Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Austin, Texas

As much time as we've spent in Texas this was our first visit to Austin. We'll definitely be back again if we have our way.

I'd heard a lot of good things about Austin over the years. As I'm sure most of you know it has the reputation of being a great music city (Austin City Limits anyone?). There are live music venues all over town and there was even a band playing at one of the barbecue places we visited. Then there's the awesomeness that is SXSW, an event that has been on my bucket list forever.

Austin feels like a young city, lots of enthusiasm and energy. There's a vibrant dining and bar scene, lots of art and the feeling that everyone is happy to be here.

Besides all of the other wonderfulness Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in North America. People gather every evening to watch the 1.5 MILLION bats fly out from under the Congress Street Bridge. The location is marked with a great sculpture and an observation area. All I can say is thanks bats, because, no mosquitoes!

Sculpture at Congress Street Bridge home to 1.5M bats

There are a lot of public transportation options available and even something called CAR2GO. A really great concept. I wanted to drive one of those little cars in the worst way. Maybe next time.

We stayed at a great, pet friendly Marriott property (Residence Inn Downtown/Convention Center) right downtown and were just a quick half block walk from a nice little dog park. The hotel is also just a short walk to 6th Street, Austin's live entertainment center. Besides the great music you'll also find lots of restaurants in the area.

Zen and the Art of the Squirrel

Some local dog owners told us that they take their dogs almost everywhere and that lots of restaurants have dog friendly patios. Perfect for enjoying a drink and some people watching without leaving your best friend cooped up in a hotel room. At the risk of sounding like one of those people (but, you know, I am one of those people) I'm glad that the city is very dog friendly.

Austin proved to be a fun place to visit and had enough to offer that we're already thinking about a return trip. If you're looking for a great city with a laid back vibe, great music and beer, fun locals and lots of interesting things to do look no further, Austin is just the place.

Happy travels!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Franklin BBQ - Austin, Texas

Every one of the overly effusive (5) star ravers was right. So very right. Franklin BBQ is the pinnacle of BBQ, the very best OVERALL BBQ that we've had.

Sausage, turkey, brisket and a rib

Turkey and brisket

Unless something in Memphis blows that away, I don't see that changing. We've had good ribs before, good brisket, good sausage, good turkey, but Franklin is hands down the overall winner in BBQ across all categories. Great ribs, great sausage, great turkey and great brisket. All done with care and served up with the evidence that shows it.

If you get tired of standing this nice man will rent you a chair

Almost there!
We'll continue to eat other BBQ of course. This was never about finding the best then no longer needing to eat any other barbecue again. I'm glad I got the chance to have the experience. All I can say is that if you really like barbecue and want to taste what may be the best then fly or drive to Austin, Texas, wait in line for however long it takes and enjoy the best barbecue you're likely to ever have.

Inside of Franklin's modest dining room

The best friend of good Texas barbecue
Go there, really, you won't be sorry. Pilgrimage worthy, line-waiting-in worthy, well you get the idea. Just go.

Happy dining!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

John Mueller Meat Co. - Austin, Texas

The John Mueller Meat Co. is one of the two barbecue places we were in Austin to try. The Mueller name is legendary in Texas barbecue circles and depending on the survey and who you ask, John Mueller Meat Co. is either number one or number two for the best barbecue in the Austin area if not in all of Texas.

This was the line behind us. There were as many people ahead of us too. Maybe 30 people all told.

The place starts serving at 10:30a but the line starts way before that. Like most of these independent BBQ places, to be sure you're going to get the items you want, it pays to arrive early. They serve until the meat runs out and that's that. We lucked out and the day we visited the line was short even at 10:15a.

One True Map of American Barbecue by Jon Contino printed in Texas Monthly Magazine June 2013 issue

We spoke to some of the people lined up with us about barbecue in general, barbecue regions and opinions there of and mostly passed the time recounting adventures and disappointments of the search for the best.

So we're standing there, in the 100 degree Austin heat, drinking a cold beer (free!) surrounded by the intoxicating smell of woodsmoke. There was a band playing and enough excitement up and down the line to make the wait if not enjoyable, at least tolerable. This is gonna be good.
(Altogether we waited about 30 minutes or so.)

John Mueller Meat Co. is essentially a food truck with a covered seating area nearby. You make your way through the line to the order window, place your order (stay or go) and pick up your food and pay at the window around the front corner. (If you're going to eat there your food is placed on a tray at the order window, if you're getting takeout food your order is picked up at the next window around the corner.) Drinks are available and are in a trough full of ice in front of the pay/pick-up window.

We decided on what we were going to have and were ready once we made it to the window. We went with the brisket, beef rib, turkey and sausage. No sides other than a stack of white bread, some pickles and a few jalapeno peppers. We took our weighted down tray and headed over to the outdoor seating area. The picnic tables are under and awning so even with the heat it was comfortable enough to sit out there and eat.

That turkey up there? Sublime...I would gladly have traded every other thing on the plate and just ate that.

The food was good, no doubt about it. The turkey was extraordinary and the sausage was great. Beef ribs are a Texas BBQ staple and this one was a fine example but just not my thing. The meat was flavorful and tender but I prefer a pork rib. Sacrilege maybe but there it is. The brisket we had was a bit uneven. Part of it was cooked to perfection and part was a just the tiniest bit dry.

Overall the food at John Mueller Meat Co. was very good. Is it pilgrimage worthy? Maybe. If you're at all a fan of smoked turkey and good sausage I would say yes without reservation. If you're here go ahead and get the beef rib too, you need to try it at least once. I'm sure the unevenly cooked brisket we had was an anomaly however if you skip it and get more turkey no one could blame you.

If you're a fan of barbecue then definitely make your way to the Austin/Hill Country area of Texas. Barbecue here is a religion and the folks running the open pits and smokers take it very seriously. It's well worth a visit and I know with all of the fine smokehouses to choose from you won't come away disappointed.

Happy dining!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Berdoll Pecan Farm - Cedar Creek, TX

Image from Berdoll website
Visit Ms. Pearl the Squirrel at our retail location
Image from Berdoll website

On Hwy 71 West between Houston and Austin Texas is the Berdoll Pecan Farm. Ms. Pearl the squirrel sits out front. We passed by Berdoll on our way to Austin this weekend and I saw a sign that made sure I'd get there before the weekend was over. It was a sign for candied jalapenos. The first time I had candied jalapenos was at my favorite restaurant in San Antonio, Bohanan's. (They serve them as an amuse with some softened cream cheese.)

I really just had to have some so we stopped in at Berdoll and took a walk around their retail store.

So much great stuff. Everything that you can do with a pecan plus some other local items including jerky, quail sausage, cake mixes, all kinds of things.

I ended up with a few more items in my basket than just the fabulous candied jalapenos. I also picked up some pralines, a bag of dark chocolate covered pecans and a snack mix of flavored pecans. Everything I tried has been great.

The haul from Berdoll's. I don't think the candied jalapenos will be around for long.

That's one of the best things about road trips, you never know what great finds you'll make along the way.

Berdoll is online and has a catalog as well. While I can I'll stop by their store front for a look see and some shopping. It's nice to know that when that's not possible I can go online or make a phone call and get just the thing I was craving delivered to my door.

Note: We were in Austin to eat BBQ at what have been called the top two BBQ places in the whole area. I'll be posting my thoughts about all of that and the fun time we had in Austin in the coming weeks. 

Happy travels!