BBQ

Austin….the final chapter @perrysdining, @jsm_meat

The last chapter of my bachelor party trip to Austin, Texas.  Up till now, we’ve stuffed our face with BBQ and hit up Torchy’s not once, not twice, but three times as a group (I only went twice actually). I figured a good dinner to cap off the trip would be to go to a steakhouse, although suprisingly there weren’t any definite standouts on Yelp.

 

Perry’s was one of the higher rated steakhouses, so that’s where we headed (didn’t realize it was a chain when I went).  A group of 9, and a rowdy bunch at that, they thankfully sat us at the quieter upstairs room, and by the time we were done with the apps, we had the whole upstairs to ourselves….

Seafood Tower!

Seafood Tower!

We started with a seafood tower, something I don’t get a chance to order very often.  Nothing here stood out too much, just some pretty standard solid chilled seafood.  Some jumbo shrimp cocktail, halved lobster tails, lump crab meat (one of the highlights) and some mild East Coast oysters.

Appetizer Plate

Appetizer Plate

While the seafood tower was across the board solid, the appetizer plate, while more unique, was a little more hit or miss.  The fried asparagus, topped with the jumbo lump crabmeat was a nice mixup and a combination that worked very well.  The Polish sausage (in the back, not well lit) was fantastic, had a smokiness to it with just a hint of spice, and not too oily.   The calamari in the middle, mixed with banana peppers, didn’t really work too well.   The calamari ended up being a bit too soggy, and the peppers dominated the middle.

Caesar Salad

Caesar Salad

The casear salad here was average.  Very dressy, and the shaved parm was pretty subtle.  Fresh anchovies topped the dish but were a bit vinegary.

Bone-in Ribeye

Bone-in Ribeye

The steak here was a solid, above-average broiled steak.  They’re broiled and topped with their signature herb butter – it’s a bit heavy on the garlic and a bit dense in the center of the cut.  I ordered it medium rare and it came out medium rare, maybe a shade towards medium, but no complaining here.  It was well cooked, but missing a bit of char.

In the end, there’s not much that impressed me about Perry’s – it’s a solid steakhouse, but I guess my expectations were a bit higher for a Texas steakhouse.   Had a great time, though, and it gets kudos for the the service and putting up with our group….

 

So while most of the crew ended up heading to the airport on Sunday morning, a few of us had afternoon flights or flights the next day – my stomach was still reeling from a weekend of drinking and gut-bombs, but my buddy McC wanted one more taste of Texas BBQ before he left.  Locally, we ended up having two solid options – La BBQ and John Mueller – we went with John Mueller and weren’t disappointed at all.  (And reading into the backstory of the two joints was quite interested)

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More Texas brisket

The last of Texas brisket for awhile for me....

The last of Texas brisket for awhile for me….

While not quite Franklin’s, the brisket at J. Mueller’s was tender, smoky, and way better than anything I’m getting in Chicago.  A nice bark, and some great flavor.

Pork ribs

Pork ribs

The pork ribs were solid, but the weak link of the three meats we got – just a bit overcooked, the bark is the highlight here – nice and peppery, the meat itself fell off the bone but was just a bit tough.

Beef Rib

Beef Rib

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I believe John Mueller is known for his beef ribs, so we couldn’t turn this one down.  The crust had a nice sweet pepper flavor with just a bit of spice to it.  The ribs were kicked perfectly, a nice, crisp bark, meaty, but fall of the bone.

While not quite at Franklin’s level, John Mueller’s was close, and without the absurd wait (went on a Sunday morning at around 10am, ended up waiting all of 10 or 15 minutes).  If I’m headed down to Austin again, J. Mueller will almost assuredly be on the list  of spots to return to..and there will be a next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Four and a half hours for BBQ….@franklinbbq

Franklin BBQ – 900 E 11th Street, Austin, TX

I knew what I was getting into.  It’s on the short list of places to eat that have a twitter feed to monitor the line (@franklinbbqline).   It’s a 4+ hour wait for BBQ (If you’re lucky and get there at the right time, you’re probably looking at 2-3 hours on the front end, or maybe less for the scraps on the back end.  There’s clearly the “buzz” factor that adds to the wait.  But in the end, the food delivers.  Does it deliver enough to justify the wait?  That’s up to you decide, but here’s my take – this is the best BBQ I’ve had.  Hands down, top to bottom – the best brisket, the best pork ribs, the best pulled pork, the best smoked turkey, and the best hot link.  The cole slaw was alright, as were the beans.  I’m not a BBQ expert, particularly when it comes to Texas BBQ, but I’ve had a decent share of good BBQ over the years.

Hot link for waiting in line

Hot link for waiting in line

My first taste of Franklin’s started around 3 hours into the wait, when they passed out bites of hot links with bread.  That’s when it all began feeling real, and the anticipation really started to begin.  A crisp casing surrounding a peppery sausage with a smoky finish.

