December 20th, 2013

Texas BBQ

Posted in About Allison, food tours, New Foods and Flavors, Pork, Recipes, Restaurants, Trends

With all the talk about Franklin’s BBQ in the national news, Austin is quickly becoming the new BBQ capital of Texas. Sound a little premature? When Lockhart was declared the official Barbecue Capital of Texas during the 1999 House regular session, the little town of 12,000 seemed untouchable. And Lockhart is still famous from coast to coast for its BBQ, with visitors topping 250,000 per year. So it seems a little bold to proclaim Austin the New BBQ Capital, right?

Before we backup our assertion about Austin’s place in Texas BBQ, a little about the 4 distinct styles of Texas BBQ:

1 – East Texas BBQ: typical Southern BBQ (chopped meat, predominantly hickory smoke in a sweet tomato BBQ)

2 – Central Texas BBQ: “meat market style” (the meat is dry rubbed and cooked over pecan or oak, sauce is thinner and served on the side, served sliced on a tray with sides and condiments)

3 – West Texas BBQ: “Cowboy Style” with mesquite wood an direct fire

4 – South Texas BBQ: BBQ sauces made with molasses, barbacoa and cabrito

East and Central Texas styles represent the most widely known types of BBQ nationally, with West and South Texas enjoying more recognition at the regional level.

So is it even possible to knock Lockhart off the top of the chart? To understand just what the Austin BBQ scene is up against, let’s look at the 4 BBQ joints that made Lockhart famous:

Blacks Barbecue: opened in 1932, Blacks is the longest running Texas Barbecue restaurant to be owned by the same family. They offer lean and fatty brisket, beef ribs, pork ribs, turkey and chicken. Their brisket is their number one claim to fame, and they are consistently on the “Texas Monthly Top 50 Texas BBQ” list. Look for the opening of Terry Black Barbecue here in Austin in early 2014. Mark and Mike Black will be bringing authentic pit smoked BBQ to Barton Springs Road. Oh yeah, and this was cause for a family dispute:

Kreuz Market: (pronounced “Krites” Market) opened in 1900 and changed hands in 1948, and then again in 1984. They have a ‘no sauce’ policy, as they feel it covers up the flavor of their meat. They serve fatty brisket, lean beef clod, beef ribs, and prime rib, sausage, turkey, pork chops, pork ribs, and pit hams. They sold their original location in Lockhart due to a family dispute, and moved to a different location outside of town. They are a current “Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ winner”.

Chisholm Trail Barbecue: a lesser-known and less established BBQ joint that opened in 1978. They have a cafeteria-style line and brisket, ribs, turkey, chicken, and sausage.

Smitty’s Market: Owned by one of the members of the same family that runs Kreuz Market, they took over the building that Kreuz had been in since 1900 They serve brisket, beef shoulder, pork chops, pork ribs, prime rib, and sausage. They were last in the “TMT 50 BBQ” list in 2008.

So let’s talk about Austin BBQ: it is making a gigantic splash on the National BBQ scene. The current grand champion of BBQ in Texas and the US, Aaron Franklin’s brisket is no joke. But when you look at the impressive list put out every 5 years by Texas Monthly (May 2013) you cannot help but notice: 5 of the Top 50 are right here in Austin. That is to say a full 10% of the list is devoted to the BBQ of Austin. Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio can only boast 2 BBQ joints each, and they are all bigger markets than Austin.

So let’s take a look at what makes Austin, TX BBQ so special:

Franklin’s BBQ (pitmaster: Aaron Franklin): His BBQ brisket is so good, that Bon Appetit named it the best BBQ in the country for 2011. After that, well, the rest is history. Then this year, Texas Monthly gave it the top rating as well (5.0). Considered the new king of BBQ, Mr. Franklin has confirmed expansion of his establishment, with the addition of a full-blown smokehouse. His espresso BBQ sauce can be found at local grocer HEB here in Austin. Fans of his BBQ rejoice: you may not have to wait 4 hours ever again, once the smokehouse is built…or maybe you will…… Rating: 5.0

John Mueller Meat Co (pitmaster: John Mueller): Ironically, Aaron Franklin got his start with BBQ under the tutelage of John Mueller. Mueller, of the Taylor Muellers (Louie Mueller BBQ of Taylor is in the Top 4), is infamous for his rather unconventional lifestyle, and recently opened John Mueller Meat Co, after a disagreement with his sister. (She reopened their former joint venture as the newly renamed La Barbecue). Best thing on the menu? Beef ribs and fatty brisket. Rating: 4.5

