|Thursday, August 22nd, 2013|
12:21a - Bluebonnets, Bats, and Barbecue: April 16, 2013: Franklin Barbecue and Louie Mueller Barbecue
On the way south to pick up Lori, we dropped off Amy to stand in line at Franklin Barbecue, one of the most lauded barbecue places in Texas. When we returned with Amy, she told us that the wait was two and a half hours. I was surprised; I’d exchanged email with the staff of Franklin Barbecue, and they’d said that the wait wasn’t nearly as bad on a Tuesday as on the weekend. (Since we were there, Franklin Barbecue has been named as “Best Barbecue in Texas” by Texas Monthly, and I believe the wait has gotten much longer.)
Amy magnanimously offered to wait in line at Franklin while we went to visit Louie Mueller Barbecue, on one condition: we were to rent her one of the lawn chairs from the guy across the street from Franklin. It was a fair requirement, so we left her with the chair and the leftover donuts and headed up again to Taylor.
I hadn’t managed to arrange a meeting with Wayne Mueller at Louie Mueller, but we got lucky: as we walked across the parking lot, he was just walking to his car. He recognized us, and we had a pleasant chat for a few minutes. We got to commiserate over the fire that had consumed their smokers.
Louie Mueller’s really looks the part of an old Texas barbecue joint. The walls are bare brick, blackened from years of smoke, decorated with barbecue awards. The tables are mismatched picnic benches and school tables, and they do not look like they were carefully chosen for artistic effect.
A corkboard on one wall shows geologic strata of business cards progressively dyed by smoke. I don’t know whether it takes a month or a year or more to turn a white business card brown, but the effect was one of palpable age, like being at a family reunion and seeing children’s faces echoing those of their grandparents.
A panoramic picture of the interior: http://www.flickr.com/photos/48435163@N04/9165560079/in/set-72157633279611298/
We rejoined Amy at a park in east Austin, each bearing our packages of meat to share.
The barbecue from Franklin Barbecue was exceptionally… well, I would try to make it sound better with a word like ‘moist’ or ‘unctuous’, but the real word for it is greasy. (But in a good way!) The grease soaked through the pink butcher paper in a way that no other barbecue on this trip had done, and it left a sheen of grease on the picnic table.
My picture of the brisket makes it look like sort of a mess. But it tasted and smelled great.
So here’s the sixty-four dollar question: is this barbecue so outstanding that it is worth waiting in line for hours? My expectation going in was that I would not find it so outstanding - I don’t have a very subtle or discriminating palate, and I had found all the barbecue on this trip delicious. But I allowed a chance that I would really find Franklin Barbecue qualitatively better. But the reality didn’t quite fit into either of those buckets. Here’s what I remember:
- Franklin’s brisket was qualitatively different, and that is noteworthy. I would have a very hard time distinguishing the briskets from the other five places we ate, but I think that I could single out Franklin’s in a blind taste test. The difference was this: all the briskets had a surge of flavor when first tasted, but Franklin’s brisket released a second wave of flavor after a second or two of chewing.
- the brisket was tender and moist and had a very rich, complex flavor.
- As well as being very greasy, Franklin’s was very peppery, and peppery in the same way that it was oily; fat peppercorn fragments clung to my fingers in defiance of napkins. (The stack of napkins we had with us seemed like more than enough before we started eating, but turned out to be wholly inadequate. I have fewer pictures than I might otherwise have had, because once we started eating, every picture required a struggle to clean the worst of the oil and pepper off my fingers.)
In this picture of bark from Franklin Barbecue, ogle how dark the smoke ring is and how peppery the crust is.
It certainly is great barbecue, but I have little patience for waiting for hours in hot shadeless sun. I think that with lines like Franklin’s, I could be just as happy going to Micklethwait a few blocks away.
We then turned our attention to the brisket from Louie Mueller. Wayne might say that the smokers still needed a few decades of seasoning, but this was just as delectable as what we remembered from the Roadfood festival. It’s so close to the center of good Texas barbecue that it’s hard to find really distinctive qualities to describe, but we couldn’t identify a clear winner between the two meats on the table.
(I think this is the brisket from Louie Mueller, but I’m not quite sure. Ordinarily, I would check this by checking the timestamps on the photos or the GPS tags - but we ate the meat from Louie Mueller at the same time and in the same place as that from Franklin. My clue here is that Franklin’s served on pink paper, but this is on a bed of white paper.)
We sampled normal and chipotle sausages from Louie Mueller, and both were smoky and intensely flavored.
Amy had brought a bourbon banana tart sold at Franklin’s, but it paled compared to the glory of the meat.
The peach cobbler we had brought from Louie Mueller was similarly ordinary, with a texture more like a bread pudding than like the biscuit-topped cobbler I love.
This was the last great meal of our Austin plans, and it certainly was a glorious finale.
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10:18p - Bluebonnets, Bats, and Barbecue: April 16, 2013: Nau's Enfield Drug
We had time for just one more stop before we went to the airport, but our taste for barbecue was sated. So we asked Yelp to find us an ice cream parlor, and Yelp gave us the suggestion of Nau's Enfield Drug. It was a good suggestion: Nau's is a classic drugstore and soda fountain.
We shared a banana split. The ice cream was Blue Bell, which is good but not extraordinary - but they had the classic banana split dish, and it felt like a double date from a movie set in the 1950s.
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11:22p - Bluebonnets, Bats, and Barbecue: April 16, 2013: Airport Woes
When we went to turn in the rental car, the Hertz guy said, "Are you flying American?" When we said yes, he told us that all American flights were canceled due to a computer glitch, and suggested that we not turn in the car until we had verified that our flight would leave. (Chris and Amy had the good luck not to be flying American, and they got to leave on schedule.)
I waited with the car while Lori went to talk with the American desk. She quickly confirmed that our flight was canceled. She was given an 800 number to call to reschedule the flight, but getting American to get us a hotel for the night would require waiting in a line as long as the line for Franklin Barbecue.
I still don't know whether we did the right thing that afternoon. We could have afforded a hotel on our own, and gone off to do one of the things that we hadn't managed to squeeze into our itinerary. And in fact we were conscious at the time that this was an option.
But: I was so furious about American screwing this up that I could not (and still cannot) imagine being happy with something else that afternoon. I would have felt like a sucker. So, if the real choices are between waiting in line for hours of frustration or grinding my teeth at being taken for a sucker... well, it's no easy choice, but waiting in line is at least cheaper by the cost of a hotel room.
And so Lori waited in line until her legs hurt, and I waited in the cell phone lot without running the air conditioning, trapped there by my own fury and frustration and knowing that was what was trapping us there.
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