were just about to walk in when I was stopped by a middle-aged Mexican fellow seeking someone to help him push his van parked under the viaduct to where the tow truck could more readily haul it away. Seeing no easy way out of his request, I parked the kids firmly on the sidewalk with instructions not to budge, and helped him.

    Rarely have I seen karmic payback work so quickly. We entered Taylor Cafe-- and here was all the Texas authenticity one could dream of.

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    Hey, sometimes it's easier to sneak a picture if you pretend you're taking one of your kid.

    Now, I say "authentic" versus the other places that are gussied-up to be old-Texas quaint for visitors, but of course tractor seats at a bar are a deliberately cute touch just as much as the humorously cranky signs at Kreuz Market. Yet it was the kind of cute that has aged into authenticity; no marketing consultants had been involved here, you could sense that as soon as you walked in. Or maybe it was just the feeling that it wouldn't be all that hard to get your ass kicked in the Taylor Cafe.

    We didn't really need anything to eat, but I ordered a plate of three meats, and before I could make my choice the waitress informed me that there were only three left: pork ribs, brisket, and a beef-pork sausage (somewhat surprisingly, they also make a turkey sausage).

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    One sign that you're eating authentic food dating back to before World War II is when it's unnaturally soft. People didn't often have money to fix their teeth and so it's common to find foods that have been adapted to be easily chewable, like the Maid-Rite or Nu-Way crumbled-beef style of hamburger. That was how the barbecue was at Taylor Cafe-- sweet-glazed ribs almost fall off the bone, soft, not too fatty brisket, slightly hot-dog-like sausage, a tomatoey sauce to help it go down. At first my 5-Step-Program-trained snobbishness felt it was too soft to be proper chewy barbecue, but I have to say, once I made a sandwich of the brisket with a slice of pickle and a ring of onion on cottony white bread, it was pretty darn wonderful.

    Wonderful or not-- and I finished it happily the next day-- it was obvious that the three of us were not eating at a rate typical for Taylor Cafe customers, and so the waitress soon came over to see if everything was all right. I fessed up that this was our second lunch within an hour and we chatted about what had brought us to Taylor Cafe. She regarded us with the mix of amazement and amusement that I often get when people realize what kind of an exotic culinary adventure I've dragged my two chicken-finger-aged boys on, but thanks to her smalltown friendliness, I was pretty sure that the asskicking danger was past.

    As I went to pay I noticed that the proprietor of 60 years, 83-or-so-year-old Vencil Mares, had taken a spot at the end of the counter. I went over with my sons to pay our respects. I told him that we had flown in from Chicago for barbecue and he looked at the fellow next to him and joked, in one of those high-pitched, courtly Southern voices, "Thay have direct flights from Chicaga ta Taylor now?"

    "Well, it's direct the way we came, anyway," I said. "Thank you for the barbecue, it was excellent."

    "Don't thank me. Ah thank you for comin' in ta mah restaurant," he said.

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    As we were leaving we stopped to watch the trains pass by Taylor Cafe. That's fine for trains, but don't you make the same mistake.

    Louie Mueller Barbeque
    206 W. Second
    Taylor, TX
    512-352-6206

    Taylor Cafe
    101 N. Main
    Taylor, TX
    512-352-2828

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    The world is divided into two kinds of people: those for whom it's crazy to drive 70 miles and back for lunch, and those for whom it would be crazy not to.

    I need hardly say which I fall into, so a couple of days later I took off northwest of Dripping Springs into the Hill Country for Llano, home of Cooper's.

    Cooper's location, on an unlovely highway amid used car lots and drive-thru banks, is nothing to write home about, but there's plenty of atmosphere in the outdoor pits, starting with the open fire blazing at the edge of the parking lot, which you could easily back into under the wrong circumstances. That smoke is fed to a series of big smokeboxes:

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    You choose your meat from the one closest to the door:

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    Unfortunately there was nothing all that unusual to be had, not even mutton, so I stuck with my standards: pork and beef rib, brisket and whatever sausage they offered. I paid quite a lot of money for it-- almost $30 for what you see here plus a drink and some cobbler-- and sat down at the tables inside. (Why are these all sepiatone? I don't know, it just looked cool with the setup at Cooper's.)