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Cutting the brisket

Cutting the ribs

After the wait

After the wait

After that wait (got in line around 9, served just before 1;30)   this is what we ended up with – 2 lbs, brisket, 2 lbs pork ribs (the 2nd to last order), the last 1/3 lb of pulled pork, a 1/2 lb of smoked turkey, and a few hot links.  4+ hours of waiting, and we just got served in time to try everything on the menu.

Brisket perfection

Brisket perfection

The brisket here is everything you would want – perfectly tender, nice smoke ring, great bark, and the smoky flavor that lingers in your mouth.  not too salty, and seasoned enough to complement the meat, but still allowing the natural flavor of the beef to come through.

Pork ribs

Pork ribs

The pork ribs are a bit firmer.  Didn’t seem quite as meaty as the St. Louis cut I’m used to but definitely not the overly tender Baby backs either.  A perfect mix of both.  Tender and fall off the bone, with a nice meaty bite to it.  The rub seems a simple black pepper rub, just enough to add some a bit of flavor that complements the natural flavor of the pork and the smoke perfectly.

Like I mentioned earlier, we got the last scraps of pulled pork, but even then, it was soft, moist, if not a bit too moist.  Lacked a bit of smokiness but mixed perfectly with the hot sauce.  The turkey is highly underrated and in more prominent supply, so if you go and arrive late, don’t feel baad about getting the turkey – it’s a stellar option.  Tasted brined as the meat itself had a nice salty flavor to it, and the turkey itself has a nice smokiness to it.

I wish that I could go back to Franklin’s but have to wait the wait again – 4 hours seems excessive and it’s against my general principle to wait for anything that long.   I’m glad I did it, but I’d be hard pressed to do it again.  Although maybe on a nice day, a comfy chair and a good book, some good company, maybe it’d be worth it again…

The final chapter of the Austin trip to come….

 

 

 

 

 

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An excursion to Austin…Da Meat Sweats (x12)…Part 1

When it came down to picking a spot for my bachelor party, I had quite a few options – I was able to narrow it down to a reasonably narrow list – Chicago, Vegas, NOLA, Charleston, and Austin.  I wanted to travel and go somewhere warm, as the near freezing April temps in Chicago were getting to me, so that ruled out Chicago.  Most people were traveling from Chicago or the West Coast so Charleston seemed unreasonable, and Jazz Fest was going on, which means NOLA would’ve been a bit of a shit-show.  So, it came down to Austin vs. Vegas, and as much fun as Vegas probably would’ve been, the thought of waiting in line to pay $500 for a bottle of Absolut at XS or whatever the hot new club is, just didn’t seem all that attractive.  Maybe I’m getting old.  Or maybe waiting in line for some Franklin brisket just sounded better.

Well, I arrived in Austin Thursday around noon – my buddy McC picked me up from the airport and I headed to our first food excursion for lunch – Gus’s.  For those of you who don’t know, Gus’s is a Memphis transplant, the original in a small town outside of Memphis.  It has, IMO, the *best* fried chicken I’ve ever had.  So when I found out that a location opened up in Austin, it seemed like a natural first stop.

Now sometimes, you remember something being awesome, and then you have it again, and you’ve built it up in your head so much that you can’t help but be disappointed…not so in this case.

Fried pickles

Fried pickles

The meal starts with some piping hot fried pickles.  Probably the only disappointing parts of the meal were a. The ranch was not fresh, but packaged ranch, and b. the lack of catfish on the menu here.  The pickles were well battered, mostly sweet with a nice bite to them.   Add a 16oz Lone Star to it and the bachelor party has begun (I couldn’t remember the last time I had a beer during lunch on a weekday – damn, it felt good)

Heaven

Heaven

The picture here and pictures everywhere won’t do the chicken at Gus’s justice.  It has everything you want in a fried chicken (as long as you want it spicy).  The skin is perfectly crisp, but doesn’t crumble when you bite into it.  The skin has a nice bit of cayenne to it, but the real spice hits when you bite into it.  The meat, always piping hot and perfectly cooked.  But it’s the spice of the actual meat that sets it apart from other fried chickens.  There’s a perfect underlying heat that lingers and is what makes Gus’s stand out.  It can’t be explained.  And it’s a well-kept secret.  People have tried to replicate, and thankfully, I have a fiancee who is on a never-ending quest to find the perfect fried chicken recipe.  We will try some of the internet copycats, and will see how close they come.

The platter

The platter

I’ll fast forward a few days to Saturday afternoon when we headed back to Gus’s – this time with a much larger group – similar story, and now after 4 trips to Gus’s (twice in Memphis), I have no doubt that the fried chicken here will be tough to beat.

