My wife and son were out of town this weekend and I had to make the journey up to Austin for a wedding I was in, so I saw the opportunity to do a little Chowhound-ing. Unfortunately I was a bit too lazy to leave Houston early enough to detour to Lockhart for some serious BBQ eating, but I did stop in Elgin at the Southside Market.
I had been to Southside Market once before years ago and was anxious to get reacquainted with the original home of Elgin Hot Guts. I ordered what I consider the standard Texas BBQ plate: brisket and links, with potato salad and beans on the side. I was a little disappointed that the kid behind the counter picked my brisket pieces out of some kind of tub, rather than slicing them fresh. As it turns out, the brisket pieces that landed on my plate were a bit inconsistent, as you might imagine, since they could well have been from completely different briskets cooked at different times. All had a nice smoky flavor and a visually pleasing red smoke ring. But some of the pieces were crumbly, which is not what I look for in brisket. The dark ends and edges were very tasty, perhaps Ill just get more of those next time.
As for the links, I enjoyed them quite a bit, but did not think they were very spicy. I guess Southsides links are 100% beef, but they do have a very pleasing mouth feel and fattiness that I have heard is the result of tripe being included in the grind. Whatever it was, I liked it, although it was a bit different from what I expected and remembered.
The potato salad was unremarkable and the beans were darn good, not that it really matters. I was surprised by how mild (almost bland) the supposedly hot sauce on the tables was. The regular BBQ sauce was also unremarkable, although I think good sauce is fairly rare and pretty much superfluous to quality BBQ anyway.
Before the wedding on Saturday I went to lunch with the groom and other (male) members of the wedding party at Rudys on 183 in Austin. I realize that Rudys is not a favorite among the BBQ aficionados on this site, but I think some of the criticism that is leveled at it is a bit unfair. No, it is not the real thing in the rural country store/meat market tradition of Central Texas, but I happen to think it is, at the very least, pretty serviceable for a quick BBQ fix. Personally, I enjoy eating at Rudys, even if the experience is not the same as going to a historic temple to BBQ in some little burg off the beaten track.
Maybe my fond feelings for Rudys comes from the fact that I pretty much stick to what I know is good there. Namely, the St. Louis style pork ribs. I find pork ribs to be pretty hit or miss around Texas, perhaps because they are not as central to the Texas BBQ tradition as brisket and sausage. Anyway, the point is that the pork ribs at Rudys are really good. They are tender, meaty, moist and smokey, with a nice crusty exterior. They can (and probably should) be enjoyed without sauce, a key barometer of BBQ quality to me. One of the guys in the group I ate with is from St. Louis and he agreed that the ribs were excellent.
I also had something Rudys calls Prime sirloin, which appeared to be a slice of rib roast. It was also good, but was expensive and, frankly, quite inferior to the delicious prime rib slab I recently enjoyed at Coopers in Llano.
So, in conclusion, while I would never put Rudys in the same category with the truly outstanding BBQ joints in Texas, I still find it to be a place where you can get some enjoyable BBQ (try those ribs) without traversing the highways and byways to places like Lockhart, Llano, or Taylor. Furthermore, I think Rudys compares quite favorably to many of the more typical BBQ spots, in other words, it is as good or better than many of those places that are not mentioned among the pantheon of the top BBQ destinations in Texas. Perhaps it is a bit too shiny, a bit over-marketed and a bit too, well, corporate. But if you look past these issues (which are only issues to some folks), then I think Rudys is still above average.