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    And, sad to say, it was the least inspiring barbecue of my trip. The meat was greasy as heck and not of terribly high quality, there was relatively little smoke flavor, surprising given the setup you passed through to get it; and the sauce was, like Mueller's, a thin vinegary dipping sauce, but this time so vinegary it almost made your eyes water. Especially for the price, it was a real disappointment-- even if, of course, many people would be turning cartwheels if a place turning out the same food opened in Chicago, or almost anywhere other than within 50 miles of Austin.

    I caught a scrap of conversation about "since the old man's been gone" and Cooper's opening franchise locations somewhere, and though I have no idea how accurate any of that is, what I had certainly gibed with the food you'd get at a place where the second generation didn't have the master's touch and was overextending its abilities with mail order and new restaurants. Too bad.

    Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Q
    604 W Young St
    Llano, TX 78643
    325-247-5713

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    If any place ought to be extended beyond its abilities to produce barbecue the way it used to, it would be The Salt Lick, which has grown to two large buildings at its original Driftwood location, a catering facility next door for weddings and such, a more upscale location elsewhere in Austin, a Las Vegas outpost (reviewed here by Stevez), and even a stall at the Austin airport. I'll pass on the airport version but to judge by Stevez's report the Vegas one is fully worthy of the place's heritage and to judge by last Saturday night, so is the extremely busy, impressively efficient original.

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    We were, by luck, seated in the original restaurant near the original trademark round pit, which is far too small to serve the hundreds they feed nightly today, but is still used to prep and finish food brought over from the behind-the-scenes smokehouse. A pitmaster tends the meat, picking out pieces which are then sliced up as needed:

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    The easiest way to order is simply to pay a flat price (about $16/person, about $5/per for kids) and they bring it till you're stuffed. We got two or three platters of spareribs, brisket and pork sausage like this:

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    plus cole slaw, beans, German-style potato salad, the requisite white bread, pickles and onions, and soft drinks.

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    It's all gobbled down by everyone from babies to the owner of the world's longest mullet:

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    One thing we noticed while waiting to be seated (which you do on a big open-air patio to which you are allowed to bring your cooler full of beer; many folks seemed to be in no hurry to go inside) was that nearly all the parties were large ones, including one group of soldiers and family with about 40. It was really impressive that The Salt Lick, almost effortlessly, can move so many folks through, serve them high-quality barbecue so quickly, and maintain a general good-time atmosphere throughout it all. I've certainly never seen a barbecue operation of comparable size and quality.

    I could have done without the meat being slathered in The Salt Lick's sweetish mustard-style sauce, but the quality of the meat was first-rate all around (and many of the sides, especially the potato salad, were excellent too-- if one were foolish enough to waste significant stomach space on such things). The brisket had all the smoke flavor I'd been missing in my other stops, the spareribs were, like Smitty's, sweet and ham-like in flavor and texture, and the pork (or maybe beef and pork) sausages were robust like a good Polish. I am deeply jealous of my friends for living just half a dozen miles down the road from it, and within reasonable distance of so many others. I think we will have to visit them again next year. And if The Salt Lick spreads to somewhere you happen to be, do not hesitate to give it a shot.

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    The Salt Lick
    18001 FM 1826
    Driftwood, Texas 78619
    512-858-4959
    www.saltlickbbq.com
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  • Post #2 - August 15th, 2007, 5:03 pm
    Post #2 - August 15th, 2007, 5:03 pm Post #2 - August 15th, 2007, 5:03 pm
    I have to make a few comments -

    Two years ago, we made the trip to Austin with the hope of trying 7-8 different BBQ meals so as not to miss many of the places that were recommended. After five meals, I had to stop as eating all that meat was starting to make my arteries congeal a bit.

    In Llanos, TX, all the guidebooks (and websites) say that Coopers is THE place for BBQ. And on the Sunday afternoon we were in that part of the Hill Country, it was the ONLY place that was open in town.

    While the atmosphere was pretty good at Cooper's (and unlike most other places that week, they actually served real side dishes, the meat was a MAJOR disappointment and it was DARNED expensive. Be happy that you did NOT try the mutton. The piece that I had was cooked way too long and was nearly inedible. The rest of the meat was ordinary - and nothing spectacular.

    Personally, the best sausage that I had in Texas (and pretty much anywhere else) was at the Southside Market in Elgin, TX about 20 miles east of Austin. And they had BBQ lamb.

