Friday, August 25, 2006

Eatin' Barbecue in Austin

Tonight we ate at Rudy's. It's a Bar-B-Que place not far from our hotel. It's a local chain, now, but apparently the original was a gas station that started selling barbecue and the one we ate at was sort of a cross between a gas station and a restaurant. Rudy's could end up being something of a theme park restaurant--you know, one of those places where the decor is as much a thing as the actual food, but at least at this point, the gas pumps out front are just your average, working gas pumps. Not cute antique ones.

Barbecue is almost a religious matter to some people. Barbecue sauce is a big part of it, of course. In part of the Carolinas, barbecue sauce is thin, vinegar-based, with black pepper in it. It's not sweet. In parts of South Carolina, it has mustard in it. In Memphis, the classic barbecue sauce is vinegar and peppers, although today most places make a tomato based sauce. Kansas City barbecue sauce is the kind that most people mean when they say 'barbecue sauce.' The stuff we buy in jars in the grocery store is usually based on Kansas City sauce. Carolina barbecue is traditionally pork. Texas barbecue is, not surprisingly, often beef.

In Memphis the style is often 'mop'--that is, smoked in a pit and periodically mopped with barbecue sauce as it cooks. Traditionally, a string mop, the kind used to clean kitchen floors, is the utensil used to apply the sauce. But in Memphis and in a lot of other places, the meat can be slow cooked 'dry'. That is, spices are rubbed on the meat and it's cooked over a wood fire, but there's no sauce. The sauce is served on the side and when you eat it, you add sauce as you see fit. I'm kind of a wet barbecue person myself. I make pulled beef brisket barbecue for sandwiches but I make it in an oven and without a smoker or a pit. And I live in Ohio. In the barbecue religious wars, I'm sort of the equivalent of a Buddhist in Northern Ireland. I'm just completely out of the whole debate.

But I was excited to try Texas barbecue.

You go into Rudy's and you get in the queue line and snake through to the counter (passing coolers of IBC soft drinks and Shiner Bock) where you order your dinner in increments of a half pound. A half pound of brisket, brisket lean, chopped beef, sausage, turkey, or you order by the number of ribs. (They will let you order a quarter pound.) The meat is dry barbecued--rubbed in spice and smoked until it falls off the bone. The counter guy calls the order back to the cutter--'quarter brisket and two St. Louies,' or a quarter pound of sliced cutter's choice brisket and two St. Louis style ribs. The cutter slices the meat, wicked fast, slaps it on a giant piece of waxed white butcher paper, and the counter guy grabs it and puts it in a big tray with four inch high sides. The tray is sort of like a cafeteria tray aspiring to become a milk cart. To that he adds cheap white bread. The bread is sitting there in the package. It's like generic Wonder bread.

They have sides. Beans, creamed corn, potato salad, creamed corn. There's sweet tea (that ubiquitous Southern staple which has spread across the Midwest in the last decade.) There are fountain drinks. There's a big vat of barbecue sauce (spelled 'sause') which customers dispense themselves into a styrofoam cup. There are pickles and onions. There are napkins.

And that's it. You haul your milk carton style tray back to a long table, find a seat and make sandwiches of barbecue on white bread, pour sauce over it and eat it. Around us were lots of families. A couple of them were Vietnamese. The place is loud, the floor is concrete, the portions are beyond what any human should eat and the food's not expensive. It's all ambiance, but not in the haute cuisine sort of way. Outside it was over a hundred degrees and inside the air conditioners were refrigerating the air. The ribs are good but the brisket seems to be the real reason to keep coming back. It's smoky and still moist, with a peppery-spicy taste. The sauce seemed to me to be a perfectly good sauce--ketchup based with brown sugar and maybe some mustard, although I don't know. It was very good. I'm very full. So's Bob.


Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Oh god, I love barbeque, and I'm so glad to see, of course, all this really easy explanation of it on your blog. I learned most of it from some woman on cable who goes around with 40 dollars to various towns and cities and eats all day on 40 dollars at the best places. When she was in the Carolinas, she ate a lot of bbq, and so she had to explain all the differences. I felt so much more knowledgable afterwards. I don't know what it is about the cooking channel, but I could watch it all day.

August 26, 2006 2:09 AM  
Blogger Beth Adele said...

Sounds yummy! I love a good BBQ brisket, myself, though overall I'm more of a pulled pork kinda gal.

Lil is coveting the BBQ around the corner from us -- a couple of guys run this tiny joint with a big smoker out back, and on Fridays and Saturdays (the only days they're open), you can smell the flavor in the air as you drive past. The one day we tried to stop, they must have been cooking for an event because they wouldn't let anyone park in the lot even though it smelled *divine* -- they waved people away with an irritable "We're closed!" One of these days we'll make it...

August 26, 2006 10:33 AM  
Blogger meredith said...

Rudy's sounds great ... but from everything I've heard (and personally experienced), you haven't had BBQ in Austin until you've been to Stubb's. (Just be prepared to wait up to two hours to get a table on a weekend night.) I highly recommend their Sunday Gospel Brunch if the timing is right... it's a great way to sample everything they offer, and the music is top-notch.

August 26, 2006 1:37 PM  
Blogger dubjay said...

The Rudy's we have here in New Mexico hasn't impressed me that much. Maybe it was the Wonder Bread.

My favorite Austin place (so far) is the Salt Lick, which is actually a fair distance outside Austin. Their sauce is very close to Tidewater Carolina, with a lot of mustard. They have a satellite restaurant in the airport, so you can get a taste on your way out of town.

Haven't tried Stubbs yet. Maybe at WFC.

My favorite BBQ joint of all time is in Oklahoma City. Sage Walker took me there. It was in a clapboard building, sort of under a freeway underpass, in a bad part of town. The restaurant closed at 7pm so people wouldn't get shot in the parking lot.

Sage and I took Tim and Serena Powers there and I watched Serena inhale an entire platter of meat in about three minutes, and then go back for another platter.

August 27, 2006 2:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey maureen!

there's a kick-ass tex-mex breakfast joint on congress avenue, just north of the bridge on the right. can't remember the name right now. great breakfast burritos and migas, too!


August 27, 2006 9:33 AM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Barth, I think we found it. El Sol y La Luna. We stopped because there were a ton of cars parked outside.

I'd say more, but that's a whole 'nother post.

August 27, 2006 9:45 AM  
Blogger Ted said...

You forgot to mention the trough sinks along the back wall for washing your hands afterwards. And the plastic cups of banana pudding for dessert.

August 27, 2006 3:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You will find Kerby Lane just south of McNeil on the same access road that Rudy's is on. It is a good place for breakfast if you want an alternative to IHOP and has a selection of good food plus a charteristically Austin wait staff.

I've never had good barbeque at Stubb's though I like their sauce. It has less sugar than Rudy's and good vinegar content. It is more of a proper rib sauce. Rudy's is not great barbecue but it is consistently good which is hard to do when you serve as much as they do.

You were singing the praises of Pho in a previous post. The Austin area has several places you can get good Pho. Try Hao Hao in Round Rock or Kim Phung close to 183 on Lamar.

August 27, 2006 5:46 PM  
Blogger Jayme Lynn Blaschke said...

Rudy's is good and consistent. Their spicy sause is what gets a lot of folks coming back. Very dependable.

The Salt Lick is very good barbecue as well, served family style. The only problem is that the Salt Lick's reputation has outgrown the reality, and it's gotten to the point of being overrated. That's heresy to many people, tho. :-)

August 28, 2006 11:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow - that sounds almost like a religious experience. We just don't have anything quite like that in the UK!

September 24, 2006 5:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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