La Barbecue (pitmaster: John Lewis): owned by LeAnn Mueller, the joint gets its name from an abbreviation of her first name. She hired John Lewis, who worked previously at Franklin’s to helm the pit after a spat resulted in John Mueller’s exodus. Lewis uses a mixture of pickle juice and yellow mustard for his wet rub for better flavor penetration. Rating: 4.5

Lamberts Downtown Barbecue (pitmaster: Zach Davis): its claim of “Fancy Barbecue” may leave you with a little concern, but the upscale environment does not detract from the interesting combinations of meat. Pork ribs with fennel and coriander, yep. Achiote and Lime chicken, sure thing. Although cooking with a gas-fired smoker is not BBQ in the most traditional sense, they still receive high marks from Texas Monthly. Rating: 4.25

Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew (pitmaster: Lance Kirkpatrick): Lance got his start under Bobby Mueller of Louie Mueller BBQ in Taylor (those Mueller’s hold a lot of influence) and opened Stiles Switch with the backing of Shane Stiles. Again the specialty here is brisket and beef ribs.

So if you were to say who is the most influential BBQ family in Austin and the surrounding towns, it would be the Mueller family. Whether they are working the pit, or teaching the next generation of BBQ genius, they are the family we all need to watch.

In late November, I started to hear buzz on the internet: a lot of buzz. A place called Kerlins BBQ, off the 1700 block of Cesar Chavez on the East side, was getting rave reviews about its brisket, pulled pork and pork ribs. Located right next to Vera Cruz All Natural, and owned by Bill Kerlin, and his wife Amelis Paz-Kerlin, the setup includes a separate smoker trailer, a serving trailer, several picnic benches, and games while you wait. With nearly 2 decades of restaurant experience between the co-owners, the truck started out like many do: cooking really good BBQ for friends.

From there Mr. Kerlin entered his very first BBQ competition in Wimberley, TX. With a smoker made from a 55-gallon drum and another $50.00 smoker that he borrowed from a friend, his team garnered the sympathy of the neighbor who lent them a string of lights for their BBQ setup. That may have been a mistake, as Mr. Kerlin’s team took 1st in pulled pork, 1st in chicken, and an overall grand champion. A rookie earning the G.C. is something rarely seen on the BBQ circuit. Then a call to come to the American Royal Invitation 2013 would have to wait: there was a food truck to tend.

Ascribing to the same “serving until sold out” mantra common among other “meat market” style places, I knew I had to show up early if I was going to sample the good eats. I was there by 11:30 and all the desserts were already gone. I would need to come back another day to sample the pumpkin flan and banana pudding (all desserts are made by Amelis). Everything is made at Kerlin’s except of the sausage, but don’t worry, there are plans in the works to update the equipment and start making their own.

Do you see that? That’s some seriously delicious brisket. The fat rendered perfectly was reminiscent of bacon with a nice 1/4 “ smoke ring. The Kerlins use pecan wood where others use post oak, and you can taste the difference.

The pork shoulder is slightly smoky, slightly sweet with tons of moisture from the fat. The ribs with a brown sugar and molasses rub were fall off the bone tender with a hint of pepper on the finish. Sausage from Smokey Denmark down the street, is tasty, but it does not have the signature flavor of the others house meats. House-made pickles are large cut, tangy and slightly salty with a small amount of heat. Blue cheese coleslaw is proper ratio of slaw to dressing with real blue cheese notes. It’s a little unconventional, but pairs well with the brisket, and pork shoulder.

So are you hungry?? I know I am!

June 15th, 2012

Girl and The Goat

Posted in Celebrity Chefs, Pork, Restaurants

We were so lucky after our venture into The Aviary to have the opportunity to snag a couple of stools at Girl and The Goat. The brainchild of Stephanie Izard, the name originates from her French last name, which is a type of goat-antelope. She began her culinary career at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute and then went on to Fermier Brasserie in Phoenix. In 2007, she opened Scylla, only to sell it on a whim when she got a spot on Top Chef: Season 4. She took home the top spot on the show, which allowed her to travel, taste, teach, and explore cuisine for a solid two years. To market her new concept, she initiated “Wandering Goat” dinners at undisclosed venues. With the buzz surrounding her mystery dinners, she opened her restaurant in 2011 under high demand, all the while earning a Food and Wine “Best New Chef” honor.