    Southside Market & B-B-Q Inc
    1212 Highway 290 E
    Elgin, TX 78621
    (512) 281-4650
    southsidemarket.com
  • Post #3 - August 15th, 2007, 5:06 pm
    Post #3 - August 15th, 2007, 5:06 pm Post #3 - August 15th, 2007, 5:06 pm
    As it happened, I got to try Southside's sausage-- at an HEB (grocery), a guy was offering samples of their commercial product. It was quite good, the real thing is no doubt as good if not better. Elgin will be next year's first stop...
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #4 - August 16th, 2007, 10:07 am
    Post #4 - August 16th, 2007, 10:07 am Post #4 - August 16th, 2007, 10:07 am
    Very nice post. Your kids are going to grow up with a great knowledge of BBQ. Seems like a nice way to spend a few days.
  • Post #5 - August 16th, 2007, 10:54 am
    Post #5 - August 16th, 2007, 10:54 am Post #5 - August 16th, 2007, 10:54 am
    Mike G wrote:As it happened, I got to try Southside's sausage-- at an HEB (grocery), a guy was offering samples of their commercial product. It was quite good, the real thing is no doubt as good if not better. Elgin will be next year's first stop...


    We were not PLANNING on a stop at Elgin Southside Market. By the time we got to Elgin, I was starting to feel my arteries flow again after the two days in Luling, Llanos, and Lockhart. However, when my wife sees these huge billboards advertising 4000 square foot home in Elgin (Texas) for $180k, we made a couple of stops that delayed our arrival in Elgin.

    The sausage is pretty similar to what you get at the City Market in Luling except that it is a bit less greasy and a little less course inside the casing.

    Personally, if I head back to the Hill Country for more BBQ, I am going to stop at Luby's Cafeteria, buy a whole lot of side vegetables and then buy the meat at teh various palces to add some balance to the meal.
  • Post #6 - August 16th, 2007, 12:08 pm
    Post #6 - August 16th, 2007, 12:08 pm Post #6 - August 16th, 2007, 12:08 pm
    excellent pics... dang, wish i could get some texas bbq here in the Chi
  • Post #7 - August 16th, 2007, 1:11 pm
    Post #7 - August 16th, 2007, 1:11 pm Post #7 - August 16th, 2007, 1:11 pm
    Excellent post and incredible pictures, Mike. It really makes me want to get out on the road and hit some of these establishments at some point. Thanks for sharing.
  • Post #8 - August 16th, 2007, 2:58 pm
    Post #8 - August 16th, 2007, 2:58 pm Post #8 - August 16th, 2007, 2:58 pm
    Thanks for ruining my day you bastard.

    Sincerely,

    MSPD
    Insanely jealous and stuck deep in the heart of BBQ Hell, U.S.A.
  • Post #9 - August 16th, 2007, 3:07 pm
    Post #9 - August 16th, 2007, 3:07 pm Post #9 - August 16th, 2007, 3:07 pm
    My pleasure!
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
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  • Post #10 - August 16th, 2007, 4:37 pm
    Post #10 - August 16th, 2007, 4:37 pm Post #10 - August 16th, 2007, 4:37 pm
    Mike G wrote:
    Last year I said every place in Texas seemed to be decorated in one of two styles: Cornpone or Ersatz Cornpone.



    Mike:

    I am now seriously considering changing my screen name from "Cito" to Ersatz Cornpone.

    I have no personal experience consuming native Texas BBQ, nevertheless I am disappointed that Louie Mueller's brisket and ribs did not rate higher in your opinion. Mueller's was recently featured on the Food Channel, and it was portrayed as a "place that everyone should love" I trust your review that the sausage was excellent, but 'being as how' I'm a brisket guy--- I don't think that I'll go out of my way to visit Mueller's.
  • Post #11 - August 16th, 2007, 9:08 pm
    Post #11 - August 16th, 2007, 9:08 pm Post #11 - August 16th, 2007, 9:08 pm
    Mike,

    Great post, terrific pictures. We are on the same page re Louie Muller's, my one experience yielded brisket dry as a herring bone. Sorry to hear Cooper's in Llano did not move you, the times I've been Brisket has been incredible, approaching a religious experience.

    Next time you are in the area I suggest giving Meyer's sausage a try, it's close to Southside Market.

    Did you try the coleslaw at the Salt Lick? It has a distinctly Asian bent with sesame seeds, toasted sesame oil, scallions (maybe a bit of grated ginger), Ellen still speaks fondly of the Salt Lick slaw, but I've never had any luck with my copycat attempts.

    Enjoy,
    Gary
    Last edited by G Wiv on August 16th, 2007, 9:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
    Sauce on the side, always, implied, axiomatic..........never a doubt, BBQ sauce without.

