This isn’t even fair, or: “There is Franklin’s and there is everybody else.”

19 Aug

“Welcome Home!”

That was the phrase uttered the most upon my return to Austin. I didn’t grow up here, but it is the only place I have ever felt truly at home. So why do I keep leaving? I have no idea. Maybe its the endless array of people I meet who came here like I did, looking for a place to feel like they can be themselves.

Just this week alone, I’ve met so many people who have only recently moved here from other places. 98% occupancy rate. I’m pretty lucky to have found the situation I’m in. East Austin, near the highway, hipsters, dive bars, and food carts. I’m a 10 minute board ride from downtown, and sixth street. The buses run right in front of my house, I can walk 30 seconds to grab a slice of pizza from Eastside Pies, located right behind my place.

There was one place in particular I just had to check out, and I had to do it before I began working at my new job.
This place was Franklin’s Barbecue. Now I’d heard of this place when it was just a trailer on one of those cooking shows on the Food Network.

About a month ago, this waitress at my favorite Tulsa pub was looking in a magazine at a picture of a slab of ribs.
The caption read Franklin BBQ, Austin, Texas. The article claimed that this was the best barbecue in America (which meant the world right?).

This piqued my interest. I started sending mass texts to all my folks in Austin. “Have you been to this place called Franklin’s?”

All responses either were, “Yes and the food was amazing.”, or “No. The line is always too long for me to go in there. But I heard the ribs are unreal.”

When I came to town for my interview/trainings I didn’t have the time to even go by this place on East 11th street. But I asked around and every story pushed the restaurant’s reputation to near mythic proportions. This was starting to become a quest.

I HAD TO KNOW!!!!

I hadn’t heard this much hype about anything since Lebron James came out high school. Apparently this Franklin cat was the “Chosen One.” What if this was the holy grail of BBQ joints?

These stories of long lines and hour and half waits wasn’t hyperbole. A woman told me she woke up early on a Saturday and arrived at Franklin’s at 9:30 AM. She said that someone came out of the building, walked up to people in line and said, “This is where the line stops. We’ll be sold out after this person.”

I knew I’d need a good strategy. Going on a weekend would be an insane move. My best bet was to come in on a weekday when people would be at work. I decided to scout it out.

Tuesday morning I took a walk down there just to see how long it took from my doorstep to the line (Approximately eight minutes). I got there about 11:15 just to see what it would look like. The line I saw reminded me of Six Flags Over Texas, waiting in the line for the Shockwave and Texas Giant.

When the Giant opened up, the lines were legendary. People would wait in line 2 hours to take a 3 minute roller coaster ride. People would be walking away from the ride and we’d stop them as we passed, asking them what it was like. Their facial expressions usually ranged from adrenaline induced mania, astonishment, or pure fright. But no one ever said that it was alright.

Judging from this length of this line, and the sheer number of people willing to wait in it, it was clear that the experience had to elicit a strong enough reaction that justified all this hoopla.

I took notes and decided to come in at 10 AM the next day and just cop a squat, bring a book, and buy an iced coffee.
I was determined to find out what the hype was all about.

Going to Franklin’s isn’t your typical dining experience. It’s more like an event. I almost expected to see dudes playing catch football in the parking lot while the line amassed more hungry patrons. Down home music was playing over the PA speakers. Fans were running along the rails, blowing mist onto those waiting near the building, as the Honky Tonk blared out into the sun.

Many people brought their folding chairs and books to read, camping out. This had all the fervor of a Radiohead Pre-sale. Everyone was here to get a taste.

Of the folks I’d talked to in line, few had actually eaten here. Those at the front of the line had come as early as 9:00 AM.

I looked around. Mr. Franklin’s culinary prowess was doing what few thought could happen. He was the great connector, his special Expresso BBQ sauce had congealed into a glue, holding all us Hipsters, Geeksters, Negroes, Caucasians, Mexicans, Arabs, Asians, yuppies,intellectuals, liberals, and rednecks together– all breaking bread under one wooden roof (Was it possible that he knew the cultural significance of his idea when he first began slinging “Cue” out of his trailer years ago?).

At 11:00 they opened up and the line began moving. Someone had already been out taking orders on a notepad (as well as selling drinks from an ice bucket) so there was a semblance of organization in this afternoon ritual. Once inside, I took stock of the layout of the restaurant.

It was unpretentious, and simple. Old school beverage signs on the wooden walls. No frills. It looked like a throwback to 1970’s Austin before the secret was out about the town.

On the walls were framed magazine cut outs of the many write ups about Franklin’s.

From Bon Apetit, to The New Yorker, to Texas Monthly, every article alluded to the same thing, that this place was the shit. I was about 15 minutes from finding out myself. The clock read 11:18 and I was inside and close, but still it was going to be a wait to get my order. I was the 16th person in line.

That person at the front of the line might have gotten there as early as 8:30

Franklin himself is a simple looking fellow. In fact if you saw him on the street and knew nothing about him, you wouldn’t guess that he ran a BBQ joint. He was wearing a vintage Big Red T-shirt, jeans and glasses. He looked more the part of a computer programmer than a BBQ master. He was also very nice and seemed genuine. Like he just wanted everyone there to have a good time. This was the vibe of the entire staff. Everyone asked how things tasted and seemed to take pride in people’s enjoyment.

Me and my buddy Lou talked to him for a bit and found out that at least four of the people working there played pick up basketball with Lou over by the Hancock Center. Everyone I had met playing over that way were super chill, so he had to be an alright dude.

The pitmaster himself, Aaron Franklin

And the food? Well….. the ribs were so tender, that the meat caved with the slightest push of a fork. The sausage was mouth watering and succulent (Pause). The brisket was delicious as well, tender and full of flavor.

Lou took a bite from one of my ribs and just shook his head “This isn’t even fair. “This was the Lebron james of Barbecue. If they were doing a Sportscenter highlight of me chowing down, they would be saying, “They can’t stop him, they can only hope to contain him.”

The dessert was on point for sure. I got a Bread pudding pie and it was delicious and moist.

Pretty much what my plate looked like, except that I got beans instead of slaw.

I wasn’t sure when I’d get a chance to camp out like that again. I wanted to do the shit right. And every bite was heaven. The food was rich and the plate I bought was so big that it ended up being 3 meals along two days. I made it last. Having enough to share with people and spread the good word.

If there is a criticsm of the food, it would be for the sauces, and only because of my preferences. I’m not a big fan of vinegar based barbecue sauces, I tend to gravitate towards the sweeter tastes to balance out the savory, smokey flavor. The potato salad was good, though I’m not crazy about the kind made with a whole lot of mustard. The beans were okay. A bit too salty. So if anything I’d probably just get meat the next time in.

I’ve been fortunate enough to eat some good barbecue in my young and beautiful life. I’ve dined at Ironworks. I’d been to Art’s Rib House when it was still open. I’d been to Hardeman’s and Sonny Bryan’s in Dallas. I’d been to Arthur Bryant’s and Gates in Kansas City. My mom use to bring home BBQ from Memphis after business trips(which at the time I thought was the best I ever had). But Franklin’s smoked all those places.

Was this the best barbecue in America? I can’t say. To answer that question without any shred of doubt would require me to visit all 50(1?) states and eat at all the best BBQ joints in those states. Not only would I be taking a vow of poverty to accomplish this feat, but I’d also undoubtedly destine myself for a massive coronary (and an equally massive case of hemorrhoids).What I can say with a 100% rate of confidence is that this was unequivocally the best barbecue I’d ever tasted and (much like a good girlfriend that won’t give it up right away) definitely worth the wait.

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