 Since The Girl and The Goat only takes limited reservations, we were reluctantly hopeful when we arrived. We were told it would be a 2-hour wait, but we could choose to wait for a table or stool in the bar area.  So we hung around the bar for a little while, ordered a few drinks and waited patiently (like vultures) for a table to open up. As luck would have it, three leather stools opened up at one of the lowboy tables in the bar area and we were on our way.

One of the highlights of the menu is anything made with goat. Goat is sourced from several farms near Chicago, including Kilgus Farmstead. While most restaurants employ smoking, braising, and sausage making for the majority of the goat on the menu, Girl and The Goat takes a different approach. Izard and her staff employ various methods of preparation as well as a wider array of cuts. You can find goat liver mousse, confit goat belly, goat carpaccio, and smoked goat rillette empanadas on her menu. Her desire to showcase goat in its different forms seems to set her apart from the crowd. By demonstrating goat’s versatility, she is bound and determined to put goat on the everyday plate.

Unfortunately, we were not able to sample our top pick, the confit goat belly, as it was sold out by the time we were seated (sigh).  So goes dinner…..

We started out with a fresh chickpeas in vinaigrette with crispy homemade cracker bread.

This was a nice little bit and was a nice way to start our dinner.  We were off to great start and eagerly await our next course!

Our next course was sugo, which was recommended to us by the people seated next to us at the communal table.  It was a goat, pork, and veal sugo (a tomato-based sauce with braised meat), house made pappardelle with pickled ramps and rosemary. The pappardelle was tender and the ramps added a tangy note.  It was a pleasant 2nd course. The third course was the chickpea fritters. These were garnished with fresh and cooked chickpeas, a peppery tomato sauce and a chredded slaw.

It was good but we were still waiting in dire anticipation of two other dishes that we ordered: crispy pig face and braised pork shank.

Crispy Pig Face: this came as one of the most highly recommended dishes on the menu (aside from that legendary confit goat belly).

I have to say that it was also pretty tasty, although a little chewy and very salty.

It was all a distant memory once we laid our eyes on the braised pork shank:

Talk about a flavor explosion! I think once we tasted this delicious dish, we forgot all about all the other things we ordered. The pig itself was fall apart tender. It was served with a spicy tangy sauce that we couldn’t put our finger on. Sweet-talking the waiter got the answer: gochujang, a Chinese kimchee sauce.  The pig shank was accompanied with homemade buttermilk dressing and fresh pita bread.  Although the pork didn’t really need the buttermilk dressing, it was perfect with just the kimchee sauce.

Three days later and still dreaming of crispy pork shank. Too bad Chicago is so far away!


March 3rd, 2011

Good Ol’ Texas Barbecue

Posted in Pork, Travel

Finding the best barbecue in Texas is like looking for the best cheese curds in Wisconsin, the best lobster roll in New England, or the best microbrewery in the Northeast.  It’s a he-said, she-said type of debate and what it really boils down to is personal taste.  The one thing nearly all Texas barbecue aficionados can agree on is this: beef is king, and more specifically, brisket.  Recently I was fortunate enough to take a small tour of Texas barbecue joints.  What I found is a wide array of juicy brisket, both lean and fatty, smoky hand-made sausage, tender smoked turkey and sticky-sweet stick-to-your-ribs ribs. Read more »

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January 28th, 2011

El Bulli – A Masterpiece Meal

Posted in About Allison, Pork, Spain, Travel

I have always had a little crush on Ferran Adrià.  Well, at least on his food!  Ferran Adrià has been called many things, the “Salvador Dali of Food”, the World’s Best Chef, the World’s Most Creative Chef, a genius and many other monikers.  When I first stumbled upon his cooking, it was because of my interest in “molecular gastronomy”.  Now, Ferran Adrià seems to shudder at this term, so maybe I should say my interest in the combination of food and science.  Somehow, it is more than just that, maybe his cooking defies a title?  When Adrià began to appear on the food scene, everyone began to wonder, where did this guy come from?  Ferran Adrià was born in 1962 in Spain and was schooled in Barcelona.  In 1980 he left school, where he was studying business administration, and became… a dishwasher.  My hero.  I have a theory that all great chefs are born out of serving their time with hands in a sink of dirty dishes.  Read more »

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