Chess pie x2, pecan, key lime

Chess pie x2, pecan, key lime

I can’t say much about the pies here, although they were ordered.  The chocolate chess pie (front right) was pretty decadent and solid.

Thursday evening, we headed to Lambert’s in downtown Austin – a bit of a dressed up BBQ joint, it seemed like a good lowkey Thursday dinner spot, and a good way to start the trip, as the bulk of our crew had arrived by then.

Wild boar ribs, sambal, honey, blue cheese

Wild boar ribs, sambal, honey, blue cheese

We started with a pair of apps, the first, an amazing boudin fritter dish with a perfectly tender, soft texture with a nice kick and a firm, fried shell.  The second were a somewhat underwhelming wild boar rib dish.  The meat was a bit tough, and not quite as gamey as I would have expected.  The mix of the blue cheese and the sambal paste balanced nicely.

Brisket

Brisket

For an entree, I went with the brisket – it was pretty disappointing as a start (although I say this in retrospect after the rest of my trip).  The coffee rub had a good flavor, but the crust didn’t have enough bark to it, and the meat itself was very dried out.  Pretty average, and not quite what I expected out of Texas BBQ.

The meal at Lamberts was a great time, but the food was a bit underwhelming.   Thankfully, the trip was just beginning….more to come soon….

 

 

 

Another notch on the Chicago BBQ circuit @greenstsmokedmeats

Green Street Smoked Meats – 112 N Green Street, Chicago, IL

With the NHL playoffs right around the corner, so comes Johnny’s mens league hockey playoffs – and my team had a chance to advance to the semis tonight, but alas, we fell short.  How else to console myself but with some BBQ – and thankfully, right down the street there was a pretty good option.

Down an alley in the West Loop – just off Restaurant Row on Randolph, lies Green Street Smoked Meats.  Poorly marked, but reasonably easy to find.  It’s a pretty large space, with the string lights that are all the rage right now across the room.  We got there after 10, so while it wasn’t super crowded, the music – a good range of indie punk was blaring (and I mean blaring).  GSSM is counter service only with the bar on one side, and the food on the other.  Since we were hungry and responsible adults, we headed over to the food counter….

The spread - sliced brisket, hot link, spicy pickles, broccoli salad, and Wonder Bread

The spread – sliced brisket, hot link, spicy pickles, broccoli salad, and Wonder Bread

Closeup of the brisket

Closeup of the brisket

We each got a protein and a side – I went with the sliced brisket, Sara with the hot link – a nice contrast.  The brisket had decent smoked rings and a nice up front smokiness that was short lived.  The slices we received were either on the excessively fatty side of issues or on the overcooked dry side.  The flavor was excellent good smoke rings, and a nice immediate smokiness that hits quickly, but doesn’t linger.  However, the texture just wasn’t there.  I will add the caveat that we were eating at 10 at night, so I’ll blame the texture a bit on that, and will probably give it another go earlier in the day at some point.   The hot link on the other hand, was a super plus.  Good texture, very meaty, the right amount of saltiness, and a decent kick.

There are four sauces – a coffee sauce, texas, vinegar, and spicy.  The coffee sauce was a dark, medium thickness sauce with a good savory flavor.  The Texas sauce was pretty unimpressive.  The vinegar sauce was quite different than a classic NC vinegar sauce – thin, but had a very distinct tanginess to it, and the spicy sauce had a nice slow heat to it.

The sides were a mixed bag as well.  The broccoli salad was fantastic and a must-get if you go – Stirred in with a light mayo and mixed with raisins that give it a gentle sweetness, and some seeds (maybe sunflower)  add a nice texture contrast to the broccoli.   The spicy pickles were cut too thin and lacked any bite – meh.

The orders we got satieted us pretty well – for about $40 it’s a bit pricey, but not absurdly so.  Since we’re in the middle of a kitchen reno – we decided to get some carryout for the next day – an order of tamales and a couple beef ribs.  And then we got home, and felt like we had to try a bit while it was still fresh…

The tamale filling a great flavor and what appeared to be a tomatillo sauce that had a bit of spice to it, but the corneal to filling ratio was waaay too high – $9 for 5 tamales in an order ain’t bad, but gotta fill it up a bit more to make it worth it.

Texas Beef Ribs

Texas Beef Ribs

And then I took a few bites of one of the beef ribs.  As you can see, the rub is heavy on the peppercorns, but instead of having a bity spiciness to it, the addition of the green and white peppercorns, along with some sugar gave the ribs a subtle sweetness that complemented the deep beefy smokiness of the rib.  Can’t wait to dig into the rest of this tonight, and would order these over the brisket anyday, although I can see myself going and ordering both.

