Tag Archives: Franklin’s BBQ

Getting What You Pay For

31 Mar

South By Southwest jumped the shark years ago, but now it has come to the point where if you don’t have access to a badge (good luck tryna buy one. You better start saving up now), then you can almost forget about seeing half the acts that you like.

The festival has become a bigger deal each year since I started going back in 2006. There was still a fringe element to it back then, where things were clogged, but the streets were still fairly navigable. I could not buy a wristband or badge, and still see plenty of the shows from anywhere in town. Now the major acts almost triple the unsigned ones, and you have to venture east of Red River to see anything resembling a DIY artist.

What is crazy to me is how much you must think ahead for everything during SXSW week (month?)–needing just as much of a game plan for avoiding the cluster as you’ll need for joining the fray.

Lines for every popular coffee shop, or food haunt become longer, and trying to hit up the famed BBQ spots is almost unthinkable. So imagine my surprise when a friend and I were able to just pull up to Micklethwait Craft Meats, ten minutes before they opened, and just get in line. We were fifth to get our order taken when things popped off, and let me tell you, it was legit.

The analogy I like to make about barbecue is along the lines of being an herbal connoisseur. Growing up, I smoked a lot swag because it was all I knew. occasionally, a friend would luck into some White Widow, and it wasn’t until I smoked that where I learned the difference in quality of buds.

beef

BBQ is similar in that regard. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, places like Hardeman’s, Rudy’s, Poke Jo’s, Sonny Bryant’s, Gates, and Dickey’s were considered to be really good. Nowadays these chains are like the swag of good barbecue. They’ll do in a pinch, but once you’ve had the really good stuff, it is difficult to not think about what you could be consuming.

Places like Salt Lick, Kansas City Joe’s (formerly Oklahoma Joe’s), and Micklewait are what my college friends would refer to as “BC Nugs.” Pretty good quality, but ultimately mid-grade stuff.

I actually really liked Micklewait. I’d rate it as a high quality mid grade–the 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers of Austin barbecue. Their beef rib (18 dollars a pop) are as good of a beef rib as I have ever had. It came right off the bone (a big ass bone at that–probably half of what you pay for when you are paying by the lb.) and was tender and delicious. I just salivated thinking about it.

The jalapeno cheese grits (yeah I know that I don’t normally fuck with side dishes) are otherworldly. I wouldn’t call myself a grits fan at all, but I don’t see anyway that you could improve the taste of these grits.

Their sausage is on point as well. It has just as much flavor as Smitty’s sausage, but not nearly as greasy. My only real complaint was that the brisket was a little salty. That being said, it was extremely tender. Apparently they also offer goat on Saturdays, which is something I love eating. I’m certainly going to back on a Saturday and give it a run.

There aren’t too many bells and whistles at Mickelwait. It’s just a trailer over in east Austin that is right down the street from East Side Pies. But I’ll vouch for it. If you don’t feel like hitting up the long ass lines at La Barbecue or Franklin’s (spare me), and you’re not in the mood to drive out to Lockhart, then this is your spot.

It is getting increasingly hard to rate all these bbq joints. When you start getting top-tier quality meats from places like Franklin’s, La Barbecue, and Smitty’s, it all tastes the same in its own wonderful way. Anyone who has been to a weed dispensary on the west coast, or in Amsterdam, can relate. Its only when you get the lower grade stuff that you can actually tell the difference. I guess what I’m saying is that Texas is quickly becoming the Amsterdam of barbecue, and that ain’t a bad thing.

 

 

 

Living up to the Hype

7 Dec

I’d heard about this Oklahoma Joe’s spot even before I had moved to this part of the mid-west. Everyone who’d talked about it made it very clear that I needed to “eat at the “gas station one” to get the best experience.

Circumstances led me to accompany a friend out to K.C. and sure enough it turned into a trip to Oklahoma Joe’s.

