I just spent five days in Texas. During my stay, I and managed to eat at several of the bbq restaurants that are discussed on the CHOWHOUND, ROADFOOD, TX BBQ TOUR and Austin American-Statesman websites plus Richard Troxell's book (Barbecuing Around Texas).
DAY ONE: My flight arrived in Dallas just before noon. I rented a car and headed for I-35 South, to Austin. My first Texas meal was not bbq; it was "Whataburger"--just outside Fort Worth. I have enjoyed "Whataburgers" in Dallas, Longview, Temple and Kerrville but this was the best yet.
After arriving in Austin and checking into my hotel, I decided to try the new John Mueller's BBQ. It took awhile to find the darkly-lit restaurant, located on a dark street. I ordered fat brisket plus cole slaw and beans for sides. When I ordered, the counterman placed some"gimme" burnt ends on the butcher paper. They were wonderful! The brisket was terrific; tender, smoky and flavorful. The two bbq sauces--"sweet" and "spicy"--were heated in crock pots. "Sweet" was a little too sweet for my taste. "Spicy" contained tomato sauce, sliced onion and possibly oregano. It tasted more Italian than Southwestern. The beans were very good, but the cole slaw was literally smothered with black pepper.
DAY TWO: I was in Elgin at lunchtime and ate at Southside Market BBQ. The Elgin Hot Sausage was smoky, a bit greasy, but very tasty. Beans had chunks of pork; very good flavor. The potato salad was good. Sauce was not especially flavorful, but then the sausage did not need enancement. The strawberry ice cream at the end of the Blue Bell Creamery tour was the perfect dessert.
I returned to Austin in the late afternoon, intending to have dinner at Black's in Lockhart. But the mass of snarled traffic on I-35 delayed me long enough that I did not have time to get to Lockhart before Black's closed. I thought about eating at the Iron Works, but decided to give John Mueller's another chance since it was getting late and the restaurant would be open for another hour. This time, the place had sold out of fat brisket, so I took lean. It did not have much flavor. I had potato salad instead of cole slaw; definitely an improvement. No "gimme" burnt ends this time. However, with the lack of flavor in the lean brisket, the freebies would not have been much of a treat.
DAY THREE: Lunch was at Kreuz Market in Lockhart. The fat brisket was delicious and the peppery sausage was wonderful. A cold Big Red was a good accompaniment for the meat and a Blue Bell vanilla cone was just the right way to finish off a great meal. My itinerary (and full stomach) did not permit a stop at Black's. (I will definitely try their bbq the next time I go to Texas).
Dinner was at "the original" Rudy's Country Store and BBQ in Leon Springs, near San Antonio. The food here was not as good as what I have had at Rudy's in Austin and Albuquerque. The brisket had way too much fat. Sausage was bland. Ditto the beans. I improved them by adding chopped onion, some chopped sausage and Rudy's "Sause." A Shiner Blonde beer helped salvage the meal.
DAY FOUR: I arrived at the City Market in Luling just before the lunchtime rush. This meal was spectacular!!! The brisket was so moist that it almost melted in my mouth. The sausage was rich and spicy--as was the sauce. The side dishes of beans and cole slaw tasted great, as did the cold Big Red. I almost went back for more brisket and sausage, but settled on buying a jar of the spicy, mustardy sauce to take home. Later on, I enjoyed refreshing Shiner Hefeweizen and Winter Ale in the hospitality room of the Spoetzel Brewery in Shiner.
I developed a taste for gorditas when I lived in San Antonio (briefly) about 20 years ago. A recent issue of Texas Monthly contained an article by a San Antonio-based author, touting the gorditas at Cha-Cha's on Bandera Road. This dish is not commonly found in Southern California, where I live now. I decided to try the gorditas at Cha-Cha's. The price was certainly reasonable--$6.75 for two huge gorditas, with beans, rice and the complimentary chips and salsa. The two gorditas were stuffed with meat and topped with grated cheese, chopped tomato and lettuce. But the meat was almost flavorless. Pico de Gallo, guacamole, tomatillo--anything would have helped! The beans were also lacking in taste, though the rice had a good flavor. The tortilla chips had a nice corn taste, but the salsa was overpowering. It resembled Pace picante sauce with a massive infusion of red pepper flakes. At least the margarita was good, though it was not cheap. I know that Pico de Gallo's restaurant also has gorditas. I wish I had tried theirs, especially since I now understand that they are owned by the same company that owns La Margarita and Mi Tierra--two of my favorite Mexican restaurants.
DAY FIVE: I headed back to Ft. Worth, with a detour into Taylor so that I could try the legendary Louis Mueller's. I arrived about 12:30 p.m. and there was a l-o-n-g line inside. The line barely moved and I must have waited 15 or 20 minutes to get to the counter. (I briefly considered leaving and trying the Taylor Cafe', but stayed in line). The counterman put some terrific "gimme" burnt end pieces on the butcher paper as I ordered. I had brisket, sausage, cole slaw, beans (and Big Red--another Texas delicacy not found in Southern California). The brisket was dry and tough, with hardly any smoke flavor. I broke the plastic fork trying to hold it down so I could saw through it with the knife. This was a major disappointment, after all the raves I have read about Louis Mueller's! But the sausage was another matter entirely. It was deliciously spicy; very much like the world-class hot sausage at City Market. I would have gone back for more, but the ordering line had grown even more since I began eating. The cole slaw and beans were good but not outstanding. Again, I put some chopped sausage, onion and bbq sauce on the beans. In the future, I would go back for the sausage, but would not order the brisket again. Hopefully I can try the Taylor Cafe' one of these days...
I arrived in Ft. Worth at supper time and went out in search of Angelo's. It took a long time to find it, due to my inept map-reading. Finally, the restaurant appeared like a shining beacon out of the hard rain. I barely had time to size up the layout of the restaurant before a counterman asked for my order. I ordered brisket and sausage--my standard bbq combination. I sprung for beans, but passed up the prepackaged cole slaw and potato salad and had a giant goblet of Shiner Bock instead. The brisket and sausage were both chopped and served in "hot dog boats." The meats were excellent, but I prefer the slices-rings-and-butcher paper serving method. The beans were a dead ringer for canned "Ranch Style Beans." Sauce was unremarkable. The beer was so cold that it seemed to take some of the flavor away. I was surprised by the curtness of the staff. Angelo's employees were the only ones I encountered with a 'tude. That alone would keep me from returning.
DAY SIX: With a late afternoon flight from D/FW, I had time to seek out one last bbq joint. I picked Lee's, in Haslet. Though some postings indicate that the restaurant is difficult to find, I drove right to it with no problem. I arrived before the lunch rush (if there is such a thing on Saturday). The servers were courteous and prompt and the portions were huge. That was fortunate, as this was THE BEST brisket I had on the entire trip. It was smoked to perfection and the taste was out of this world. The sausage, while not as complex as City Market or Mueller's, was nonetheless very tasty. The mustard-based potato salad shared honors with the brisket as Best Of Trip. The beans were delicious. My only mistake was ordering sauce on the plate, as it turned everything soupy. But that could not dim my enthusiasm for the quality of the meal. It was a wonderful way to finish off my barbecue pilgrimage to the Lone Star State. (Next time, I promise to try Cooper's, Black's and Prause)...