    Low & Slow
  • Post #12 - August 16th, 2007, 9:20 pm
    Post #12 - August 16th, 2007, 9:20 pm Post #12 - August 16th, 2007, 9:20 pm
    Mueller's brisket wasn't bad by any means, but it wasn't stellar; if I landed in Austin and wanted brisket I could find at least two better choices heading south on 183 instead (toward Smitty's and City Market). I'm pretty sure the guy asked me if I wanted lean or fatty, possibly in some other terms, and I said "mix it up," which probably accounted for better brisket with more of the point mixed in. But brisket, schmisket, that chipotle sausage is a sure bet for my ten best list this year.

    Although I'm not crazy about the bland "ranch style beans" at most of these places (Liam enjoyed putting them on white bread and eating bean sandwiches), as sides went Salt Lick's cole slaw and German potato salad were both excellent (but no, I don't have any better idea what the secret ingredient is). Frankly, if you're by yourself you can do whatever you want, but if you're with other people who don't quite share your food obsession and get hung up on irrelevancies like side dishes or actual plates to eat off of, Salt Lick is a no-brainer first choice, with first-rate meat and slightly nicer ambience (still very much within the roadhouse git-down-n-git-messy bbq genre).
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
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  • Post #13 - August 16th, 2007, 10:52 pm
    Post #13 - August 16th, 2007, 10:52 pm Post #13 - August 16th, 2007, 10:52 pm
    I think the thing to remember with ANY of the Texas BBQ places is that the timing of the meal. Get to the place when the place opens (or soon thereafter), and the food is generally pretty great. Arrive at the end of the days and you are getting leftovers.

    The only exception to this general rule was Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City who served some meat that I am convinced was cooked the day before.
  • Post #14 - August 17th, 2007, 11:14 am
    Post #14 - August 17th, 2007, 11:14 am Post #14 - August 17th, 2007, 11:14 am
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    Meanwhile in Austin...

    I'll quickly cover some meals grabbed here and there in Austin on the same trip, though not with the same loving attention devoted to BBQ above. Thanks to Tatterdemalion and others for suggestions, though I'm not sure we took any of them in the blur of keeping 7 or 8 people fed and happy.

    There are a lot of 30s-style hamburgers around Austin; Sandy's (probably no relation to the Sandy's chain discussed here once) had a good one, okay fries, grainy ice-milk custard which, nevertheless, hit the spot on a hot day:

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    Weird but true: as I finished mine, I looked into my cup and found-- a miraculous image of Italy.

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    I think it means I'm supposed to go there on my next vacation, just in time for the election of the next Pope. Anyway, I also tried What-a-Burger, but it was kind of bready, not all that exciting. The more important thing, as always, is that Sonic is everywhere, not that the food is anything to get excited about, but a tart, more lime-than-cherry cherry limeade is your friend when, say, you've just eaten a bunch of barbecue at Cooper's.

    I hit a couple of what Texas calls "interior Mexican" restaurants, to distinguish from Tex-Mex places, though I have to say-- maybe we have such incredibly authentic Mexican by now that we take a whole host of dishes for granted as being American Mexican when they're really not, but to me the menus looked like mostly Tex-Mex and Ameri-Mex, with maybe one column of more authentic stuff. Not surprisingly, those who got the more authentic stuff were usually happier than those who got the Americanized stuff.

    Azul Tequila is in a strip mall-- the perfect strip mall by my kids' standards, since on one side of it is a hobby/toy shop, and on the other side of it, an exotic pets store with bunnies to pet and a room full of anacondas. (How they feed them was, needless to say, the main topic at dinner.) I ordered cochinita pibil, which was okay, unfortunately covered in a chili sauce to perhaps cover up for a lack of full-on achiote flavor; but I inherited much of a better dish (which proved too spicy for the person who ordered it), chicken in a green pumpkin mole which reminded me of Indian dishes with spinach.

    Curra's is well known as a more authentic Mexican place in Austin but I have a feeling the menu hasn't changed since it first earned that title, and I suspect there are better places by now which are less discovered. In any case, it struck me as less authentic Mex than as well-made upscale Mex (in an informal, Frontera-like setting) with some kind of 90s yuppie touches like mango salsa. I was advised to get the fish tacos, and with mango salsa and chipotle cream sauce, they were quite good. My wife's enchilada mole had a good multidimensional burnt chocolate flavor, but I'm not so sure anyone around the rest of the table was all that excited with things like a veggie fajita.