Green Street is solid, and a great place for a group outing given the setup.  I’ll echo most other reviews in that the music doesn’t have to be THAT loud – it was almost deafening, but they probably do turn it up later in the night – and I promise, I’m not getting THAT old either.   As I’ve said before, good BBQ is has a lot to do with consistency, so it’ll take another visit or two before I make a final verdict, but so far, so good with GSSM – my preference is still a bit towards County, but that may change with a few visits….

 

 

Happy Birthday to Me! @Countybarbeque

County BBQ – 1352 W Taylor St, Chicago, IL

A group of friends and I have a rotating birthday dinner club – we were once seven or eight strong and younger with less commitments, so we were eating out usually at the nicer Chicago Steakhouses, almost every month.  Now we’ve dwindled down to four, and other life realities have backed up our schedule a bit.   So even though my official birthday was in September, we headed down to County BBQ to celebrate, only six months late.

There has been an explosion of BBQ spots over the past few years in Chicago.  I have no idea what’s driving this movement, but I’m not one to complain.  Some are small independent shops like Rub’s and MIlt’s, some are chains branching out, like Q, and some are the big restaurant groups in the city trying to get into the game.   Of the latter, County was the first of these, the BBQ joint from the DMK group that opened up in Little Italy about two years ago.

The sauces

The sauces

The sauces served tableside at County mirror the restaurant’s BBQ influences.  The Carolina-inspired mustard sauce on the right has a medium consistency and a subtle flavor, while the house is a bit tangier.   The spicy is pretty light on kick, and the the trio themselves are a bit underwhelming, but serve only as a accompaniment to the real star of the show here, which is the slow smoked meat.

County uses a variety of brining techniques and dry rubs to create the base of the flavors for its meats, then slow smoking the meats, seen as a timer on their website.  They offer a wide variety of cuts – St. Louis spare ribs, burnt ends, Rib Tips, Texas Brisket, Chicken, Hot Links, and a Veal Brisket.  Add a good choice of interesting sides, and a pinch of well selected apps and you got a menu for success.

(Lt to Rt): Thai Chili Wings, Fried Okra/Pickles, Buffalo Wings

(Lt to Rt): Thai Chili Wings, Fried Okra/Pickles, Buffalo Wings

We started with a taste of two of their wing choices, the first topped with a solid buffalo sauce with a spice that lingered but without being overwhelming, and a thai chili wing that had a balanced sweetness to it.  Both had a good amount of smokiness that lingered underneath all that flavor.  The wings themselves were were just a tad overcooked, probably due to their smaller size, but they were a perfect way to wet the appetitie.  The fried pickles and okra were an added bonus, pulling from the menu at DMK.

The BBQ Sampler - Brisket, St. Louis Ribs, Chicken, Hot Link

The BBQ Sampler – Brisket, St. Louis Ribs, Chicken, Hot Link

Brisket closeup

Brisket closeup

If you’re indecisive, the “Taste of County” is a great spread – you get a chicken quarter, three St. Louis ribs, a few slices of brisket, and a hot link.  The chicken is tender, with the skin having a slight char, the meat being moist, and the slow cooking coming through just enough to add a hint of smokiness to the meat.  The brisket ups the smokiness just a bit, perfectly cooked, with just a bit of fattiness and prominent smoke rings.  The rub for the brisket is heavy on the black pepper adding a nice bite to the crust that contrasts the tenderness of the meat.  The hot link probably ends up with the deepest smoke of the four with a nice bite of cayenne spice that lingers in your mouth.  Very rich flavor that adds up throughout the plate.  Along with the brisket, the ribs are a highlight – very meaty, with a chewy texture and again, the smoke.

Gina's Potatoes, Corn Pudding, Collard Greens

Gina’s Potatoes, Corn Pudding, Collard Greens

The sides here are interesting and unique – the Gina’s potatoes are a gently mashed potato with cheddar and a hint of pickled jalapeno that’s hard to pick up on.  The corn pudding is a must, a light sweetness and a great texture.  The collard greens were probably the lower point of the meal – very heavily salted that overpowers the greens.

There’s no doubt that Smoque holds the barbeque crown in Chicago right now.  The lines are long, the quality is great, and the price point is reasonable.  However, I’ve said in previous posts, I think Smoque has lost a step and I think anyone that big can be a victim of its own success.   If you ask me (and I am by NO means an experts, the most important things with good barbeque are a deep, smokey flavor that will make the meat standout sans sauce, and consistency.  It’s the consistency that is falling for Smoque – a few recent trips have left me wanting more.  Maybe the increasing competition is making me jaded, or maybe it’s giving me a more discerning view.  But if you ask me where I would choose to go for ribs or brisket in the city right now, County hits the top of my list.  After four visits now, the ribs are always superb, and the rub on the brisket is unforgettable.  In fact, my mouth is watering just thinking about it….just gonna have to go back – monday for Monday night fried chicken….