When we pulled into a nearby parking lot, and I saw the line that was wrapped around the building, I had a feeling that I knew what was in store for us (Apparently the line is never that long during the weekdays and Saturday was black Friday weekend). I had only seen lines this long at amusement parks and Franklin’s BBQ in Austin. I knew it had to at least pretty good. K.C. knows its barbecue so I knew the food would be good. The question that was begging to be asked was where did it rank in the pantheon.

It wasn’t quite the spectacle that Franklin’s lines can be. No college kids were throwing around footballs, drinking beers from a coozie and sitting in banana chairs. The line consisted mostly of families and older people. I felt self conscious about my buddies drinking Hamm’s while we were in line but no one said anything. Eventually (almost an hour later) when we got inside they had started going to the bathroom to transfer their beers from the cans into a styrofoam cup.

There were lots of framed articles hanging on the walls, restaurant reviews by celeb foodies like Anthony Bordain. He said that the BBQ at Oklahoma Joe’s was the best in the world. This made me wonder if he’d ever been to Texas because I had two places I could think of off the top of my head that belonged in the pantheon of all time greatest smoked meats.

I decided I wanted to try everything so I ordered a combo ham and turkey sandwich, a sausage link, a half slab of ribs, and some brisket. I went ahead and grabbed some sides, potato salad, beans and rice, and dirty rice.

I sat down to eat with my buddies, who’d both bought the “Z man”sandwich, barbecued brisket topped with fried onion rings and a slice of provolone cheese (I got to try a bite and it was legit to say the least)–kind of sister sandwich to Franklin’s Tipsy Texan.

The Turkey and Ham were underwhelming. A little dry, so I added some BBQ sauce to it for taste. The BBQ sauce by the way, was some of the best I’d ever had.2013-11-30 16.00.02

The ribs were pretty phenomenal. Better than Smitty’s but not quite as good as Franklin’s.

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The brisket was good, but thin. The slices weren’t quite as thick as the slices you get at Smitty’s, with the extra smoky marbles of fat hanging off the meat.

The sausage was really good. As good as Smitty’s or Franklin’s. I couldn’t think of anything negative to say about their links at all. By the time I got to it, I was so full and wasn’t able to dig in. I did eat some for breakfast the next day and it was hitting on all cylinders.
2013-11-30 15.59.56

“Okie Joe’s has Smitty’s and Franklin’s beat is their side dishes. Their sides are overwhelmingly better than either Texas establishment. The dirty rice was mouth watering, the potato salad was flawless, and the red beans and rice was so full of flavorful heat.

So who has the best food? Well depends on what you want.

Smitty’s meats are so good that it doesn’t matter if you like the sides or not. Franklin’s lines makes going there a real turn off, and the food is not quite as good Smitty’s. Okie Joe’s is well rounded and the meats are almost as good as the former two places.

If they were college basketball players, Smitty’s would be Julius Randle, meaty and impossible to not drool over–not nearly as much fanfare as the other two spots. Franklin’s would be Andrew Wiggins with a ridiculous amount of hype preceding it, and high admission prices and lots of media attention. A little underwhelming once you get to finally see what its about, but not cause of the quality–simply because of all the hype.
Okie Joe’s is Jabari Parker, extremely well rounded and excellent, the best right now with the least amount of development needed to be NBA ready.

But if you asking me what I prefer: well I like meat and Smitty’s has the best meats. I’m not waiting in line for 2 hours just so I can eat delicious sides. I can make delicious sides in the comfort of my own kitchen.

Franklin’s is good but it seems silly to wait 2.5 hours when you can drive 20 minutes to Lockhart and get better meat for less of a wait.

Smitty’s is still the champion in my eyes, but Okie Joe’s is a close second and definitely lives up to the hype. The Z Man is definitely one of the better culinary creations this side of the Mississippi. The “Z-man” may be the best thing to come out of Missouri since Mark Twain and David Cone.

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.