    Maybe the most satisfying Mexican dish I had was the simplest-- a couple of breakfast tacos from the nearest little stand in Dripping Springs, Flores:

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    Stands (often less permanent than this one) are all over, and often serve roasted chicken on weekends, too. Simple stuff, eggs and potato and bacon in tortillas, but it was just fine.

    99% of the restaurants in Austin seem to be ersatz cornpone, but needing a break from that and barbecue one night, we tracked down a rare chichi spot with no metal signs on the wall at all: an "Asian-fusion" place called Mars:

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    I started with, just to be silly, a wasabitini. Of course I asked if they used real wasabi, of course they said they did, of course they didn't, and as I sipped it and got a full nasal horseradish blast I thought-- now I know what the mustard shake at Toots' tasted like.

    Appetizers likewise didn't do much to convince me that Asian fusion wasn't a bad old concept that should have been left to die in the 90s. Tuna satay was decent enough but unexciting, a characuterie plate was a disappointment since they were out of the most interesting thing (chicken liver pate), so it was a plate of okay cheeses, bread, fig spread, olives and, oddly enough, a daub of chocolate mousse. (Our waitress later came back and comped it outright, for the lack of the pate.)

    So far, none too impressive, but to my surprise the entree courses happily turned that all around. Both were classic modern-looking fish courses, big fish on big mound of veggies or rice piled in the middle of big plate--

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    but speaking for mine, some kind of sea bass with a blood orange-fennel cream sauce, pancetta and wild mushrooms on basmati rice, it was really a first-rate dish, perfectly executed, well-balanced in the flavors so that a little porkiness or mushroom flavor enhanced the basic bitter fruit-cream taste, and the finer, nuttier basmati rice was an inspired choice over the usual fluffy white-- it certainly beat the fish courses I've had recently at local places like Scylla or Sola. Asian fusion might be old hat, but Mars isn't, and here's hoping they grow out of the Bennigan's-like menu of tandoori-roasted sashimi ribeye potstickers in pad thai sauce, and follow their obviously sound instincts wherever they lead.

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

    What-A-Burger & Sonic
    many locations

    Azul Tequila
    4211 S Lamar Blvd # A2
    Austin, TX 78704
    (512) 416-9667

    Curras South
    614 E. Oltorf St.
    Austin, TX 78704
    Tel: 512.444.0012
    two other locations

    Flores Breakfast & Lunch
    920 West Highway 290
    Dripping Springs, TX 78620
    (512) 858-9346

    Mars Restaurant & Bar
    1400 S Congress Ave
    Austin, TX 78704
    (512) 472-3901
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #15 - August 17th, 2007, 12:34 pm
    Post #15 - August 17th, 2007, 12:34 pm Post #15 - August 17th, 2007, 12:34 pm
    Your photos made me shed a tear and long for home... the BBQ at the very least... I'd done alright without the Tex-Mex, but reminding me of the BBQ made a grown man cry... :cry:
  • Post #16 - August 17th, 2007, 4:29 pm
    Post #16 - August 17th, 2007, 4:29 pm Post #16 - August 17th, 2007, 4:29 pm
    I'm still fuming about those BBQ photos but that Italy thing gave me a good laugh.

    Keep up the good work.
  • Post #17 - August 18th, 2007, 6:11 am
    Post #17 - August 18th, 2007, 6:11 am Post #17 - August 18th, 2007, 6:11 am
    Only having made one trip each to Mueller's and City Market, I greatly preferred the former and had better brisket there as well.

    One thing to remember with Cooper's is that they're doing a different style of BBQ than Central Texas. They're burning down mesquite to coals and then cooking the meat over the top of it. It's closer in style to old style Carolina BBQ and will have a milder, but unique Mesquite smoke flavor. That said, I wasn't all that impressed with Cooper's either after one visit and thought it expensive compared to the competition.

    Scott, however, insists it's good:

    http://www.dallasfood.org/modules.php?n ... cle&sid=17

    Timing indeed matters. But getting there when they open isn't necessarily the best course. eg, when I was in Lockhart, I hit the big three twice in one day, once at about 11am and once at about 2pm. They were all better at 2pm than 11am, although Black's was about equal both times (and the favorite for brisket both times). The brisket at Smitty's and Kreutz had greatly improved.

    And my experience is that you can't be sure with other places, either. Sometimes early you'll be getting rewarmed leftovers from the day before. Sometimes you'll be getting something freshly made. One of the best things about the busy places in Texas is that the Q is relatively fresh. I just got done surveying all 30+ BBQ joints in Portland metro and A LOT premake their Q and then warm it. Some of the places would be very good if it was fresh, and are still pretty darn good rewarmed. But even the best places are a step down from what they are when their Q is fresh and some really don't know how to reheat their Q and you can tell what would have been good is just okay because of a microwave or steam table.
  • Post #18 - August 18th, 2007, 9:50 am
    Post #18 - August 18th, 2007, 9:50 am Post #18 - August 18th, 2007, 9:50 am
    I was pretty consistently at all these places at 12:30, and the telltale signs of leftoverness were absent, not to mention they were all feeding a steady line of folks (except Taylor Cafe) so I feel pretty solid about observations being in relation to the things that don't change so much, ie., that Mueller's and Cooper's don't put out as smoky a product as Smitty's or Salt Lick, say. I would also say that, well, certain physiological phenomena confirm the particular greasiness of Cooper's.

    That said, barbecue is always variable, based on a given piece of meat and other factors, and my observations are what they are-- how it was at one particular time, one day.
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  • Post #19 - August 21st, 2007, 9:48 pm
    Post #19 - August 21st, 2007, 9:48 pm Post #19 - August 21st, 2007, 9:48 pm
    That's some nice work on the barbecue, Mike. I'm curious to check out Taylor Cafe.

    As for Mars -- I was taken there kicking and screaming on one occasion, and surprisingly ended up quite pleased with my plate, though I didn't want to admit it at the time. I also had a sea bass, 5-spice crusted, with some couscous and asparagus IIRC, and it was the best piece of sea bass I'd had in at least the past few years. I'd pretty much given up on sea bass, but this particular one reminded me that there is something I like about this fish. A big honkin' hunk that retained that mildly oily, buttery flavour. I had forgotten what sea bass tasted like. I'm not rushing back to Mars, but I am looking forward to my next sea bass.
  • Post #20 - August 22nd, 2007, 4:00 pm
    Post #20 - August 22nd, 2007, 4:00 pm Post #20 - August 22nd, 2007, 4:00 pm
    Maybe it was the glow of the experience or the broad grin of consuming the best BBQ we found in Texas, but I do not recall sauced meats at Salt Lick in Driftwood. If any, it must have been light enough to be inoffensive to me. We may also have made sure to order any sauce on the side. What a great place!

    Those remarking about the longest mullet may have overlooked that the guy had 2 bottles of wine with him.

    Having to choose (and consequently eliminate BBQ) places because of limited time makes it easy to envy those with time to visit them all. But Lockhart (Black's and Kreuz) and Driftwood were an excellent primer for us.
  • Post #21 - October 19th, 2007, 9:20 am
    Post #21 - October 19th, 2007, 9:20 am Post #21 - October 19th, 2007, 9:20 am
    OK, here's a really dumb question:

    Which one :?:

    This Sunday.

    I've been to Salt Lick, Black's and Coopers, so those are all out--nothing against Kreutz and Smitty's, but I figger another town besides Lockhart as well.

    I'm thinking about City Market in Luling (anyone confirm if they are open on Sunday), Louis Mueller's in Taylor or one of the Elgin places.

    TIA
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #22 - October 19th, 2007, 9:45 am
    Post #22 - October 19th, 2007, 9:45 am Post #22 - October 19th, 2007, 9:45 am
    If the sausage appeals to you, go to Mueller's. It's far and away the best in that department that I've tried. Rest of the stuff was good and will tide you over, but sausage is the point. Atmosphere rates pretty highly, too.

    If brisket's the motivator, City Market is a standout and certainly ought to be tried some time.

    But probably the issue of going on a Sunday will settle it for you. I'd call (and don't be fooled by what turns up in a search for "Luling City Market"-- that's a restaurant in Dallas that stole the name).
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  • Post #23 - October 19th, 2007, 12:22 pm
    Post #23 - October 19th, 2007, 12:22 pm Post #23 - October 19th, 2007, 12:22 pm
    I pretty much concur with Mike's suggestions.

    Definitely call City Market to double-check me, but I'm about 93.75% sure they are closed on Sundays. (830-875-9019)

    Now that you mention it, hell, maybe I'll head over there this weekend myself. :P
  • Post #24 - October 19th, 2007, 4:29 pm
    Post #24 - October 19th, 2007, 4:29 pm Post #24 - October 19th, 2007, 4:29 pm
    OK, both Mueller's and City Market are closed on Sundays. Anyone know anything about this place: Prause's Meat Market - LaGrange, TX. Right now I'm VERY much leaning towards Southside Market in Elgin.

    Rob
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #25 - October 19th, 2007, 5:11 pm
    Post #25 - October 19th, 2007, 5:11 pm Post #25 - October 19th, 2007, 5:11 pm
    I can't imagine Southside would be a bad choice, though (as noted above) I've only had a supermarket sample of its sausage. But Prause's looks very promising too. Be a pioneer!
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  • Post #26 - October 19th, 2007, 6:02 pm
    Post #26 - October 19th, 2007, 6:02 pm Post #26 - October 19th, 2007, 6:02 pm
    Vital Information wrote: Right now I'm VERY much leaning towards Southside Market in Elgin.

    Rob,

    I've been to Southside a few times, solid brisket, quite good sausage and mutton. What I suggest is a two-fer, Meyer's is quite close to SouthSide Market and is my preference for sausage.

    I'd hit Southside for mutton, brisket and a nibble of sausage.

    Southside Market
    Image

    Southside sausage and mutton rib.
    Image

    And Meyer's for sausage and whatever else strikes your fancy.
    Image
    Image

    Both Southside and Meyer's are open on Sundays.

    Enjoy,
    Gary

    Southside Market
    1212 Highway 290
    Elgin, TX
    512-285-3407

    Meyer's Elgin Smokehouse
    188 Hwy 290 E
    Elgin, TX 78621
    512-281-3331
    Sauce on the side, always, implied, axiomatic..........never a doubt, BBQ sauce without.

    Low & Slow
  • Post #27 - July 7th, 2008, 4:54 pm
    Post #27 - July 7th, 2008, 4:54 pm Post #27 - July 7th, 2008, 4:54 pm
    Image

    Well, I don't have an elaborate visual essay from Austin and environs this year, though I will have something in another form of media soon, but I have some reviews to add to the overall picture of Austin dining.

    Barbecue first: Myles wanted to return to Black's in Lockhart, which we did. I still think it's a solid place all around, not sure any one thing is best in class but everything is quite good, and it's certainly the easiest one to eat at with one child who doesn't really eat barbecue, but was happy to see mac and cheese and peach cobbler. I returned to Taylor Cafe (good barbecue, wonderful atmosphere), and to Louie Mueller's, whose chipotle sausage remains one of the 2 or 3 best things to be had in Texas barbecue (be sure to dip it in the sauce for the full effect); I hadn't been that crazy about the other meats at Mueller's last time but I was much happier with them this time, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend the brisket or ribs as worth a try.

    Image

    The one new place I went to this year was Southside Market in Elgin. Vencil Mares at Taylor Cafe commented on how he thinks the sausage he made after learning at Southside was better-- less greasy, better put together-- than Southside's, and I'm inclined to agree. Of the three pork-based sausages I've had from down there, Southside's came in a distinct third to Taylor Cafe's and to the Mikeska sausage at Smoque (which really is first rate, and cooked with a lot of care). Other things at Southside were pretty good, but what was stellar, revelatory from there was barbecued mutton (above), which I don't think I've ever had before. The live oak really seems to suit the slight gaminess of the mutton and the overall effect of the juicy, strong but not harsh meat was fantastic.

    Image

    I tried a couple of different Mexican or Tex-Mex places on this trip. I'd still have a hard time saying exactly what Tex-Mex is, beyond just Americanized Mexican, which does not strike me as entirely a virtue; but one place, a real old school place that does big business, nevertheless impressed me a lot. That's Matt's El Rancho (above), which has been around 40 or 50 years and is probably casually dismissed by a lot of folks, but I thought it threaded the needle of being authentic and inauthentic at the same time extremely well. You can't get much more inauthentic than a ground beef, liquid yellow cheese goo named "Bob Armstrong" for dipping on chips (I'm sure there's a story but I don't know it), it seems made for people who've drunk too much to care what they're eating, yet it was damned tasty, and the same place made an entirely creditable plate of fish tacos for me as well, with very good slaw/cortida.

    Somewhat less impressive, on a day trip to San Antonio (and a day trip is exactly right for it), was Rosario's, a colorful place and certainly doing things fairly right while serving lots of gringos wanting to yee-ha it up with margaritas; pretty good chipotle salsa, freshmade tortillas, and so on. But only about half the table seemed to be that impressed with what they had, and I, with steak flautas, was not in that half. I think you can do well there, with guidance, which at least puts it ahead of the tourist trap places around the Alamo and the Riverwalk (the two inevitable destinations in San Antonio).

    Also in Austin we went to Habana, a Cuban (no, really?) restaurant which, much like David Mamet observed of flan, shows that there's just not that much difference between a good Cuban restaurant and a bad Cuban restaurant.

    Image

    Fredericksburg is an old German settlement now turned into a touristy destination, full of cutesy shops selling "Parking for Texans only" signs and stuff like that. We did it in an hour and a half, but had a very good German lunch, delicate and well-crafted, at a place called Der Lindenbaum. The other stop I would recommend is Rustlin' Rob's Texas Gourmet Foods, and in fact if you're enough of a schnorrer and can subsist on a diet of pretzels, crackers, jams and mustards, you could probably get away without having lunch just sampling there. I especially liked gooseberry and huckleberry jams on Rustlin' Rob's own label (there were many other regional brands available there).

    Image

    Last year I had noticed (you could hardly miss it) the sign for a place called Texas Pie Company in Kyle, but never got there. A few months later the Sterns were gushing over it on The Splendid Table, so this year we made sure to swing by. And indeed, it's a first-rate pie place, I was impressed generally by the shortening crust and flavorful fillings of both peach and blueberry fruit pies (they sell small pies for $3 each, we bought several different kinds) and a lemon chess pie, a little eggier than I like but entirely decent. Then the dog ate the rest off the counter before we had a chance to enjoy them on the 4th.

    Fortunately, though Texas Pie Co. was closed, Wimberley Pie Co. in Wimberley was open. Its peach pie was inferior, with a crust thick enough for an armadillo, but its pecan pie was wonderful (though it nearly put me into a sugar coma when I had it for breakfast the next day). I also had a perfectly decent chicken fried steak at Burger Barn next door (burgers and fries didn't look like anything special). That's some good pie country, just southwest of Austin, I recommend it heartily.

    Matt's El Rancho
    2613 S Lamar Blvd
    Austin, TX 78704-4732
    Phone: (512) 462-9333

    Rosario's Mexican Cafe
    http://www.rosariossa.com
    910 S Alamo St
    San Antonio, TX 78205
    (210) 223-1806

    Habana So Co
    2728 S Congress Ave
    Austin, TX 78704
    (512) 443-4253‎

    Der Lindenbaum
    312 East Main Street
    Fredericksburg, TX 78624
    830-997-9126

    Rustlin' Rob's Texas Gourmet Foods
    121 E. Main St.
    Fredericksburg, TX 78624
    Phone: (830) 997-7969
    Fax: (830) 997-3499

    The Texas Pie Company
    202 W. Center
    Kyle, Texas 78640
    ph.512.268.5885

    Wimberley Pie Company
    Ranch Rd 12
    Wimberley, TX 78676
    (512) 847-9462

    Burger Barn
    Ranch Rd 12
    Wimberley, TX 78676
    512.847.9276
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  • Post #28 - November 17th, 2008, 7:43 pm
    Post #28 - November 17th, 2008, 7:43 pm Post #28 - November 17th, 2008, 7:43 pm
    In this week's New Yorker:
    The Best BBQ in Texas

    A few months ago Mike G referenced the original article on Snow's, in Texas Monthly, June '08.

    Ah yes, Snow's. . . . possibly only a media-created frenzy anyway (Texas Monthly discovered it out of nowhere and anointed it the best barbecue in Texas this year).
  • Post #29 - November 21st, 2008, 5:08 pm
    Post #29 - November 21st, 2008, 5:08 pm Post #29 - November 21st, 2008, 5:08 pm
    Mike: "Also in Austin we went to Habana, a Cuban (no, really?) restaurant which, much like David Mamet observed of flan, shows that there's just not that much difference between a good Cuban restaurant and a bad Cuban restaurant."

    As the resident Cuban food stickler, you might (or not) be surprised to know I agree with this sentiment. In a certain regard. That's because for whatever historical reasons the Cuban repertoire has been frozen in amber like a '57 Chevy in Cayo Hueso. Mind you, I would say precisely the same thing about the Jewish deli, the Chophouse, the BBQ joint, and the pizza parlor.

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